Mulch is used in the garden for a variety of purposes, but it primarily is used to prevent weed growth, to retain moisture, and to protect root systems in the heat of the summer sun. In actuality, mulch used in the vegetable garden supplies much of the very same results as cultivation does.
Common material for mulching the vegetable garden include straw, hay and leaves. The mulch is generally built up 4 to 6 inches high for maximum protection.
The answer, not surprisingly, is that it depends. A general rule of thumb is that vegetables with a long growing season benefit from mulching, while short and early season vegetables require comparatively little cultivation, and so it’s of less value to expend the cost to mulch them.
Plastic mulch is sometimes utilized to heat the soil before seeds or seedlings are planted, and to keep it warm during the early spring, when the warmth of the sun can heat the soil despite the fact that the air is still clear. Typically, though, the plastic mulch is removed when the season has progressed.
Another reason to select mulch over cultivation is if you expect that your garden will need to be neglected over a period of time. If you’re arranging a two-week summer holiday, by mulching the garden, you can minimize weed growth, and keep as much moisture as possible, so that your plants are more likely to survive your absence.
Lastly, mulch can be used as a winter fertilizer. Fall leaves chopped by the lawn mower or leaf shredder create a perfect topper for the garden, particularly if you use elevated boxes. The layer of leaves protect the soil from the elements, reducing soil loss through the winter, and come spring, the mainly decomposed leaves can be turned into the soil, providing valuable nutrients into the garden.
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