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Mulch For Vegetable Garden

mulch for vegetable garden 1
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Mulch For Vegetable Garden

Mulch in Your Vegetable Garden—Beyond the Basics By GrowOrganic.com on April 29, 2013 Tricia takes the mystery out of mulching; we filmed our mulching video in her raised bed vegetable garden. Everyone tells you to mulch your vegetable garden—but exactly how should you choose a mulch? In our video, Tricia shows you the basics of mulching. What’s the difference between compost and mulch? That was a trick question. You can use compost as a mulch all by itself. But you shouldn’t. Finished compost or “humus” is a cornerstone of organic gardening. In the photo above you can see Tricia spreading it in a raised bed. Compost is decomposed organic matter full of microorganisms that will populate the soil and expand the soil food web in your garden. The compost will also improve your soil quality and structure—in clay soil it increases drainage, and in sandy soil it helps retain water. Compost feeds your soil and mulch protects your soil. You can use compost alone as a mulch, but it will sink into the soil pretty rapidly. What we think of as a “best practice” is to spread a one inch layer of compost and then cover it with a two inch layer of natural mulch like straw (not hay that has seeds), paper, bark, wood chips, dry grass clippings—or with a layer of plastic mulch. Some gardeners worry that those layers of compost and natural mulch will keep water from reaching the roots of their plants. Not true. Even with our preferred drip irrigation, the water will trickle in and, importantly, will evaporate much more slowly because of the mulch layer. When to use plastic mulch Be sure to put the plastic mulch on top of the irrigation (or it will block water flow to the soil). Plastic mulch is—plastic—and therefore an effective weed barrier. That’s a good thing in the vegetable garden. From the strawberry plants that are hard to weed between, to the big vegetable leaves that conceal weeds, you can see how it would be handy. Plus, certain plants like certain colors of plastic mulch. Really. How to choose from the rainbow of colors in plastic mulch Who’s rockin’ the red plastic mulch? The strawberries and the tomatoes, that’s who. Eggplants too. Tomatoes and eggplants do 12% better with red mulch. If you don’t want to go the whole red plastic film route with your tomatoes you can take a shortcut with a red plastic Tomato Crater for each plant. Silver mulch film reflects well on certain vegetables Aphids don’t like silver mulch film. Which means the rest of us do like it. Use silver mulch film with your peppers and, according to Pennsylvania State University Extension, you can expect a 20% increase in size and yield. Black plastic mulch to heat things up Potatoes respond to all mulch colors, but they produce at their highest quality with black plastic mulch. Are you growing onions? They’re broad-minded and respond to all of these colored plastic mulches. Two big no-nos in mulching 1. For our first item on the DON’T list, let’s step outside the vegetable garden and get a vivid example of “volcano” mulching around a tree. See that mound of mulch? Not unlike a volcano? It’s a bad idea, and for some reason has become popular around the U.S. One of the worst of the many bad consequences of volcano mulching is excess moisture around the tree trunk, which can lead to fungal canker diseases. Friends don’t let friends volcano mulch a tree. Keep mulch at least six inches away from the tree trunk, and don’t pile it up deeper than two inches. 2. Now we’re back in the strawberry bed and it’s easy to remember, in this smaller venue, not to volcano mulch the strawberries or vegetables either. Keep all mulch one to two inches away from the stems of vegetables and soft fruits. Those are your pointers on mulching. Now get out there and mulch! You’ll save yourself from endless weeding and watering.
mulch for vegetable garden 1

