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Best mulch for vegetable garden?

Posted by singcharlene Z5 CO (My Page) on
Sat, Jun 10, 06 at 18:43

Hi there,

I'm in Castle's been so hot and dry and my vegetable garden was put in right before this heat started a few weeks ago (around 90 almost everyday) altough it's a little cooler today. I've had to water twice a day most days and provide shade. Everything seems to be surviving except for some pumpkin transplants and peas.

I had planned on mulching with seed-free straw but the places I've been to buy it say it won't be for sale until fall.

What's the best mulch from the big home/garden stores? Can I use just wood chips around the veggies? I need to do something to help keep in the moisture.

Thank you.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Best mulch for vegetable garden?

  • Posted by skybird z5, Denver, CO (My Page) on
    Sat, Jun 10, 06 at 21:22

Hi Charlene,

I mulch my veggies (plants and seeds) with grass clippings from when I cut the grass right after I plant them to help conserve water. I just put a thick layer in a ring around each plant or spread a layer over each row when I'm seeding. Every week when I cut the grass I add more to the garden and eventually have the whole thing covered which makes it much cleaner to walk and work in. Since grass is fine the stuff on the bottom keeps decomposing and adding organic matter to improve the soil. If you have annual weed grasses growing in your lawn you might wind up with grass seedlings coming up all over the garden, but I've never had a problem with ordinary turf grass (bluegrass), even though my grass is producing seed like mad right now. In fall when everything is done I turn over the soil and the remaining grass gets mixed in and decomposes the rest of the way over winter giving me better soil for the next year.

Bark or other wood mulch would work too to help with the water conservation, but it takes much longer to decompose if it gets worked into the soil, so you might wind up with a lot of "lumps!" Also, if a LOT of wood mulch winds up mixed into the soil, you could wind up with too little nitrogen in the soil---decomposing matter temporarily binds up the nitrogen in the soil (making it unavailable to the plants) until the decomposition is complete. Should that happen you could always feed with a high nitrogen fertilizer, or, to prevent that problem, you could rake the bark or wood chips back off of the soil at the end of the season rather than mixing it into the soil. There's not enough decomposition going on from wood or any mulch just laying on top of the soil to affect the nitrogen levels.

If you decide to use a bagged wood mulch, I just bought several bags of small bark chips for around my perennials and the best price I found was 3/$10 at Lowes.

Now for the BIG question! Are WE going to survive this summer? If it's this hot already, I don't even want to think about what it's going to be like in July and August!

Happy gardening---and---
stay cool,

RE: Best mulch for vegetable garden?

Charlene, if you'd like really good commercial mulch, your choice should probably be compost. A bit high in price but, of course, it depends on your requirements and capabilities.

A 1000 sq ft garden could be covered with 1 inch of compost. I haven't been shopping for these things at the big box stores but I think the bagged product might cost you up to $200. If you've got the means to transport it, you should be able to find high-quality compost for less than half that price. You'd need about 3 cubic yards (27 cu ft) minimum for a garden that size.

I've just looked at some receipts and I bought that much good organic potting soil bagged (no, not the same thing) for $100 wholesale a few weeks ago.

Bark would be cheaper, of course.


RE: Best mulch for vegetable garden?

Thanks for the input. I feel like I'm always asking questions and not giving anything in return. I promise when I am a little more knowledgable I shall give back!

I think I'll try the compost mulch as we don't have enough grass clippings. I'm letting most of the lawns die around our house, but when we do mow, I'll throw that in the garden as well.

Can't get that mulch on too soon either, supposed to be 92 tomorrow (hotter in Denver) Where was spring? This is it, it'll stay like this for the whole summer? Skybird--you pondered if WE would survive the heat. My "new" old house (1972) doesn't have any aircond. but a swamp cooler with a vent in one room and it's 3300 sq ft. Today I positioned a chair with my laptop right under the vent and did all my business from there. From 3pm to about 7pm the house is a sauna. I can't believe people lived in this west facing house for 30+ years with no air or at least a full house vented swamp cooler. I even asked when we bought it if it got hot in the afternoon due to western exposure... "Oh no"...Maybe I'm just a wimp? Ok I'm done complaining.

