The Best Types of Mulch for Your Vegetable Garden

Kathryn Pomroy
Written by Kathryn Pomroy
Updated July 13, 2021
woman gardening vegetable garden mulch
Matt Porteous/DigitalVision via Getty Images

The right mulch for your vegetable garden can make the difference between a bountiful harvest and a weed patch

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If you started your vegetable garden with unbounded promise and enthusiasm, only to find yourself spending your Saturday afternoons pulling weeds, you might be missing a critical veggie garden component: mulch. But to keep weeds at bay and your soil consistently moist, you don’t want just any mulch. Learn the best types of mulch for juicy tomatoes, crunchy green beans, and more.

What is Mulch?

Mulch is any material you apply to the top of your garden’s soil to put a damper on stubborn weeds, keep your soil moist and cool, prevent runoff, protect delicate roots, and give your otherwise not-so-attractive veggie plot an instant makeover.

When Is the Best Time to Mulch?

It’s best to mulch your vegetable garden twice a year—in the spring and again mid-season to keep your garden looking its best. Before you run to the garden center, calculate how much mulch you need so you don’t lug home extra bags.

Leaves

You can use all of those leaves lying around your lawn as a garden mulch. However, you’ll want to make sure they’re shredded, or they may keep water from passing through into your soil. You have to rake your leaves anyway, so why not turn them into nutrient-rich mulch?

Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are easy to come by. Just fill the bag on your lawn mower and empty the leaves into your garden. Grass clippings are also great for keeping weeds down, and they break down and provide nutrients more readily than many other types of mulch. 

However, you shouldn’t apply grass clippings that have been recently treated with pesticides, which can harm your plants, or fertilizer, as the amount of nitrogen in grass fertilizer is too high for most produce. Finally, note that any weeds that were in your lawn will make their way into your garden.

Bark or Wood Chips

Shredded bark can be one of the most attractive mulches for your garden. Because you would rather spend time enjoying your vegetable garden, you’ll be glad to know that you won’t have to mulch as often when you use bark, as it breaks down more slowly than other mulches. 

Keep in mind that bark runs on the acidic side, which can impact sandy soil in a good way but can also cause damage to roots if the pH is too high.

Hay or Straw

Both hay and straw break down quite quickly. Besides, hay and straw exude a sweet, earthy smell after a noonday rain. Just make sure your hay or straw hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides before laying it around your plants. It can cause problems for your veggies.

Cardboard

You may be surprised to know that cardboard makes an excellent mulch for your vegetable garden. Your HOA might not love the look of it, but it’s a great way to give new life to all those Amazon Prime boxes. It also can add nutrients to the soil and suppress weeds. 

As good as it is, cardboard needs to be wet before laying it around your vegetable plants. It will quicken decomposition while also preventing it from blowing into your neighbor’s yard.

Landscape Fabric

Unlike some other inorganic mulches, landscape fabric allows water to pass through without lifting or removing it altogether when you water. It also doesn’t contain any potentially harmful chemicals that may leach into the soil, like rubber mulch. However, make sure the fabric’s weave is tight because anything too loose will let the sun through, allowing weeds to pop up.

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