You may have noticed that if you remove weeds and leave any part of your garden soil uncovered that immediately some other weed will take its place so that the ground is rarely left uncovered. This protects the soil from being washed away and losing its nutrients and helps the soil to continue to provide shelter and conditions needed for soil organisms to thrive.
Mulching makes use of this natural manner by which the soil continues to be protected. Instead of weeds, other materials are used to cover any open soil surfaces around plants.
Although non-organic, usually plastic, mulches are commercially available, if you are a gardener growing vegetables at home, sticking to organic mulches will provide you with the best benefits. Commonly found materials that are suitable to be used as organic mulch include grass clippings, hay, coco peat, wood chips, and newspaper.
Mulching your vegetable plants requires very little time and effort but the benefits of mulching are long-lasting. Here’s how mulching can help you produce more vegetables with minimum effort.
1. You will need to water your plants less frequently
Vegetables are water-intensive plants that require frequent watering for them to be able to produce well. Keeping up with watering can be quite a task on days when we find ourselves unusually busy or when something urgently comes up. This is where mulching your vegetables comes in handy.
Mulching around your plants will allow the soil under the mulch to retain as much water as possible because less water will be able to evaporate. A study conducted in California found that applying a 5 cm thick layer of grass clippings as mulch reduced water evaporation from the soil by 40% within just 3 days.
This means that for most vegetable plants, even if you miss a day or two of watering, the moisture in the soil will be able to sustain your plants until you are back to your normal routine and can water your plants as usual.
If you are going on vacation for a few days, you can even add one or two additional layers of mulch about three to four days before you leave and add extra just before you leave. This is ideal for vegetable plants like okra that are not fussy about having some extra moisture near their roots.
In the end, mulching your plants will also help you conserve water because the overall amount of water that you will need to grow your vegetables will be much lower than if it was grown without mulch. The saving in water can make a large difference in cost and the impact on the environment in places where water is very scarce.
2. You will need to weed less often
Covering the soil around your vegetable plants will stop weeds from growing in the covered areas of the soil. This is because any weed seeds or seedlings in the soil will not be able to get enough sunlight that would otherwise allow them to germinate and grow.
You should first remove any weeds that have already grown around your plant before you apply mulch. For your mulch to be most effective against weeds you should apply mulch just after you transplant seedlings on the ground to stop weeds from growing at all.
3. Your soil will not be affected by temperature fluctuations
Mulch can provide an insulation effect on the soil that can help keep your soil at a constant temperature to protect your plants and soil animals from drastic changes in soil temperature.
During summer or under very warm climatic conditions, this means that your soil will be kept cool even if the temperature suddenly increases, while in areas where winters are very cold it will keep the ground frozen to prevent any new growth during brief warm spells.
4. You will build healthier soil with no additional effort
When organic matter is used for mulching, over time the organic matter breaks down and will provide your plants with additional nutrients. The decomposition of organic matter also creates an ideal environment for beneficial soil creatures to thrive, helping you to build healthy soil.
Mulching will also stop soil erosion to a great extent, which can be a problem especially if you have tilled your garden before planting your vegetable plants. Less soil erosion also means that fewer nutrients will be washed away.
5. Mulching will help your soil retain nutrients
You will need to add fewer nutrients to your plants when you use mulch because the mulch will hold the soil together and stop nutrients from being washed out. This will result in soil health being maintained in the long run.
6. Mulching will save you a lot of time
All these benefits of mulching together will allow you to spend far less time watering and caring for your plants because the mulch will be doing most of the work for you.
All you will have to do is to make sure that there is enough mulch, keep an eye on your plants, and enjoy your very own homegrown vegetables.
Usually, just 2-3 inches of mulch will be more than enough for most vegetable plants. How often you will have to replace the mulch will depend on the type of mulch that you are using.
If you use hay or grass clippings you will have to replace the mulch fairly regularly because the mulch will decompose in a matter of weeks, especially if it’s during the rainy season. If you use a much more long-lasting material, such as wood chips you will have to replace it only months later because these materials decompose very slowly.
Mulching need not be limited to just around the plant itself. You can mulch a large area around your plants to create pathways around your plants that you can use to water your plants or pick produce.
Have you mulched your vegetable garden? How much of a change has it made to your daily gardening routines? – Let us know in the comments