My veggie transplants look a little sad with the hot dry wind. I lost a cucumber, two pumpkins, the peas & spinach are history and everything else is begrudgingly holding on with twice a day water--the tomatoes do have blossoms though :) I have a whole bunch of strawberries that are waiting in dappled shade to be planted in their patch on a little cooler day.
I also have a bunch of bulbs I bought, can I plant those? When is it too late? (glads, watsonia, dahlia, cone flowers, sunflower seeds)?...

Keep cool!

RE: Best mulch for vegetable garden?

Hi there-- I live in the Springs and at least my house got a good hour of rain last evening. Yea!!! My rain stick must have worked. My house is west facing floor to ceiling picture windows that don't open. Built in 1953. There must have been a shade tree in the back yard at some point, but none now. I have planted 5 trees but they are teeny tiny. I think our weather patterns have changed so much that it used to be OK all summer. We would have a nice storm at 4:00 and cool everything off for the night. Now I can't be on my deck from 2-8 and the inside is almost unbearable in the late afternoon and evening. AC is becoming necessary for the first time. I think this the the future-- global warming and all the growth have changed things forever.

I have to water my garden at least once a day, sometimes twice. I have thrown grss seed out twice on the bare spots and have to water those 3x. I have my spring garden (lettuce, peas, green onions, etc.) under my clothesline. I drape sheets over it to shade. I also use my plastic lawn chairs to shade new plantings. I don't think spring is in our future either! We haven't had a good one in years. We just have to adjust to what we have and what it's going to be from now on I guess. Good luck!

RE: Best mulch for vegetable garden?

Hi Charlene,

I live in North Central NM (zone 5), and I know what you mean about the hot weather. It seems to be much hotter than it should be this early in the summer. I've been watering more than I normally would - even with all my plants (both flowers and veggies) mulched. I use a shredded cypress mulch around everything. I can always pull it away from the plants to add any organic matter, which I can already see that some of the beans I planted are in need of, and then replace it. It does help retain moisture. I found it at Home Depot for just under $4/large bag. It goes a long way if you spread it thin.

One thing I did, this spring, to help protect some of my plants from the hot summer sun, was to build an inexpensive bamboo arbor / frame. I planted pole beans around the base of the arbor, which will eventually grow up and over (following the jute string I wound around the bamboo). This will allow the veggies and flowers, planted below, to receive full morning sun, but will partially shade them from the hot mid-day to afternoon sun - come July & August. I just did this in one section of our garden to see how it works.

Hot summers, pocket gophers, earwigs, birds.....the battle goes on. ;O)
Happy Gardening!

RE: Best mulch for vegetable garden?

Thanks Oonagh--I like the idea about the bamboo structure. As most of my vegetables are in raised boxes I was trying to think of a way to build a fairly attractive bamboo structure over a few of the boxes for the shadier stuff. My neighbors have a good view of my garden as their house sits above it and looks down upon on it. I thought they might appreciate that instead of the white plastic lawn chairs I've been tenting over the new veggies.

I did end up buying some EKO Organic Compost from Home Depot (thanks to Steve's advice) and spread that all over the veggie garden. I think it was about $4.00 a bag. It's nice as it's pretty substantial and not fine in texture like some compost I've bought before. It seems to help a lot.

It rained a lot yesterday and was in the 50's! The day or two before it was over 95- a 40 degree difference!! Crazy! It's heavely in the 70's here right now. Everything is looking quite perky and happy today.

I'm headed to the nursery to buy more strawberry plants for the patch. I had some in the garage for a day because it was cooler in there and my husband ran over them on accident. My 8yrold was crushed (no pun intended) as he painstakingly picked out the plants with strawberries already growing on them. First thing hubby asked "How much does each plant cost?" He calls my veggie garden the million dollar garden but knows that a happy me is a more happy he :) Kind of how I feel about his golf :)

Thanks for all the advice! Happy gardening...

RE: Best mulch for vegetable garden?

Dear Singcharlene,

My favorite cheap solution to the mulch problem is newspapers covered in grass clippings or whatever I can find.
I put down 6-8 sheet layer of newspapers around my plants, sprinkle on a little soil just to keep them from blowing away while I apply a layer of grass clippings. Then I water it in well to wet the newspapers.
Every time I mow I apply more clippings. If weeds find a way through, I plunk on another section of paper and clippings.

Even the real nasty weeds like bindweed and russian knap weed are stopped by the combination, except right at the plant stems where they are easy to pull.

It works great, looks tidy once the paper is covered and it's all FREE!

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