By Bethany Hayes
Homeowners typically lay mulch around their house landscaping, but you might not think about laying organic mulch in your vegetable garden. Organic mulch is a bit different than the thick wood chips you can find bagged at the garden center, and it offers many benefits, which is why you should use it in your garden.
Whether you want to reduce how often you need to weed your garden beds or want to add nutrients, let’s take a look at why you should use organic mulch and the best options for your veggie garden.
The Benefits of Using Organic Mulch in Your Garden
Using organic mulch is beneficial for your vegetable plants, soil, and the organisms that live in your garden beds. Organic mulches are ones that decompose over time. So, for example, a plastic fabric is not an organic mulch. Even though it’s useful in some circumstances, gardeners wouldn’t consider this an organic mulch.
Here are some reasons why you should use organic mulch in your garden.
No one enjoys pulling weeds, so spreading mulch over your garden beds smothers the growing weeds, blocking their access to rain and sunlight. If you mulch wide areas, gardeners suggest laying down cardboard or newspapers. Then, top it with compost, bark, leafmold, or whatever else you use.
Make sure you weed your garden bed before you lay down mulch. Heavy, perennial weeds, such as dandelions, will need to be dug out, roots included, if you want to stop them from coming back.
If your main goal is to suppress weeds, you want to lay a thick layer, typically between 2-3 inches deep. Doing so stops light from penetrating the mulch, preventing any seeds from germinating.
Increases Your Plants’ Health
Over time, organic mulch breaks down, which is how it differs from other kinds. As it breaks down, it contributes different nutrients, boosting your soil’s health. This can be helpful if you’re struggling with soil fertility problems.
Not only does it add nutrients to your soil, but as the nutrients are released into the ground, it improves the soil structure. For example, if you use compost or shredded leaves, they will decompose and mix into the soil, increasing drainage in heavy soil.
Retains Moisture in the Soil
Are you sick of watering your garden each day? Using mulch increases your soil’s ability to retain moisture. Sunlight and hot weather cause evaporation to happen rapidly, and your plants will feel the effects of drought quickly. Spreading mulch over the soil slows water evaporation.
Before laying your mulch, make sure the ground is wet first!
Helps to Regulate Soil Temperature
Another benefit of using mulch is that it can regulate soil temperature. In the spring, mulches can keep the soil warmer, and mulch helps keep the soil cooler during the summer.
Protects the Soil from Erosion
Soil naturally faces erosion over time, typically from wind, rain, and snow. You also can damage and cause erosion by the use of weed eaters, lawnmowers, and tillers. Mulch protects your soil from more damage.
7 Organic Mulch Choices for Your Veggie Garden
You might be surprised that some of these things are considered an option for mulch. Many of these items you have on your property right now, and they often are tossed out without thinking that they can be repurposed in your garden.
If you have a yard, then you have grass clippings available. Grass clippings decompose incredibly fast, giving your plants a boost of nitrogen. That makes them an excellent choice for tomato plants and other veggies that enjoy excess nitrogen.
If you decide to use grass clippings, make sure you don’t spray your grass with anything. You’ll need a thick layer, typically 4 inches thick or less, and then you’ll want to continue to add more as time goes on. Be careful not to spread it any thicker than 4 inches because the grass mats together and creates a nasty odor.
When you start your garden beds, you should mix compost with your soil to add nutrients. Then, once you plant all of your veggies into your garden, you can use compost as an organic mulch. Using compost as a mulch builds your soil texture while adding nutrients that will slowly leach into the soil.
Dry, Shredded Leaves
In the fall, you’ll have plenty of dry leaves that you can spread over your veggie garden beds. You can collect them in the fall and save them for the spring. Another option is to spread the leaves over the top of the soil in the fall or turn them under the soil, letting them break down over the winter.
You can do everything! Mix them in the fall with your soil, turning them into the ground. You know that in the fall, your soil will have extra nutrients. Then, in the spring, you can use shredded leaves a top mulch.
Newspapers might not be free, but it’s a cheap option for organic mulch. The nice thing about newspapers is that they’re available to most people no matter where you live. They’re 100% biodegradable, and they break down quickly into the soil.
You need to put several layers of newspaper down in your veggie garden; it’ll decompose faster than you might think. It’s best to slightly dampen the newspaper because the wind will blow them away if not!
Cardboard is an option that is similar to newspapers, but they do last longer. You can put the cardboard down in whole pieces with holes cut out for your plants or in strips. You also can use cardboard to create paths between the vegetable rows.
You’ll want to dampen the cardboard to help it stay down. Another option is to use cardboard after your garden is done harvesting for the summer. Lay down cardboard to help reduce spring weeds!
Straw (or seedless hay) works well for mulch, but it’s far from the most beautiful choice. It’s a fantastic choice for vegetable gardens, and many use it as a way to insulate and keep plants warmer during the early spring month.
One consideration to make is that straw needs to be applied in a thick layer. If you don’t, the pieces of straw will blow away quickly. It’s worth it! You can use straw in veggie and herb gardens as well as a dry path between garden beds.
Wood Chips or Shredded Bark
One of the most popular picks for mulches is wood chips; you can find multiple bagged options at local garden centers. Another option is to contact your local lumber mills to see if they sell wood chips in bulk. You can add them to annual vegetable or flower gardens, but they aren’t the best choice.
The problem with using wood chips is that they decompose slowly, so when you have to remove plants and replant the following year, the wood mulch will still be present in your garden beds. If you have a perennial garden bed or landscaping gardens, wood chips are a long-term organic mulch.
How to Pick The Right Organic Mulch
Now that you know the different options that you can use in your garden, are you wondering how in the world you’re going to pick the right mulch for your veggie garden?
Not all mulches work well for your garden. Here are three factors you should consider when making your selection.
The Veggie Crops You’re Growing
All vegetable crops have different needs and requirements for growth, so looking at each crop helps decide. Here are some examples.
Plants that handle extra nitrogen benefit from grass clippings, which will give boosts to your crops. Examples of nitrogen-loving plants include tomatoes, peppers, corn, pole beans, and cucumbers.
Cool-weather crops don’t want soil that is too warm, so options such as straw, shredded leaves, and newspapers don’t hold in the heat as much as other mulches.
Not all crops are considered heavy feeders; these are plants that require a lot of nutrients. Examples of these plants are broccoli, cabbage, corn, pumpkins, summer squash, and sunflowers. Compost will act as mulch while contributing more nutrients to these plants.
The Climate and Weather in Your Area
If you live in an area with a hot climate, you’ll want a mulch that will keep the soil cooler. Try shredded leaves or straw.
For those who live in a place with cool, wet summers, you don’t want to use mulches that retain too much moisture or become too matted to the ground.
The Soil Type in Your Garden
You should always think about your garden soil before picking a mulch. Most veggie plants don’t like wet, heavy soil; they want soil that dries out, so if that’s what you have, don’t pick mulch that retains too much moisture.
Try It This Year!
If you want to try something different in your garden this year, try laying organic mulch over your garden beds. You’ll love the results that come from this one simple garden task.