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Mulching The Vegetable Garden

Weeds a problem in your vegetable garden? If they are you might consider applying some type of mulch this summer. Straw, sawdust, bark, newspapers, grass clippings and black plastic are among the most common materials used for mulching the vegetable garden.

By spreading an inch or two of mulch between the rows of your vegetables, you can slow down or in some cases prevent regrowth of weeds. Mulching also helps to conserve water, because it reduces evaporation of moisture from the soil. In addition, mulch will absorb water from sprinkling or rain showers and the mulch helps check soil erosion.

Some soils tend to crust badly during hot summer weather. Then when one waters or it rains, the water tends to run-off, due to the crusting. Mulching will often help absorb moisture and at the same time lessen the impact of heavy rain and sprinkling. Before any type of mulch is applied, it is important that all-existing weeds and nusiance grasses be pulled or cultivated. Most of the weed seeds that you cover over with mulch should not have enough stored energy to germinate and grow-up through the mulch.

If you are just after weeds there are a one or two herbicides (weed killers) that can be used in vegetable gardens to help control nuisance weeds and grasses, but they have several limitations, and should be used with extreme care. One must read and follow label instructions to the letter, when using them. And, be certain they say on the label that they are safe to use around vegetables.

Here are a few comments about the various materials that are used for vegetable garden mulching:

Bark is a great mulch!BARK, SAWDUST OR PREMOISTENED PEAT MOSS: A layer of mulch approximately 1 inch deep should be sufficient to control many annual weeds and grasses. Pre-moistened peat moss is excellent mulch and at the end of the season it can be tilled or spaded into the soil. Make certain it is pre-moistened, as dry peat is apt to blow away in a windstorm.

Both bark and sawdust leach nitrogen from the soil as they decompose, so if these materials are used, it may be necessary to provide supplemental feeding for your vegetable plants.

STRAW: Another popular garden mulch. Approximately 1-inch layer is sufficient control for many annual weeds and grasses. At the end of the season the straw can be raked up, stored and often used a second season or tilled into the soil.

GRASS CLIPPINGS: First a word of caution! Never use grass clippings taken from a lawn that has been treated with a weed killer or weed and feed product. In some cases, the chemical ingredients, will remain active for up to 9 to 12 months.

Untreated grass clippings can be used in the vegetable garden, then at the end of the season, till or spade them into the soil as a green manure. Approximately 1-inch of grass clippings is sufficient for mulching between rows. A few of the clippings may take root and require cultivation to keep them under control.

NEWSPAPERS: Moistened sections of newspapers sometimes are used as mulch between the rows of vegetable garden plants. Never use color print sections of newspaper as the color ink is detrimental. Although they are a means of controlling weeds and grasses, they tend to be rather unsightly. A friend uses the newspaper under his grass clippings, that way the clippings do not take root. It works great and the newspaper does not show!

BLACK PLASTIC: Popular, but sometimes ugly. Black plastic blocks out the light so the weeds and grasses cannot get started. As a vegetable garden cover it absorbs heat, warming the soil below, and radiating heat around warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, melons and eggplants.

Black plastic should be weighted down with stones, block, etc. so there is no chance of its blowing away in the wind. A light cover over parts of the black plastic helps to take away the unattractive appearance of the black (polyethylene) plastic. With an ice pick punch a few holes through the black plastic near your vegetable plants, so they get enough water.

Red Plastic film, which is used to increase, yields of tomatoes and other crops also serves as a means of weed control, like the black plastic.

WEED BARRIER MATS: Sometimes referred to as 'Landscape Fabric', these products help keep weeds down. They need to be weighted down on the ends and sides to keep them in place.

Remember that this would be an excellent season to plant an extra row of vegetables to harvest and give to the homeless, local food banks or soup kitchens. For more information go to www.gwaa.com.

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