Mulch For Vegetable Garden

Everyone tells you to mulch your vegetable garden—but exactly how should you choose a mulch? In our video, Tricia shows you the basics of mulching. What’s the difference between compost and mulch? That was a trick question. You can use compost as a mulch all by itself. But you shouldn’t. Finished compost or “humus” is a cornerstone of organic gardening. In the photo above you can see Tricia spreading it in a raised bed. Compost is decomposed organic matter full of microorganisms that will populate the soil and expand the soil food web in your garden. The compost will also improve your soil quality and structure—in clay soil it increases drainage, and in sandy soil it helps retain water. Compost feeds your soil and mulch protects your soil. You can use compost alone as a mulch, but it will sink into the soil pretty rapidly. What we think of as a “best practice” is to spread a one inch layer of compost and then cover it with a two inch layer of natural mulch like straw (not hay that has seeds), paper, bark, wood chips, dry grass clippings—or with a layer of plastic mulch. Some gardeners worry that those layers of compost and natural mulch will keep water from reaching the roots of their plants. Not true. Even with our preferred drip irrigation, the water will trickle in and, importantly, will evaporate much more slowly because of the mulch layer. When to use plastic mulch Be sure to put the plastic mulch on top of the irrigation (or it will block water flow to the soil). Plastic mulch is—plastic—and therefore an effective weed barrier. That’s a good thing in the vegetable garden. From the strawberry plants that are hard to weed between, to the big vegetable leaves that conceal weeds, you can see how it would be handy. Plus, certain plants like certain colors of plastic mulch. Really. How to choose from the rainbow of colors in plastic mulch Who’s rockin’ the red plastic mulch? The strawberries and the tomatoes, that’s who. Eggplants too. Tomatoes and eggplants do 12% better with red mulch. If you don’t want to go the whole red plastic film route with your tomatoes you can take a shortcut with a red plastic Tomato Crater for each plant. Silver mulch film reflects well on certain vegetables Aphids don’t like silver mulch film. Which means the rest of us do like it. Use silver mulch film with your peppers and, according to Pennsylvania State University Extension, you can expect a 20% increase in size and yield. Black plastic mulch to heat things up Potatoes respond to all mulch colors, but they produce at their highest quality with black plastic mulch. Are you growing onions? They’re broad-minded and respond to all of these colored plastic mulches. Two big no-nos in mulching 1. For our first item on the DON’T list, let’s step outside the vegetable garden and get a vivid example of “volcano” mulching around a tree. See that mound of mulch? Not unlike a volcano? It’s a bad idea, and for some reason has become popular around the U.S. One of the worst of the many bad consequences of volcano mulching is excess moisture around the tree trunk, which can lead to fungal canker diseases. Friends don’t let friends volcano mulch a tree. Keep mulch at least six inches away from the tree trunk, and don’t pile it up deeper than two inches. 2. Now we’re back in the strawberry bed and it’s easy to remember, in this smaller venue, not to volcano mulch the strawberries or vegetables either. Keep all mulch one to two inches away from the stems of vegetables and soft fruits. Those are your pointers on mulching. Now get out there and mulch! You’ll save yourself from endless weeding and watering.
mulch for vegetable garden 2

Mulch For Vegetable Garden

Leaves gathered in the fall make fine mulch, too, although black walnut leaves should be avoided because they leach chemicals that inhibit the growth of tomatoes and many other plants. All leaves are easier to handle and more likely to enhance plant growth if you run over them with a mower once or twice before gathering them up. If you don’t have a bagger but do have a mower that will spew cuttings off to one side, you can quickly make piles of chopped leaves by mowing in concentric circles and directing the shredded leaves toward the center of the circle.In my garden, I especially like the way long-vined squash behave if given a summer mulch of leaves over newspaper, so I go ahead and pile leaves on or near next year’s squash row in the fall. Indeed, any vacant veggie bed makes a fine winter holding place for leaf mulch. The pile will suppress cool-season weeds and attract earthworms, which are always more numerous under mulch.Still, I need more mulch! As the public mulch supply has become less trustworthy (because of killer compost), I’ve stopped buying hay. Instead, I find myself growing more plants specifically to turn them into vegetable garden mulch. Twice a summer, I cut back waist-high comfrey plants that grow along a half-shaded fence. Persistent yet non-spreading, comfrey produces lots of big leaves that can be used to mulch beneath peppers, tomatoes and even sweet corn. An added bonus: Between cuttings, comfrey’s blue blooms attract lots of pollinators.Other options for growing mulchable vegetation include maintaining a plot of tall perennial clover that can be cut with a scythe, or including dedicated, double-cropped, mulch-producing plants in your garden rotation plans. Based on biomass crop-production research conducted in 2006 at Iowa State University, you could try the idea of growing a winter-hardy grain from fall to spring (rye, triticale or wheat) followed by sorghum or a sorghum/Sudan grass hybrid during the summer. (In climates with mild winters you could use crimson clover or oats for the winter crop.)Either way, you’ll come away with a cool-season mulch crop to harvest in early summer — just when you need lots of fresh, clean mulch. Another mulch crop will come along during the growing season’s second half, with another in time for mulching beds in fall and winter. (Sorghum regrows if cut back by half its size.) Winter-killed sorghum plants will mulch the soil through winter. In spring, you can turn under or gather up and compost the remaining sorghum skeletons and rotate the bed back to vegetables.Other parts of your landscape can be tweaked to produce more mulch, too. As long as you avoid invasive species, large ornamental grasses can produce several armloads of straw when they are pruned back in late winter. Top choices include giant miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) and ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass. Growing seed-sterile varieties of giant miscanthus (maiden grass), researchers at the University of Illinois achieved double the straw yield typical of switch grass, a popular native grass grown for hay. When I cut back my big clump of maiden grass in late winter (a pruning saw works well for this), I usually get enough “hay” to mulch a 2-by-20-foot row.

Mulch For Vegetable Garden

Mulch For Vegetable Garden
Mulch For Vegetable Garden
Mulch For Vegetable Garden
Mulch For Vegetable Garden

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