what kind of mulch should i use in my vegetable garden

what kind of mulch should i use in my vegetable garden

You’re already satisfied that mulching is important for the vegetable backyard. However as a gardener who desires to decide on natural inputs every time doable, what sort of mulch choices must you think about?

mulch tomato plants to prevent early blight

A number of years in the past, I wrote an article about 4 mulches for the vegetable backyard — every of which I had used myself to a restricted diploma. Since then, I’ve discovered that not solely are there extra choices, but additionally one of many ones I previously beneficial ended up poisoning my backyard. Definitely, we do must be cautious after we select mulch for our edible gardens!

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In the event you do any kind of analysis on natural mulches for vegetable gardens, you’ll seemingly discover conflicting info — even amongst respected sources similar to universities and cooperative extension web sites. (I do know I did once I researched for this text!)

Though I’ve achieved my finest to offer essentially the most up-to-date info, together with my very own expertise of the previous a few years, you probably have any questions or issues about any of those strategies, make certain and do your personal analysis earlier than overlaying your backyard.

With all that out of the best way, let’s discover 9 natural mulch choices for the vegetable backyard. You may take heed to the podcast episode beneath or proceed studying the article.

9 Kinds of Natural Mulch

Wooden Chips and Bark Mulch

Confession — wooden chips are my mulch of alternative and have been since I started my backyard in 2013. Annually I cowl my total backyard with extra, and annually my backyard produces increasingly.

However what I didn’t understand till not too long ago is that there’s a distinction between wooden chips and bark mulch. Wooden chips are what you sometimes get in bulk from a neighborhood tree trimming service — many instances without spending a dime if they’re in your space.

Wooden chips are principally carbon but additionally add a little bit of nitrogen if the leaves of the timber are included (also referred to as “arborist wooden chips”). These leaves assist stability out the carbon-nitrogen ratio to a really restricted diploma and supply a bit extra vitamins as they break down into your backyard soil.

Three different types of mulch for sale at garden center
three several types of mulch supplied on the market at a backyard provide middle

Bark Mulch is a business product utilizing particular timber, principally merchandise of the milling trade. That is what you sometimes see in your native backyard retailer. Bark mulch gained’t have the nitrogen inputs that arborist wooden chips have.

Do wooden chips tie up nitrogen within the soil?

With each wooden chips and bark mulch, you do need to watch out including these to your soil — all the time lay them on prime and by no means work them into the soil. Because the wooden breaks down into the soil, it briefly takes nitrogen that your crops want. (You may hear this referenced as “robbing the soil of nitrogen.”) Opposite to what was beforehand thought, leaving wooden chips or bark mulch on prime of the soil gained’t tie up nitrogen close to the plant roots beneath the soil. This nitrogen tie-up will solely occur the place the wooden chips are available contact with the soil and never the place the crops take up nitrogen a couple of inches beneath.

Because the wooden chips break down at soil degree, they’ll stabilize and turn out to be a useful ingredient to the soil construction itself. For this reason you can begin out with 4 inches of wooden chips firstly of the season and on the finish of the season, you solely have a fraction of seen wooden chips. Beneath this skinny layer, you’ll discover more healthy soil, constructed partially from the decomposition of the wooden chips. I’ve seen this over the course of the years in my backyard.

However this warning bears repeating: wooden chip mulch works nice so long as you solely lay it on the highest; by no means until it into the soil.

Wood chips in raised bed garden

Do it is advisable let wooden chips relaxation earlier than utilizing?

It’s possible you’ll hear suggestions to let wooden chips relaxation earlier than you set them in your backyard. True, letting wooden chips “relaxation” will give them time to stabilize of their breaking down course of. However I’ll let you know that I’ve by no means achieved this once I get wooden chips or bark mulch every season. My backyard hasn’t suffered, and I haven’t seen a distinction between my crops mulched with recent wooden chips in comparison with ones I exploit from a pile that has rested for a 12 months.

Read more: how to plant a vegetable garden in your backyard

In the event you purchase bagged bark mulch at your native backyard middle, this isn’t a priority. These are greater than prone to have already been aged so that you don’t have to fret about the remainder interval anyway.

What different cautions ought to we find out about wooden chip mulch?

It’s essential to not use the dyed bark mulch (as we so typically see) as there are issues in regards to the dye leaching into the soil and your greens (to not point out the wooden utilized in these dyed mulches is questionable).

The one draw back to bark mulch I’ve seen is that squash bugs wish to take shelter within the mulch, so you could have extra of these than regular.

Additionally, since you by no means need to work wooden chips or bark into the soil, it may be a ache to need to rake these again in your backyard every season to plant. (In the event you do, the video beneath reveals you the way, and it’s actually not that huge of a deal.)


I sometimes use straw in my backyard to mulch. It’s nice at retaining moisture, it’s straightforward to use, it’s available in most areas, and also you don’t have to fret about herbicide contamination.

One of many greatest drawbacks to straw is that it’s a byproduct of wheat and different grains and due to this, there might be seeds leftover. This could result in further weeds, which is likely one of the causes we add mulch within the first place! It’s additionally not as nutrient-dense in your soil when it breaks down.

