Mulching Vegetables

Source(s): Wayne McLaurin

Few jobs in the vegetable garden are as rewarding as mulching. Time spent applying mulch to pepper, tomatoes, squash, eggplant and other vegetables will mean extra dividends at harvest time. Mulch prevents loss of moisture from the soil, suppresses weed growth, reduces fertilizer leaching, cools the soil and keeps vegetables off the ground. Fruit rots sometimes occur when vegetables touch the ground.

Mulching Advantages

  • Serves as a barrier between the plant and soil and helps prevent fruit rots.
  • Reduces labor since less cultivation is required. Emerging and small weeds perish under their bark barrier. Therefore, it reduces the need for tillage and the use of weed-control chemicals.
  • Conserves water by reducing evaporation of soil moisture, in turn lowering the soil temperature. Water absorption by a mulched soil is greater than that of unmulched soil. Mulch also prevents the formation of soil crusts. Soil loss from heavy rain and wind is decreased. In effect, mulches are excellent conservation agents.
  • Improves root growth by acting as an excellent insulator and preventing drastic fluctuations in soil temperature. Mulch keeps the soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter, improving both root growth and nutrient availability. At the end of the growing season, organic mulches can be tilled into the soil to further increase the organic-matter content and the water holding capacity of the soil.
  • Makes the garden neater and reduces the incidence of mud-splashed flowers and vegetables after heavy rains.

Choosing the Right Mulch

A practical mulch should be easily obtained, inexpensive and simple to apply. Availability and cost vary from region to region. Mulching materials may be available from materials in your own yard such as leaves, bought from garden centers and obtained from tree service firms. A suggested depth is 3 to 4 inches, bearing in mind that too little will give limited weed control and too much will prevent air from reaching roots.


Small pieces of bark are preferred over large chunks. Bark mulches vary, but all are attractive, durable and suitable for foundation shrub plantings. Contact with wood framing is to be avoided, since bark can be a termite vector. The high carbon- to-nitrogen ratio of bark requires prior application of nitrogen fertilizer.

Coffee grounds

Coffee grounds cake badly; a depth of 1 inch is recommended. Coffee grounds contain some nitrogen.


An especially good mulch, compost has fertilizer value and soil-like appearance. It is also a good organic amendment for tilling into the soil after the growing season ends.


Leaves are free, readily available in many areas, release some nutrients upon decomposition and spread easily. However, they have a tendency to from a soggy, impenetrable mat. This problem can be overcome by mixing leaves with fluffy materials, such as hay or straw, or by shredding the leaves.


This is certainly readily available and economical, but somewhat difficult to apply. The high carbon-to-nitrogen ratio necessitates the prior application of nitrogen fertilizer. A good use for newspaper is as an under-mulch; that is place 2 to 3 sheets under a thin layer of attractive, more expensive mulch.

Peanut shells (NOT RECOMMENDED)

Peanut shells are carriers of Sclerotium rotfsii, also known by the common names of Southern blight and white mold which can be a major problem in the garden. Peanut hulls may also be infested with nematodes and nut sedge seeds and/or tubers.


Wayne McLaurin
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