Wednesday, May 2, 2012

One Critical Thing to Do For Your Vegetable Garden This Summer!

The weather here in Tennessee is nothing if not unpredictable.  Some will even say that the only thing predictable about the weather is that it is unpredictable!  So gardeners are left trying to figure out how to best mitigate harsh conditions of any extreme.  Two years ago we were facing floods that washed out gardens, homes, and upturned lives - today, we're dry. Very dry.  Both of these weather extremes make gardening a bit of a gamble, but there are some things that will help mitigate some problems and ease the stress of unpredictable weather.  There is one critical thing you must to for your vegetable garden this summer to help - mulch.

A lot of beginning gardeners don't realize how important mulch is for growing vegetables.  Mulch does so much for your garden that it really is critical for your garden's success.  So what does mulch actually do for your garden?  A lot!
  • Mulch first and foremost keeps water from leaving the soil too quickly.  Without a good layer of mulch the soil will dry out and your plants won't have access to enough moisture top sustain themselves.  
  • Mulch also keeps the soil cooler during the hot summer. Ours summers get really, really hot here in Tennessee and keeping the soil a few degrees cooler may be the difference between good production and no production.
  • Mulch (if its an organic based mulch and isn't something like rock or gravel) breaks down over time and feeds the soil which nourishes your plants.  Many people look at the disintegration of mulch as a problem requiring more work for next year. What it really is is the formation of good quality topsoil that plants need to grow!  Mulch breaking down is what you want.
  • Mulch also keeps weeds down.  If weed seeds need light to germinate and can't get it, they won't germinate!  Pretty simple right?  But even if they do germinate or you've had weeds there that you missed pulling before mulching they are easier to pull because the soil stays more moist!  
Hopefully you realize how important mulch is to the success of your garden. I bet the next question you're asking in your head is what kind of mulch should you use on your vegetable garden?  Here you have a lot of options.
  • Straw has been used for ages in vegetable gardens.  It's cheap, functional, and breaks down easily which improves the soil.
  • Pine straw works too.  It won't increase the acidity of your soil significantly enough to worry about.  It's used ornamentally but is very functional in the vegetable garden since it allows water to easily flow to the roots.
  • Grass clippings!  This is my favorite since it's pretty much free if you have enough lawn to use.  Don't use anything treated with herbicides or pesticides since those substances are good for your garden.  
    Grass Clippings as mulch around potatoes
  • Leaves.  If you happen to have some leaves that haven't decomposed fully from fall you may have some of the best mulch around!
  • Hardwood mulch works too.  I would lean toward something like pine bark that will break down faster and is often found in smaller pieces.  Other hardwood mulches will work too but try to avoid anything that has been colored or treated with chemicals.  
Hardwood Mulch in the Vegetable Garden

I avoid the gravel and stone based mulches completely.  They won't improve the soil and could become problematic when planting.

Mulching simply is critical to have a successful vegetable garden here in Tennessee.  Not only will it improve your garden's success and make your gardening easier but it also lowers that water bill!

11 comments :

  1. Thanks for that advice, Dave. I thought you were going to say watering. I just mulched the new asparagus bed with Black Kow compost. Straw is on the raspberries. Looks like I need to do some mulching, along with the watering.

    Frances

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Frances,

      Watering certainly is critical! But really a number of things are. The fact that you can greatly reduce your watering with mulch makes it important.

      Delete
  2. We may need to start consulting our brethren in the Southwest for gardening advice! http://www.organicswgardening.com/

    The native Americans of the SW were very successful with agriculture. "The Three Sisters" were the foundation of their system. Corn, bean, and squash were planted together. The bean grew up the corn stalk and the squash shaded the soil to conserve water. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_in_the_Southwestern_United_States

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carmen,

      The Three Sisters approach is a good way to go! Use each plant to aid another. Much like companion planting.

      Beans also provided nitrogen back into the soil!

      Delete
  3. I had thought I would use hay, but I am hearing that hay is very expensive right now. I guess I will just buy the mulch you see in everyone's flower beds, the wood chips. I have a terrible ant problem right now because I used compost as a layer of soil that was still biodegrading. Plus the compost heap was close by. Any suggestions?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I too like to use the Black Cow. Need to put some on my asparagus bed also. I use the clippings from mowing. Dave just wanted to know if cypress mulch would be good in the garden?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dave, I use straw on raised beds with really good results, but one of the best home gardens I've ever seen was in central Texas, (TN is frigid by comparison) It was mulched with grass trimmings every time he mowed. It was never trned under, fertilized, and seldom if ever watered. The grass mulch was about 6 to 8 inches thick. It was one of the most productive and weed free gardens I've ever seen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ralph,

      I have no doubt about that! Grass clippings contain about 2% nitrogen in them. When it's placed on a vegetable garden regularly or in large amounts it adds that slow release organic nitrogen to the soil. I don't get ours to 6-8 inches thick but I've rarely amended the soil since using grass clippings!

      Delete
  6. I used to use grass clippings at my last home, much bigger vegetable garden there. I now used shredded peat moss does a good job keeping in the moisture and blends into the soil eventually.

    I think sometimes gardeners do not realize that it is important to mulch in the vegetable garden.

    Eileen

    ReplyDelete
  7. So this might be a stupid question, but if you put grass clippings on your garden, does it not seed and encourage grass to grow there?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Allie, not a stupid question at all! Grass clippings that have seeds on them could potentially grow new plants. I use grass clippings without seeds as much as possible. Usually if you are using clippings from a regularly cut lawn you won't have much grass going to seed. I have never had a problem with our fescue in the garden areas.

      I also would avoid using grass with rhizomes like Bermuda. It's very possible to root that somewhere in the garden accidentally.

      Delete

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