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Mulching Your Fruits, Vegetables, and Perennials


April 10

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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6 comments to Mulching Your Fruits, Vegetables, and Perennials

  • Sandra

    Hi again Theresa!!
    I was wondering how to mulch small transplanted seedlings without hurting them. I shall be doing so tomorrow with the winter sown seedlings. Thanks for anticipating the questions people will have, I love that I found exactly the answer and the detail I needed here. Excellent teaching post. Sandra

  • Theresa

    Tomorrow should be perfect for transplanting your winter sown seedlings, Sandra. It’s suppose to rain tomorrow night or Tuesday morning and that will be perfect for settling them in. And a light covering of straw with keep the ground nice and soft.

    Use the directions in the above post for ‘Sprinkle the straw’ -Hold a handful of straw above the plants and shake the straw, letting it fall onto the transplants and bed piece by piece. When the ground is just covered, but you can still see the seedlings, that will be enough for the first “sprinkling”. 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. After it rains, sprinkle some more on. Make sure you can still see the seedlings – even if you have to look closely. As the days pass and the seedlings grow up through the straw, all the straw will work its way to the base of plants. Continue to add straw as they grow. You’ll do fine.
    Best,
    Theresa

  • Kiskin

    Hi, Theresa!

    I would love to start mulching the vegetable beds at my mother´s garden, but we couldn´t use straw there – it is a seaside plot with heavy winds – the straw would be blown away in no time.

    But we do have an unlimited access to seaweed. Do you think I could mulch the vegetable beds with that instead, since it is the only thing that seems to stay on the beds at our windy plot. Our garlics seem to enjoy it (we started to experiment with the seaweed mulch last october).

    And thank you for extremely interesting topics! 🙂

  • Theresa

    Hi Kiskin,
    I think the seaweed would probably be excellent for mulch. I don’t think you would have any ill effects — from salt — but just keep an eye out for things. More than likely this will work to really enhance your garden even more than straw!

    Keep me posted on how things go. Also, I’d love to hear more about why your access to seaweed is unlimited. It seems that just seaweed washing up on the beach would not be enough to continually mulch the garden. As you know all mulches decay and become organic matter. The speed they do that will depend much on the weather.

    So nice to have you as a reader Kiskin. Glad you find TMG interesting. Thanks for checking in with a comment!
    Theresa

  • Jennifer Smith

    Hi Theresa, I found your blog last week and have read through quite a bit of your archives. Thanks so much for all the information you’ve given!!

    Have you seen the “Back to Eden” film? (http://backtoedenfilm.com/) After watching it, I knew that heavy mulching was a technique I was going to use in my garden. But now I’ve run into a problem. I mulched with straw after the some big rains and it’s done really well at retaining the moisture in my soil. BUT, now my garden beds look like I’m growing wheat grass!! I know it’s straw and not hay I’m using, but I’m guessing there was A LOT of seed left in my bails.

    I’ve been trying to weed for 10 minutes at a time every day but I’m making minimal progress. Any way to suppress the grass from the straw? Am I doomed to weeding an hour every day?

    Jenn

  • Theresa

    No — you’re not doomed to weeding an hour everyday — at least not forever, Jenn.

    How much seed you get in the straw depends on the farmer. If things are done as they should be done — seed will be minimal and then its not much effort at all.

    I’ve gotten my straw from the same family for 30 some years. For the most part, all goes well. But one year — it was awful. To make matters worse, I talked myself into thinking “I’d get to it when I had more time!” I’ll never do that again! It was a nightmare.

    As you know the wheat comes up easily and the main thing is to NOT TO LET IT SEED! I would suggest a couple of strategies to get this in hand. Section your garden off (in your mind) into 4 to 8 to 12 parts depending on how big it is. Weed one of those sections each day. Or just increase your weeding time to maybe 15 to 30 minutes everyday you can — which is a lot I know —but you need to get it under control so you won’t have to work more when you’re in the middle of the harvest season.

    Also – if you can — say something about this to your “source” and see what they say. If they make light of it — maybe you need to find another source for the straw.

    I’ve experienced what you’re going through and it’s not very much fun. But it won’t last and hopeful you will seldom have this problem.

    Regarding Back to Eden — I have not seen the movie — but will check out your link. The book “Back to Eden” by Kloss was a staple in our household for many years — and still is.

    I’m so pleased you found TMG and that you have found the information helpful. Please keep me posted on how you’re doing with this straw situation. I’d like to know how long it takes to resolve it and also what your source for straw has to say.

    Welcome to TMG, Jenn. Nice to have you reading!
    Theresa

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