Hyperlocal: The Backyard Garden
July. It’s that time when the weather gets hot, the rain is less plentiful and our time is spent relaxing. So, how do you keep the garden productive without spending tons of time? The answer to so many problems is often mulch.
Before I go any further, I must add a caution. If you are actively dealing with slugs, mulch is possibly going to be detrimental. If you don’t have slugs, keep reading.
I’m a huge fan of mulch. It costs little to nothing, takes almost no time to apply and has multiple benefits. First of all, that lovely little layer is going to keep your plant roots cool in the heat. Even those heat lovers like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, need some heat protection. Their leaves and fruit may love that warmth, but their toes like it a little cooler. The shade provided by mulch helps to keep the soil cool, thus making for some very happy veggies.
Secondly, the mulch helps to keep in moisture. When the sun hits the soil directly, the water quickly evaporates. You water constantly and still see your plants wilting in the afternoon. A nice layer of straw will keep the water in the soil.
The last big benefit of mulch is weed control. Most of those weeds in your garden are craving the sun. If you deprive them of it, they will not produce nearly as much. You will still have the occasional weed, but not nearly as many as without mulch. Soil doesn’t like to be naked. It wants to be covered in something. Without a covering, it will produce weeds to protect itself. The mulch provides that covering as well. We all want happy soil.
So, now what? Prior to laying mulch, you want to make sure to weed the area well. The mulch won’t kill existing weeds. You also want to water deeply prior to application. This way, you’re starting with happy, moist and cool soil. The mulch will help to maintain these conditions.
Mulch should be applied around established plants. You don’t want to put it around tiny seedlings. It should also only be used around larger plantings. Carrots and other small plants can become stunted by mulch, unless you have them planted in widely spaced rows. In my intensively planted, raised beds it isn’t appropriate for carrots and beets.
Mulch can be any number of things. My personal favorite is straw. I get mine at Bridgewater Farm Supply. Each bale costs only a few dollars and most gardens will only need one. You can also use untreated lawn clippings. Free is great! Some put layers of wet newspaper around the plants and then apply straw or grass clippings for added protection. You can even use the same bark mulch that you put on your flower beds. The only caution with bark mulch, is to keep it away from the stems of your plants. All of these options will break down over the course of the year and feed your soil as well.
Another option is to lay down plastic sheet mulch prior to planting. This is done in spring. The plastic mulch is laid down and anchored. Holes are cut in the plastic where you put your plants. I don’t have any experience with this, but have friends that swear by it. You can get black plastic mulch, or a red plastic that is supposed to increase tomato yields.
Whatever you decide to use, you’ll find that mulch will help to decrease work in the garden. It will also help to increase yields, since your plants will be happier.
This post is part of the Frugally Sustainable blog carnival. Head over to check out other great posts.