As a result of it’s mild, it’s a must to apply it on a nonetheless day the place there’s little wind. You do want a really thick layer of it for it to supply optimum weed prevention.


My second alternative for mulching my backyard is making use of weed-free, seed-free compost. Hear me once I say that I might by no means apply my do-it-yourself compost as mulch. Why? In the event you’ve been with me lengthy, that I’m a lazy composter, and I don’t fear about getting my compost sizzling sufficient to kill any seeds/weeds. That signifies that my do-it-yourself compost, whereas extraordinarily nutritious for my soil, can be a haven for ready-to-sprout seeds.

As an alternative, the compost that I exploit for mulch, I purchase from my native landscaping firm by the cubic yard, and I really like utilizing it as mulch.

trailer load of compost

Excessive-quality, weed-free compost feeds your soil nearly instantly (versus different sorts of mulch needing to interrupt down). You don’t have to fret about it robbing any vitamins in case you determine to work it into the soil later. It additionally warms up rapidly within the spring, which is an enormous plus.

The one unfavorable that I must say about utilizing compost as mulch is that it’s rather more costly than different sources and since it’s compost, it’s the proper place for blowing seeds to take root. Your weeds will pop up not from beneath, however from on prime. Nonetheless, these few weed sprouts are sometimes manageable, particularly in a small backyard like a raised mattress.

Pine Needles (or pine straw)

The advantages and downsides of pine needles are one and the identical. Pine needles decompose very slowly. That is nice if you wish to use it in your walkways or in a spot that you just don’t want it to interrupt down rapidly. However, it may well take years to decompose so don’t put them in your backyard considering they are going to be damaged down by the following season.

Opposite to earlier thought, pine needles which have fallen from timber don’t acidify the soil. (Contemporary ones may.) I’ll let you know that my backyard began out with a pH beneath 5, and after liming my soil for a 12 months or two, my soil checks persistently proceed to indicate pH within the correct 6.0-6.5 vary, regardless of pine needles overlaying my backyard every fall.

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In the event you’re like me and have a plethora of pine needles close to you, don’t be afraid to make use of this free supply as mulch.

Shredded Leaves

This supply of mulching is comparatively new to me. I’ve a single deciduous tree in my yard and so I don’t have the leaves like so many do. Nevertheless, my dad introduced me luggage of his leaves final fall. I shredded them with a leaf shredder, however you may mow them you probably have a bagger attachment to gather the shredded leaves.

lawnmower used to shred dead leaves to use as mulch

Shredded leaves, wealthy in vitamins, are incredible at feeding your soil, particularly when utilized within the fall. They add to correct soil construction, tilth, and drainage — essential components to wholesome soil. Some sources say that, in contrast to wooden chips, you may flip these into the soil within the spring, however I plan to maintain mine on prime simply in case.

Grass Clippings

What about grass clippings out of your garden?

We’ve a mulching lawnmower so our class clippings are returned again into the yard. However you probably have a bagger in your mower, you may accumulate the grass and use it as mulch. However, your grass MUST be untreated grass. You don’t need to add any chemical substances to your backyard. Consider it this fashion — if it kills the weeds in your garden, it’ll hurt the veggies in your backyard.

grass clippings ready to be used as mulch
wheelbarrow on a garden with recent grass clippings in summer time

You additionally need to ensure you dry out your grass clippings earlier than you unfold them onto your backyard. Simply lay them on a tarp within the solar to dry out. In the event you use recent grass clippings, you would find yourself with a matted mess that may repel water reasonably than enable it to percolate. It could additionally mildew.

One other perk to grass clippings is that you just don’t need to have as a lot (only a few inches will suffice), and it’ll additionally add vitamins and natural matter to your soil.


Lastly, let’s discuss hay. I used hay for a few seasons in my backyard as mulch and had no points. In truth, it lined the backyard effectively and supplied good weed prevention. Hay additionally provides extra vitamins to the soil than straw, in order it breaks down it advantages the backyard.

Then, I purchased hay that ended up being handled with aminopyralid. I had used it to mulch to — fortunately — just one row of tomatoes. Just a few weeks later, my tomato leaves began to look curled in an unnatural means.

hay poisoned tomato leaf curling

I did some analysis and discovered that the hay had almost definitely been handled with an herbicide. It is a broadleaf weed killer used on a business scale. It’s sprayed onto grass fields in order that when the hay is harvested, it leaves grass to be lower and never the weeds. (Perhaps that’s why hay didn’t add seeds to my backyard like I hear it has achieved for others?)

Fortunately, I caught it early sufficient and I used to be capable of take away it. Although my harvest was stunted that 12 months, I used to be capable of get some tomatoes.

Due to this horrible expertise (I’m simply grateful I didn’t mulch my total backyard with hay!), I swore by no means to make use of hay once more until it’s assured natural. So please be certain that in case you do, you do further analysis.

hay used as mulch around tomato plant
Hay fork overlaying the bottom round tomato crops with straw mulch

Hopefully, this text has given you some concepts as to what kind of mulch could also be finest for you. However the essential factor is to decide on one (or extra) and use it. Your backyard, and your harvest, will thanks!

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