Vegetable Garden Mulches

Planting a Vegetable Garden Mulch
Organic mulches can overwhelm seedlings if the layer is too thick.
Organic mulches can overwhelm seedlings if the layer is too thick.

Mulch, either organic or inorganic, is a valuable addition to a vegetable garden. Here are some directions for applying different types of mulch to your garden.

Using Organic Mulch

To use an organic mulch, such as straw or compost, spread a layer of the material on the surface of the ground around the plants after the soil has warmed up in the spring. If you're mulching around rows of direct-sown seedlings, wait until the plants are about four inches tall. Otherwise, the mulch will overwhelm the plants. Seedlings will poke through a light layer of organic matter, but several inches of mulch will prevent them from emerging. Avoid using a fluffy material with large particles, like bark chips, because you will have to put down a layer that is too thick. If you're using a denser material, such as straw or grass clippings, a two-inch layer will be enough. Be careful not to suffocate the vegetables while trying to frustrate weeds.

Landscape fabric mulch is a good alternative to organic mulches.

Laying Down Landscape Fabric Mulch

You can buy landscape fabric from many garden centers, hardware stores, and mail-order suppliers. It should be at least three or four feet wide. Put down the fabric before the plants are set out. Try to pick a calm day; a strong wind will whip the fabric around and make laying it down difficult. Prepare the soil with amendments and grade it smoothly with a garden rake. Lay out the row for the mulch with a string. Then, with a hoe, make a three-inch-deep trench along one side of the row for the entire length of the row. Pull some of the soil into the center of the area that will be covered with fabric: You want water to run off the fabric and into the soil rather than pooling on top of the fabric. Lay one edge of the fabric in the trench and cover the edge with soil. Smooth the fabric over the bed and repeat the process on the other side. Be sure the fabric is anchored securely, or the wind will get under it and pull it up.

To plant your seedlings or seeds in landscape fabric mulch, cut an "X" at the planting site.

Planting in Landscape Fabric Mulch

When you're ready to plant, cut an "X" about three inches across for each transplant or seed. With a hand trowel, dig through the "X" and plant as usual. Thoroughly water the plants through the holes in the mulch. After a rain, check to see if there are any spots where water is standing. If there are, punch holes through the fabric so the water can run through.

Want more information about vegetable gardens? Visit these links:

  • Caring for a Vegetable Garden: Read our guide to nurturing your vegetable plants for the best harvest.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Find out everything you wanted to know about vegetable gardening.
  • Vegetables: Pick out your favorite vegetables to plant in next year's garden.
  • Gardening: We answer all of your general gardening questions in this section.
  • Garden Care: Whether you're growing cucumbers or columbines, we have all the information you need to nurture a thriving garden.