Is it important to mulch around vegetables in a community garden? After all, plots aren’t very large, the plantings aren’t permanent, and it can be a lot of trouble to bring in mulch. The answer is YES! It is important to go to the extra trouble and add mulch. Mulching is simply adding a layer of material over the bare soil around your plants. For an extensive review of garden mulches see Robert Westerfield’s circular Mulching Vegetables.
Mulching does several wonderful things for our warm-season vegetables. It helps hold in soil moisture. Think of those hot, dry, sunny, Georgia summer afternoons. Bare soil gets baked; mulched soil does not. Mulch also helps even out the soil temperature. This is helpful for root development. Mulch can be a barrier to weed growth, reducing need for weeding. Also, mulch is a layer between the plant and the bare soil which can help prevent some rots that occur when vegetables or fruits lay on the ground.
A suggested mulching depth is 3 to 4 inches. Too little mulch will provide limited weed control while too much will prevent air from reaching plant roots. Keep in mind some mulches, like pine straw, tend to settle. Compost mulches can be tilled back in the soil after the growing season.
The best way to accomplish mulching in a community garden setting is to determine what materials are available and inexpensive. Wood bark, compost, leaves, pine straw, and hay straw are all possible choices.
A bail of pine or hay straw will usually fit in a car trunk. Wood bark and some composts come packaged in large bags which aren’t hard to transport. Maybe the group of gardeners wants to have a larger amount of mulch delivered and split the cost. Oftentimes, municipalities will take old Christmas trees and recycle them as mulch as a service to the community. These are usually free of charge. Your county UGA Extension Agent will be able to answers any questions you have about mulch.
However you decide to get your mulch, you will be very glad you did come harvest time.