Introduction To Mulch Products
Choosing the right mulch for vegetable gardens is to know what growing conditions they need, then to match the mulch to the crop, the soil, and weather conditions. Vegetable garden growers understand that there are organic and inorganic mulch properties, whose functions are to:
• hold in moisture;
• suppress weeds;
• reduce the chance of diseases attacking the vegetable plants;
• make the soil temperature conducive for their growth;
• keeps the roots cool and healthy in all seasons;
• give the garden a nice appearance.
Organic and Inorganic Mulch Materials
Organic mulch consists of compost, leaves, grass, pine needles, shredded bark, nut shells, straw hay, manure, peat moss, sawdust, grain and fruit by-products, and more. Depending on where vegetable growers live, even black and white newspaper and cardboard is safe to use. It is a good rule of thumb, to layer 2 to 4 inches or organic mulch, evenly on the ground underneath the vegetable. Organic mulch, overtime, can break down and may need replenishing.
A. Organic Mulch:
● Grass Clippings
Lawn and grass clippings are naturally high in nitrogen. When vegetables are growing during the spring and fall, nitrogen is exactly what they need. Only use a thin layer of clippings because a thick layer will become too matted down, especially when it rains, turning it to slim and it will become quite odorous. Just make sure that the lawn or grass clippings have not been treated with herbicides that can damage or kill vegetables.
● Straw Hay
Straw hay is mainly a carbon based product and it is commonly used as mulch in vegetable gardens. The greener the hay, the more nitrogen it contains. Before using straw hay as mulch, it must be weathered or else it will turn a healthy veggie garden into weeds. Let the bales be left out in the elements for treatment, allowing the seeds to germinate. Turn the hay over several times to keep them from taking root. When all the hay seed are germinated and it dies down, this is great mulch.
When choosing the right mulch for vegetable gardens, you can’t go wrong with dry leaves. Dry leaves are also a carbon, nitrogen and mineral rich product. Fallen leaves makes great mulch, especially in home grown vegetable gardens. Leaves can be bagged and kept for the next spring and summer or leaves can be shredded and packed tightly into storage bags. Leaves are a great home grown mulch product that requires very little composting.
● Wood Products
Wood products, such as bark mulch, sawdust, wood chips, and shavings, can all be used successfully, even if they come from hardwood or softwood. They are all low in nitrogen and are natural mulch material that is great for vegetable gardens.
Alfalfa is a flowering crop that is a perennial plant, mainly grown for cattle feed. Due to its length root system (12 feet down), it absorbs natural ground minerals and nutrients. Alfalfa has always been considered as a natural fertilizer, which is rich in nitrogen, making it one of the perfect nutrient rich mulch product anywhere.
B. Inorganic Mulch
Inorganic mulch involves products like plastic, landscape fabric, old carpets, and newspapers/cardboard are great when choosing the right mulch for vegetable gardens.
● Newspaper / Cardboard Mulch
Believe it or not, newspaper and cardboard ranks high on the list of mulch products. They are both biodegradable and in cardboards, its glue contains nitrogen. Cardboard and newspapers is great for worms, which they love. These paper products make a great first layer when sheet composting. If they are thick enough, then this mulch product will kill off weeds and provide great ground cover. When planting the vegetables, leave the mulch in place and poke holes through the cardboard and newspaper, which will decompose quickly while the veggies are growing. Cardboard and newspaper can be used, both as a shredded mulch or it can be left whole.
● Plastic Mulch
A layer of plastic mulch is great for a variety of vegetables, depending on the color of the plastic, such as:
>>> red plastic: great for growing tomatoes, strawberries, and eggplants.
>>> peppers grow best under silver colored mulch.
>>> melons grow exponentially with dark green plastic mulch.
>>> cucumbers and squash like black plastic mulch, plus it helps to control the weeds and in colder climates, it warms the soil.
>>> onions and potatoes grow in different plastic colors (red, silver, black) with a great vegetable yield in bulb and tubers.
● Gravel Mulch
Gravel for mulch in vegetable gardens is not only good to look at, but it provides great drainage. Vegetable gardens only need about 2” of mulch gravel. There are two types of gravel: River Stone or washed gravel which is available in different colors and sizes. Granite gravel is the other type of popular mulch, which is simply crushed rocks that are also available in varying sizes.
● Fabric Mulch
When choosing the right mulch for vegetable gardens, who would think of using rug strips and landscape fabrics. However, they make great inorganic mulch material because they warm the soil, repels weeds, they are permeable, plus they can be turned into a nice pathway around the vegetable garden.