Jan 222013

What is mulch?

Mulch is a layer of material that you apply to the surface of your garden to improve the health of your plants.  Mulch can be organic material such as bark, leaves or wood chips, or inorganic material like rubber or plastic sheeting.  Mulch provides many benefits to both plants and their environment including:

  • Protection from extreme temperatures
  • Reduced presence of weeds and pests
  • Improved soil quality
  • Enhanced visual appeal of garden area
  • Helps maintain uniform moisture in the soil
  • Slows runoff and soil erosion
  • Helps prevent root injury
  • Creates a barrier between the ground to protect fruit and vegetables

 What types of mulches are best for vegetable gardens?

There are good applications for many different types of mulch depending on what vegetables you’re growing, the climate, and how early or late in the season it is.

Plastic Mulches

Generally, plastic mulches work well in the spring because they help warm the soil and promote early growth.

Black plastic mulch is the most common type of synthetic mulch and it is an effective means of controlling weeds and insulating the soil.  Since black plastic mulch will increase the soil temperature by about 8°F or more, it may cause soil to be too warm during summer months.  In this case, it must be covered with organic mulch or removed to prevent root damage.

Black plastic mulchWarm season vegetables including peppers, tomatoes,  melons, squash, and eggplant have been shown to grow better and produce more fruit when grown on black plastic mulch compared to plants grown on bare soil.  Plastic mulches also form a barrier to protect low lying fruits and vegetables like cucumbers and strawberries from contacting the soil, preventing  rot and keeping fruit cleaner.

Clear plastic mulch is the most effectivmulch in heating the soil and it is typically used in the early growing season.  Clear plastic does not prevent weed growth, however, so it should not be used in gardens that are highly susceptible to weeds.  Clear plastic will also need to be removed or covered thoroughly to prevent roots from overheating once temperatures rise.

IRT mulch is a dark colored mulch designed to provide the weed suppression black and the warming capability of clear plastic.  IRT mulch allows infrared radiation to pass through the plastic, but it blocks radiation that allows weeds to grow.  IRT mulch is still a relatively new product, and it is likely to increase in popularity as more research becomes available about its effectiveness.

Red plastic mulch also suppresses weeds and warms the soil, but large agricultural farms and gardeners typically use it primarily to boost the growth of certain types of plants.  A Clemson University study showed that red mulch can boost tomato yields up to 20%.  Red plastic mulch reflects low levels of blue light and a high percentage of far red to red light which has been shown to increase both the size of certain plants and their fruit.  Red plastic mulch will also likely increase in popularity as more research becomes available.

Guard and Grow UV Reflective Mulch

Guard & Grow UV Reflective Mulch

UV Reflective mulch is very effective in preventing infestation of pests including aphids, whiteflies, thrips and other insects.  Reflective mulch provides less insulation than clear or black plastic mulch so it can be left  on the soil later in the season without overheating the soil.  Guard and Grow is a leader in high quality reflective mulch.  Contact us today at info@guardandgrow.com with any questions about UV reflective mulch.