Which type of mulch should I use?

General    Zone 7

Which mulch is best to use on my vegetable garden? Last year I found it difficult to keep up with the weeds and this year I want to be prepared. I have a variety of plants I want to grow and have just planted several varieties of pepper and lettuce indoors but I also want to grow squash in a few months. Is there something suitable for all of these plants? I’m in Oregon. Zone 7.

Posted by: Ed Simmons (3 points) Ed Simmons
Posted: February 4, 2013


I would recommend sheet mulching to keep down weeds, which consists of 2 layers. The areas in my garden that I have sheet mulched are completely weed free for at least one season, sometimes more. First water your garden well, then put down a solid layer of either newspaper or cardboard. Either is fine, just depends on what you have around. If you use newspaper, keep it at least 6 pages deep, or one layer of cardboard is plenty. Make sure you overlap it well so there are no gaps for weeds to get through. Once this is done get it nice and wet so it forms to the ground and stays there, then cover it with whatever mulch material you have access to like straw or leaves. This will weigh your newspaper or cardboard down, keeping it in place and making it look much nicer.

I would avoid using wood chips as mulch in a garden bed - I keep it to my pathways. Once something is used as mulch it is probably going to get incorporated into the soil later. This is a problem because wood leaches nitrogen out of the soil as it decomposes, taking a valuable nutrient away from the veggies if it is mixed into the bed.

Sheet mulching will last you at least one season, maybe more depending on how thick you make it and the conditions in your garden. You can go around your existing plants, or just do your whole garden bed if it is empty. When you are ready to plant something new you can just dig through it to make a hole.

Posted by: Amie Frisch (16 points) Amie Frisch
Posted: February 13, 2013

Mulch has many different uses in your garden. As you correctly say it is used as a covering to prevent weeds but it also very useful in conserving moisture and prevent the soil drying out. The name mulch can be applied to anything one puts over the soil such as wood chips, gravel or even plastic that affects the plants and soil quality.

An Oregon State University extension officer, Neil Bell says that one has to be careful as the different types can have different effects and even opposite to what you need. Generally for organic mulch 2 inches is suitable to keep weeds down. (http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gard...).

Some mulches have herbicides and I accidentally bought that to use last year here in Pennsylvania. I was unhappy about this as I dont use herbicides in my garden so be careful to check the labeling.

Bark chips would seem to be the best as it the most durable organic mulch. Other types are pine needles, straw/hay, shredded leaves and branches. The nice thing about bark chips is that you can different colors (dark through tan). Note that you can safe money with cardboard. Does the same thing.

I would be carful with the Squash and not damage the vines. The mulch will definitely keep weeds from growing. There is a very nice video from Jessica Craven showing how to mulch for squash. http://homeguides.sfgate.com/mulch-sq...

good luck

Posted by: David Hughes (65 points) David Hughes
Posted: February 5, 2013

Applying mulch is a great way to slow down the growth of weeds and prevent them colonizing your vegetable patch, or indeed, other areas of your garden where they may threaten to choke other plants. They also protect your plants by preventing the soil from freezing in the event of an unexpected frost. It is great that you are thinking ahead and planning what you want to use. As I'm sure you know, mulch comes in two general forms; it can be organic, e.g. bark, leaves or straw; or inorganic, e.g. rubber chips or plastic sheets. Each type of mulch may affect the soil in different ways and it is important to be aware of this when making your selection. Using black plastic sheets warms the soil and while this may be good news for some of your plants, it may stress others that prefer a cooler soil.

The plants you want to grow have different preferences when it comes to soil conditions. Peppers, for example, love warmth and will thrive in a warm soil produced under black plastic whereas lettuce not so much. You also have to take into account what your outdoor temperatures are likely to reach during the summer which I believe is between 60 and 70 F on average in Oregon. If using plastic, you would have to be careful of plants overheating and drying out on very hot days. This can be prevented by using drip irrigation under the plastic.

You could simply use compost spread over the top of your vegetable garden before you start transplanting this year but you would have to ensure that your beds are relatively free of weeds or they will just start to sprout through the layer. Straw is another popular choice in vegetable patches and would be fine to spread around all of your patch. It has the added benefit of providing a good habitat for beneficial insects. You could also consider spreading leaves if you have any composting from the Fall, the drawback is that these will decompose quickly, especially in the warmer weather, and will need replacing throughout the year.

Posted by: Lindsay McMenemy (4 points) Lindsay McMenemy
Posted: February 5, 2013

I have used newspaper in the past to great effect. It is good because it allows water through and is a much cheaper option than bark or straw.

Posted by: Maggie Muffins (1 point) Maggie Muffins
Posted: February 5, 2013

David Hughes commented,
yes. and dont forget old cereal boxes as well which are good for covering too
over 10 years ago.

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