Vegetable gardeners have been rejoicing. The growing season got off to an early start this spring with mild conditions and abundant rains. As a result, we are reaping the rewards with a supply of freshly picked salad greens, broccoli and other nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Now that the unofficial start of summer has passed, our attention turns to summer crops and what we can do to help them survive and thrive. We can’t predict whether the upcoming weather will be favorable or a challenge. No matter what comes our way, one chore will lead to greater success: mulching.
A 2- to 3-inch layer of summer mulch over the soil in the vegetable garden can provide so many benefits. Vegetables produce best when they are grown under consistent conditions with few environmental swings. A blanket of mulch helps to ameliorate summer’s negative effects.
One of the most important benefits of mulch is that it reduces moisture loss from the soil under hot summer suns. Uneven moisture stresses the plant, reducing yield and quality. The mulch layer also keeps the soil temperature lower. Roots suffer with high soil temperatures, which reduce the plant’s ability to grow and bear fruit.
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A mulch layer is the best weed control for the garden. Many common species of weeds require sunlight for germination. The mulch layer blocks sunlight from reaching the soil, thus reducing weeds. It’s best to cultivate and remove weeds prior to mulching.
Mulch can help decrease the risk of disease and increase the quality of the harvest. Foliage or fruit that touch the soil can become infested with disease or even rot because of the humid conditions at ground level. The mulch covers the soil and protects the fruit from rot, and the fruit is cleaner when harvested.
Summer mulches for the vegetable garden can consist of several materials. The best vegetable garden mulches should break down during the season so they can be incorporated in the fall, adding much needed organic matter back into the soil.
Good low-cost summer mulches include last year’s fallen leaves, wheat straw or grass clippings that haven’t been treated with an herbicide.
Wood chips can also be used in the landscape, but they shouldn’t be incorporated into the soil in the fall because they don’t break down rapidly. The slow decomposing process can rob nitrogen fertilizer that plants need for growth.
Mulching the vegetable garden is one of the best practices to prepare for summer weather, with greater yields and better quality being the best benefits.