Best Mulch For Your Vegetable Garden

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Are you wondering how to pick the best mulch for your vegetable garden? Different types all serve a specific purposes. The options can be overwhelming but some basic knowledge can help guide you in the right direction.

The short answer to your query is: The best one out there is actually the best one that suits your specific needs. There is no ‘one size fits all’.

There are two options when it comes to mulch at the most basic level: Organic and Inorganic. Here, you will see which type is the best mulch for your vegetables and gardens.

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What is Mulch?

  • Mulch provides an aesthetic appeal and finishing touch to garden beds.
  • It keeps soil moist and protected from long days in the sun.
  • It provides nutrients to your soil and plants.
  • Mulch helps keep weeds at bay.

There are a number of organic mulch options to choose from. I’ve listed out some basic below and you should know that each option is an umbrella for a whole bunch of micro-options.

For example, there are different types of straw to choose from, different animals for manure, and a million types of wood chips.

Types of Mulch: Organic

Organic mulch is any type that was once in a living state, whether plant material or animal matter. See below for a few popular options. While some may seem far fetched, you’ll easily be able to buy them at your local hardware store or nursery if you’re not sure where to find it.

Organic options are usually the best mulch types for vegetable gardens due to the amount of nutrients.

Manure

Stinky stinky. For the brave, it can be easily available from local farms. For the less brave, it can be easily available from the local garden center in a bag.

Great amounts of nutrition for your soil and garden. Different animals produce different manure and you’ll want to research which animal type will help you achieve your goal. Best for a seasoned gardener.

Straw

Decomposes fast. Good when growing lawns to protect seeds. Better for vegetable gardens than wood chips. It can be seedy and promote weed growth in garden beds.

It prevents soil erosion and keeps soil moist. High has carbon levels and will need a nitrogen balance. Can be confused with hay, which is often not recommended.

Compost

Practically free but it may take time to gather enough to put down a thick enough layer depending on your garden size.

Will attract more critters. Also not as suitable for flower garden beds as you won’t achieved that manicured look.

Wood Chips/Bark

Typically inexpensive. Popular choice for garden finishing as it is often dyed black or red. Locks in moisture and protects root systems.

If buying from a bag, read the label and know what type of tree it’s coming from as this can impact your garden in a variety of ways. It can disrupt pH levels.

Prolonged use can also increase fungal growth. Not as ideal for vegetable gardens.

best mulch for vegetable gardens

Types of Mulch: Inorganic

Stone

Hard to keep ‘clean’. Weeds will still grow in it or past it. Either because the landscape fabric underneath deteriorates or because organic material falls onto the gravel and collects in the spaces between allowing weeds to grow.

Not ideal for flower or vegetable gardens. Mostly used for decoration.

This is a great option, however, if you’re looking for minimal maintenance!

Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch has been on a steep downgrade in terms of popularity. While it is an available option, it is not typically recommended by garden lovers.

You especially don’t want to use rubber mulch in your vegetable garden, or anywhere you plan on consuming a product grown in it.

It will break down easily, especially when exposed to a lot of water. Upon breaking down, the chemicals can leech into your soil and water shed.

Landscape Fabric

Landscape fabric is great because you can use it alone, or as an additional layer to other mulch alternatives.

It is quick and easy to put down, leaves little to no mess, and is also easily maintained. The fabric is a safe option for your gardens and comes in a variety of food-safe materials. It is also likely the cheapest option.

Landscape fabric is most often used in annual flower gardens or in vegetable gardens. This is because you’ll remove it at the end of your season so it won’t matter if it gets holes poked in it from your plants.

If you have a thick weed problem, or tough to remove weeds, fabric might not be your best option. Big weeds can easily break through rendering it useless.

Cardboard

A popular option is to use cardboard because you can find it practically free anywhere.

Once you put it down, cardboard won’t remain in it’s current state for very long. It will break down, and before it does completely it’ll smother those weeds! The thick body of the product is a fantastic weed killer!

Cardboard is made of wood pulp which is essentially sheets of compressed mulch.

If you’re out collecting freebies, aim for ones with little to no ink or color. This is to avoid unwanted and unnecessary chemicals.

pile of gold straw mulch
Straw Mulch

Do Your Homework

I’m not going to share my favorite and guide you in one direction or another as it’s a touchy subject for some. The point is that there are options out there for all your needs and goals. Do your homework and you’ll be fine.

Gardening and growing vegetables is one of those knowledge powers that you cultivate and develop over time. It is a hobby and a passion that will allow you to continually learn something new and to challenge your skills.

It’s important to remember that everyone starts from the beginning somewhere along the line and to share your knowledge with others.

It’s only a matter of a handful of seasons where you will find yourself saying “I prefer organic mushroom mulch rather than coco bean hulls for my garden.”

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