How to Use Mulches in Vegetable Production

Overview

Mulches come in two distinct forms, organic and inorganic. Organic mulches are classified into dead material and living mulches. Dead organic material includes wood byproducts, straws and compost. Living mulches may be any form of green cover crops that will choke out unwanted plants from the garden bed area. Inorganic mulches are plastic sheet materials that are laid on top of growing beds. According to the Florida Extension Service, plastic mulches have many benefits along with a major negative aspect. Plastic mulch removal and disposal may be difficult for some growers of vegetables.

Plastic Sheets

Step 1

Prepare the vegetable garden bed according to the plant species you are propagating. Various vegetable plants will require different forms of plant nutrients and bed depth. Use the rototiller or shovel for the bed preparation. Add any nutrients into the soil.

Step 2

Lay the plastic sheet mulch over the garden bed.

Step 3

Dig the edges of the plastic into the soil using the shovel. The soil will hold the plastic in place. There are many colors of plastic mulch available. In some instances, specific colors have been developed for particular vegetable plant species. Consult local nurseries for information on these colors, and how the plastic mulch will aid in certain plant development.

Step 4

Cut slits or hole openings into the plastic mulch using a knife or scissors. Space the openings according to the plant's individual growing requirements.

Step 5

Plant the vegetables through the slits or holes and into the soil. Plastic mulches offer good moisture retention and retardation of weed growth around the vegetable plants.

Organic Mulches

Step 1

Prepare the vegetable garden bed as in Step 1 above.

Step 2

Layer the dead organic mulches, wood byproducts or straw, around the newly planted vegetables in the garden bed. Typical application of organic dead mulches will be 2 inches to 3 inches thick.

Step 3

Keep the mulch approximately 1 to 2 inches away from the individual plant's stem. This will decrease insect activity damage to the vegetable plant.

Step 4

Wait for up to five weeks for the vegetable plants to become firmly established in the growing bed. Wait time will depend on the species of the vegetable plant. The goal is to have the plants growing well and thriving.

Step 5

Plant the appropriate living mulch variety alongside the vegetable growing bed. In some cases and plant species, the living mulch may compete for nutrients and moisture with the vegetable crop. Consult your local agricultural extension service for information on living mulches that will not compete for plant nutrients and water. Living mulches will add organic matter to the soil.

Things You'll Need

  • Rototiller (optional)
  • Shovel (optional)
  • Plastic mulch sheet material
  • Shovel
  • Knife or scissors
  • Inorganic dead material (wood byproducts, straw)
  • Cover crop seed (rye grass, winter wheat, clovers, crown vetch)

References

  • University of Florida: Polyethylene Mulching for Early Vegetable Production
  • North Carolina State University: Living Mulches

Who Can Help

  • Penn State University: Benefits of Crown Vetch as a Living Mulch
Keywords: wood chip mulch, plastic mulch sheets, living mulch

About this Author

G. K. Bayne is a freelance writer, currently writing for Demand Studios where her expertise in back-to-basics, computers and electrical equipment are the basis of her body of work. Bayne began her writing career in 1975 and has written for Demand since 2007.