The more I garden, the less I am a fan of mulching. I’m not saying you shouldn’t amend your soil with organic matter, but it’s always seemed to me that if you need a lot of mulch, you don’t have enough plants.
I used to get several cubic yards of mulch delivered every spring and spend a week or so spreading it around the yard. It was high quality mulch that was still hot enough to create a steaming pile. For a few weeks the beds looked lovely. But it didn’t take very long for the mulch to break down and disappear into the soil. Now what? Mulch again? There has to be a better way.
What is It?
In the flower beds, I’ve found it much easier to simply plant more closely together. This either shades out weeds or makes them less noticeable – both good options. I still top dress with compost once or twice a year, but I don’t use mulch to make the beds look finished.
And in the Vegetable Garden?
The vegetable garden is another matter. I’ve always loved straw mulch for veggie gardens. It’s clean, keeps the soil from splashing up, it’s easy to move aside to plant, and it does a good job suppressing weeds and retaining moisture.
I usually mulch the beds as soon as I finished getting the “big” stuff in, like tomatoes, peppers and squash. It never crossed my mind, until I heard recently at a lecture, that timing mattered.
Cool season crops, like arugula, peas, and lettuce, should be mulched right after planting. They like cool, damp soil and mulching early will hold those qualities in. So I would have been better off mulching them after planting, rather than waiting until the garden was completely planted.
But for heat lovers, like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, it’s better to wait until the soil has had a chance to warm up. They still need the moisture conserving benefits of mulch, but they don’t want to the moderating affect of mulching over cool soil.
Let’s face it, although we all know we’re not supposed to put our precious tomatoes out until the soil has warmed, many times we push our luck and think that mulching them provides a layer of protection. We’d be better off covering the plants with row covers or baskets, when the temperature dips, and waiting to mulch until no more dips are in the forecast. Of course you don’t want to wait until the soil is baking hot and a powdery, dry texture. As with everything else in gardening, mulching takes some finesse. Gardening is an inexact science.