Mulching the vegetable garden

Give your homegrown vegetables a boost by putting down mulch. A blanket of organic mulch will help regulate soil temperatures, smother weeds, conserve moisture, reduce soil erosion, and can reduce the amount of disease organisms that might splash up from the soil. It also makes the garden look nice.

Rebecca Krans is an extension consumer horticulture educator at Michigan State University. She says there are several options that work well in vegetable gardens.

"We definitely suggest shredded leaves, steering away from black walnut, but any other type is good. They need to be shredded, that allows enough air and they don’t turn into a moldy clump. Pine needles are great, especially if you have a local source," says Krans. "For some of the larger vegetables you could use moistened newspaper covered with straw."

Shredded bark can also be used, but she recommends that larger wood chips be put down in pathways. If you use grass clippings, be sure six weeks have passed since weed killers were used on the lawn.

When you apply the mulch depends on whether you’re planting transplants or seed.

"Transplants, little seedlings, right after you plant them and you water them in very well, you can apply 3” of mulch making sure that it’s not up against the main stem of the plant," she says. "Now, with something that you’re direct seeding, you probably want to hold off on your mulch because you’re applying another layer for that seed to go through. We suggest that you wait until your seedlings emerge."

Biodegradable mulch material serves the garden again at the end of the season. Chop it up and till it in to add organic matter to the soil.