Native to Central America, tomatoes thrive in warm climates and moist soil. Cultivation includes controlling weeds as they often carry disease and compete for moisture and nutrients. Proper mulching keeps weeds at bay, reduces the chance of disease, warms the soil and retains moisture. Although a variety of organic products can be used, plastic provides a clean, carefree surface and has been shown to improve productivity as well.
Select heavy-duty landscape plastic for mulching tomatoes as this provides an excellent barrier to weeds and prevents soil-borne diseases from splashing back on the plants during heavy rains. Black is inexpensive and readily available at home improvement stores. Red plastic is reported to increase fruit production but is more expensive and often difficult to locate.
Cover the planting area with plastic before setting out tomato seedlings. Anchor edges with rocks, a layer of soil or landscape spikes to prevent wind from blowing the plastic.
Cut 6-inch-long Xs spaced 2½ feet apart as holes for planting tomato seedlings. Punch holes every 12 inches in all directions to allow water to drain and prevent pooling on top of the plastic.
Hose off the plastic and remove in the fall when storing for the following season. Heavyweight plastic will last several seasons if stored properly.
Apply a 2- to 4-inch layer of straw, hay or grass clippings to the soil around the base of tomato plants. Leave a 1-inch gap around the stem of the plant.
Remove any weeds growing through the mulch by hand, using care not to disturb the layer of mulch.
Add additional mulch if grass clippings or other organic mulch deteriorate during the season.
Till mulch into the soil in the fall to provide organic matter, improve texture and provide valuable nutrients.
About this Author
Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with over four years experience in online writing and a lifetime of personal journals. She is published on various websites. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.