Mulch as a gardening tool is rising in popularity, and there are some excellent reasons for it. Not only does mulch create a healthier garden, it also reduces the work load of maintaining vegetable beds. For decades, mulch was primarily used as an aesthetic element around trees and shrubs and as a landscaping tool. However, the benefits of mulch go way beyond mere appearance. If you've been wondering if you should mulch your vegetable garden, here are some reasons why you definitely need to consider implementing this powerful gardening technique.
What Is Mulch?
Mulch is a layer of organic matter used to cover soil. It is used in-between plants and between vegetable rows. Many materials can be used as mulch, including straw, wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, and bark.
It's always best to choose materials that will decompose since that becomes a benefit to the garden. Shells and stone are nice looking organic materials, but they take decades to decompose and therefore aren't a good fit for the vegetable garden.
7 Reasons To Mulch The Vegetable Garden
- Saves Water - Mulch operates as an barrier and insulator. Less water evaporates during the heat of the day when there is a layer of mulch protecting the soil. This means you won't have to water as often, and saves lots of money and time.
- Reduces Weeding – Weeds struggle to grow in the garden when there is a layer of mulch suppressing them. It's much harder for weeds to grow through mulch. Plus, weed seeds are less likely to germinate when there is mulch blocking the light they need.
- Adds Nutrients – As the mulch breaks down, it adds important nutrients and organic matter into the soil. Garden soil naturally deteriorates over time, as our vegetables take up the nutrients to grow and thrive. We should always be adding more organic material to the soil to fortify and improve it. Mulch does this naturally, creating a healthier soil and garden with minimal effort and expense from you. For gardens with poor soil, mulch is a must, as it naturally improves soil quality, which is then much better for vegetable growing.
- Regulates Soil Temperature – A buffer of mulch between the hot sun and the soil helps the ground stay a steady temperature. The mulch insulates and protects the soil from temperature extremes. Plants develop healthier, stronger roots when they aren't as susceptible to extremely cold or hot temperatures.
- Reduces Water Run-Off and Soil Erosion - On hot days, exposed soil bakes and forms a crust. This top crust of hardened soil obstructs water from infiltrating. Water runoff leads to soil erosion, as the water washes over the ground, taking the topsoil with it. When the soil is crusted over, it is also extremely susceptible to wind erosion. A layer of mulch prevents the soil from crusting, therefore reducing the chances of soil or wind erosion.
- Lessens Waste – The materials we use for mulch are often landfill fillers. Think about how many bags of leaves cities gather and send off to the landfill – all this is potential mulch material. Utilizing mulch in the vegetable garden reduces how much waste ends up in our overwhelmed landfills. This is a bonus for you and the environment!
Lowers Costs – In most cases, mulch material is free, or extremely inexpensive. You can use leaves from your grounds (as long as they are chemical free), or wood chips from a local lumberyard. Many towns will let you have the wood chips leftover from tree trimming. If you know your neighbors don't use chemicals on their lawn, ask if you can collect their grass clippings and leaves. There are many ways to get mulch materials, and most won't cost you anything, except maybe time and a little effort.
For small gardens, buying mulch from a garden center is also a reasonable option. Store-bought mulch is expensive, though, and not an ideal choice for large vegetable garden plots. Plus, manufactured mulch often contains contaminated wood chips made from chemically treated pallets. Or, in the case of Cyprus tree mulch (a popular garden center option), the trees are not sustainably harvested. It's essential to know where your mulch is sourced, even when it's a local company, to prevent chemicals from seeping into your precious garden soil.
This article on mulch benefits is part of a 3-article series. Next, we'll be discussing types of mulch, and then, lastly, how to apply mulch to the vegetable garden.