Friday, April 15, 2011

Mulch in the vegetable patch?

Someone asked this question on another forum and here is my answer. I don't use mulch on most vegetables because it is not necessary, and as mentioned it can contain diseases and or weed seeds if you are not 100% sure of the source. Let's think about why we use mulch and then consider that for many veggies it isn't necessary.  First to keep down weeds, hopefully you have been able to get rid of many weeds before the seed sowing, but otherwise this can be achieved by mixing plants.  For example if you have a vining plant under an upright plant such as squash grown under pole beans.  Another reason we use mulch is to keep the ground a steady temperature and keep moisture from evaporating.  For this use I would simply use my own compost or a good source of organic compost from a bag.  It will also give needed nutrients to the plants.  If you have made the soil in the garden a healthy mix of organic materials,  the moisture retention will not be an issue. Temperature is only a problem in the spring and the fall, in that case you just have to wait until the temperature of the soil stays steady. Sometimes there are vegetables or fruit we don't want touching the ground.  In this case I think straw (NOT hay) is a great source.  It will keep strawberries (the name says it all) from rotting on the soil, it keep delicate summer squash off of the dirt too.  And as an added bonus it compost fairly well.  So that's my take on mulch for vegetables.  I only use the straw on some things and try to avoid using mulch on most vegetables.  Ornamentals are a different story.  For perennial beds wood chips are fine.  I have gotten them from tree cutting companies and they seem to be only wood chips with no other things like pieces of plastic or diseased plants or seeds.  Make sure they haven't been cutting walnut trees and they should be fine, plus they are free!

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