Some folks have told me they don’t have an understanding of how to mulch certain vegetable beds. They reason that the newly emerged vegetables will be mashed by the mulch.
Using crops that are currently planted in my garden (or will be soon) as examples below, I’ve been more specific about justhow to mulch.
What to use: I now use straw, but have used shredded leaves and pine needles as well. (Pine needles will not make your soil acid. I used them for years at our other place and as with all organic matter they raised the ph of the soil.)
What straw to use: Sometimes large bales of straw have parts that are matted together as one large clump. These pieces can be used for paths, a bed not in use, or in areas between perennial flowers. The straw suitable for mulching as I describe below is loose and pieces will easily separate.
‘Sprinkle the straw’ – Obviously, you cannot throw piles of straw onto small seedlings. If you hold a handful of straw above the plants and shake the straw and let it fall onto the transplants and bed piece by piece the plants will not be damaged. In a few days all the straw will have worked its way to the base of plants like onions. And in the case of small seedlings, the cross hatching of straw will offer protection and the seedlings will work their way through the openings.
Broad guidelines: In a very rainy year you need less mulch. In a year without much rain you need more. You won’t know what’s coming in the future of course, but if you have too much mulch in certain areas you can pull it back if need be.
The more you mulch, the more you will get a feel for what is just the right amount for your situation.
When to Mulch: Mulching after a rain is absolutely ideal, but if the weather doesn’t fit with your schedule — just get the job done. It pays big rewards as set forth in my post 10 Reasons to Mulch.
Asparagus – Cover with mulch in fall to about a 4 inch depth. If you did not cover in fall or winter, cover now with 4 to 6 inches of mulch.
Beets or Radishes – After planting seed cover with straw at least 1/2 inch deep. As radishes germinate add more.
Radishes coming up through the straw.
Lettuce and Spinach seedlings – I plant seedlings (see the pictures with my post on Lettuce Time to Plant and sprinkle layers of straw on them as they continue to grow.
Lettuce seedlings coming up through the straw.
One of the reasons it is so important to cover new seedlings with a cross-hatching of straw is because of the protection it offers small plants from hard rain. A beating rain can ruin your entire bed of newly transplanted lettuce seedling.
Onions – If you plant onion sets — just plant and cover with an inch or two of straw. When they emerge you can add more if you feel it necessary. Two inches on onions is usually sufficient.
I use young onion plants rather than sets and sprinkle straw lightly on the planted bed. As they grow I add more straw to get the coverage needed to prevent the weeds and hold in moisture as well.
All the better if you have the time to cut the straw with the lawn mower and then apply it to the onion bed. The cut straw sifts down quickly and you can apply lots at a time.
As the onions start to bulb they will easily be able to push through the mulch and have their bulb exposed to the sunlight which is necessary for their growth.
Peas – Cover bed with about two inches of straw after planting. After germination the peas will work there way up thru the straw.
Potatoes – Cover planted bed with straw a depth of 1 to 2 inches. As the green emerges continue to add straw to a depth of about 6 inches. Brush deep straw away from green growth to expose to sunlight. (This year I planted some of my potatoes above ground and covered with straw. As they grow, I plant to add mulch to a depth of 12 inches.)
Newly planted potato bed.
Transplants of Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers, and Squash. I mulch the beds heavily with up to 12 inches of straw if I have it. I’ll settle for 2 inches if short on mulch material. When I’m ready to transplant my seedlings I move the mulch away from the designated spot and plant. The plant has a circle of unmulched soil around it with a diameter of about 12 inches until it begins to have blossoms. The mulch is then pulled closer to the plant.
Blueberries – Cover in fall with mulch to about 2 to 6 inch depth. If you did not mulch in fall or winter do so now.
Raspberries – Cover in fall with mulch 2 to 6 inches deep.
New Strawberry Bed – Thickly cover the bed in which you are going to plant new strawberries. Pull back the straw at the designated spot, plant, then pull straw up to leaves of the plant. Strawberries love beds like this!
Established Strawberry Bed – When my berries are finished for the season I cut the growth off. Rake it out of the bed and thin them a bit. Then I cover with at least two inches of straw. (I’d like 6 inches but it seems I’m short on mulch by then.) Soon new growth will come through the straw.
Before profuse growth starts at the end of March the bed should be mulch again. I didn’t get to mine this spring and mulching will be a harder job because I’ll have to apply it more carefully if I don’t wish to cover the beautiful blooms and small strawberries that are forming.
High visibility borders with lots of plants already up 6 to 18″. Ideally I use straw cut with the lawn mower for these borders. Its easy to apply and sifts down between the plants more quickly. Very presentable after its been rained on.
If you want good soil, bumper crops, no weeding, and more time to do the things you want —- mulching can go a long way towards reaching your goals.
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