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!