11 Best Mulches For A Vegetable Garden

Newly picked fully riped strawberries in a blue plastic container on the top of straw mulch.

Mulching your vegetable garden will reward you remarkably. It will improve the soil around your plants and will save you time on watering and weeding your garden. In addition to that, you will have an attractive and tidy garden. Worry less about insects because this ground covering will also protect your plants from insect attacks. Below you will find the best mulches you can use for your vegetable garden.

Two Types of Mulch

Organic Mulch

Organic mulch is anything you would naturally find from nature. This mulch will naturally decompose over time. It also keeps the soil cooler and can retain its moisture compared to inorganic ones. The possible problems of using mulches are minor compared to their benefits. 

You can make them out of grass clippings, compost, leaf mold, pine needles, shredded bark, nutshells, straw hay, composted manure, peat moss, cocoa hulls, sawdust, and many others. It is easier to find these types of mulches in different parts of the country.

However, to avoid any issues that will arise in using organic mulches, there are some factors you need to consider to ensure using them will do you more good than harm.

Here are some organic and inorganic mulches best to use for your vegetable garden.

1) Pine Needles

Dried pine needles used in a garden.

Pine needles are famous for use as mulch in many garden centers. This is one of the best options for mulching your garden. But, please note that this type of mulch is acidic. You need to keep an eye on the pH level of your soil to ensure your plants will grow healthy.

2) Grass Clippings

Collecting grass clippings.

Grass clippings are efficient in weed control. This is also popular as a winter mulch. The only downside it has is you need to replenish them often because it decomposes fast. Yet, this trait will provide more doses of nitrogen in your growing plants.

However, a thick layer of grass clippings can give off foul odors and can generate excessive heat, able to kill your vegetable plants. Grass clippings treated with herbicides can damage your vegetable plants too. You would like to avoid this to enjoy a bounty harvest from your garden.

3) Fresh Sawdust

Fresh sawdust from sawmills.

A thin layer of sawdust is good for keeping your soil moisture. Gardeners usually use fresh sawdust around their plants and garden paths. This type of mulch is best for starting seeds. You can also get it less expensive because it is readily available from sawmills.

Yet, you need to add supplemental nitrogen when using fresh sawdust. It strips the nitrogen from your soil as it breaks down. As a result, it will slow down your plants’ growth and turn leaves into yellow color.

4) Hay and Straw

A roll of hay is best for mulching vegetable garden.

Hay and straw mulch decay pretty quickly. These types of mulch are light and clean. Using them will require you to check its depth every-after six weeks. You can probably add a few inches more to keep the weeds down and retain its soil moisture.

5) Leaves

Dried leaves make this garden attractive and tidy.

Leaves are attractive and decompose fast. This type of mulch is famous in vegetable gardening.

Yet, dry leaves are easily blown away, while excessive layers of it will make the water hard to penetrate down into your plants’ roots.

If you live in a windy area, decompose the leaves partially before tossing them into your vegetable garden.

6) Manure

Manure used in gardening.

Incorporating dung with other organic materials is also one of your best options. But, you need to know the right amount of manure your vegetable garden needs. It can burn young vegetable plants when used excessively.

Domesticated animals manure must be well-rotted before applying it around your plants. Fresh manure has a distinct odor, and its urea content can burn young plants almost immediately.

7) Bark

Shredded bark mulch on top of a garden bed .

Shredded bark is best in dressing up your garden bed with textures and colors, and is a very inexpensive gardening technique. It also breaks down relatively slowly, so this is particularly effective in the sloped areas of your garden.

Inorganic Mulch

Inorganic mulch is synthetic materials like plastic, landscape fabric, and an old carpet. Using inorganic mulch depends on what type of vegetable plants you are growing.

8) Plastic

Other plants grow better with plastic mulch when done with their corresponding color.

  • Red plastic mulch is good for tomatoes, eggplants, and strawberries. These plants grow best with this color.
  • Dark green plastic mulch is best for melons.
  • Silver-colored mulch is a good match with peppers.
  • White plastic is best for warm areas. It maintains soil temperature and prevents weeds from growing fast. 
  • Black plastic mulch is excellent for warming up the soil. In spring, it will increase the soil temperature at about 8°F. Cucumbers and squash grow best with this color.

White plastic mulch used in a vegetable garden.

Aside from plastics, you can also use other inorganic mulch like:

9) Landscape Fabric

This doesn’t warm the soil as much as black colored plastics. Landscape mulch is also permeable, so you can water your plants easily through it.

But, the quality of this mulch differs in the type of its fabric. Tight weave fabrics are better in keeping the light and are efficient as a weed barrier too.

10) Rug Strips

Rug strips look weird in your vegetable garden,  but they can help you keep the weeds down too.

11) Newspapers

Incorporating newspapers with other materials is a great idea. You can combine hay or sawdust to the shredded newspapers to prevent them from being blown away. This mulch is best for garden paths and around your new sets of strawberry plants.

When is the Best Time to Mulch a Vegetable Garden?

Leeks mulched with dried pine needles.

When it comes to mulching, timing matters a lot. Doing it too early or doing it too late could generate problems for your plants.

Aside from the plants, weather conditions are also one of the most important factors you need to consider. It is necessary to do it before the weeds start to grow. Blocking the sunlight is an effective way to make your garden weed-free. However,  mid-spring is the best time to mulch your garden.

Mulching too early before spring can slow down the warming process your soil needs to do its job. Doing it too late in winter will insulate the ground, preventing the plants’ dormancy, a much-needed slumber that helps your plants survive the cold winter months.

 Mulch is a Gardener’s Best-Friend

Mulch, may it be organic or inorganic, is a gardener’s best friend. Mulch can dramatically improve your soil productivity when applied correctly.

Soil conservation, improving the fertility of the soil, and keeping the garden weed-free are the most important reasons why gardeners rely on mulching. 

Vegetable garden mulched with hay.

Mulching in Winter

Gardeners believe that mulching in winter can protect plants from extreme cold.  A steady temperature will keep the plants in hibernation, and prevent them from triggering new growth during a short warm interval. Tender new growth will not survive in cold winter and will only die too soon.

How to Apply Mulch the Right Way?

Any idea on how to apply mulch the right way?  Well, here are the lists on how to use it on your plants the proper way, so it will work as you intended.

  • Pull out weeds completely

Pull out any existing weeds in your garden by using your garden spade.  Dig out the roots completely. This way, weeds won’t grow back under the mulch.

  • Create an edge around your garden

Lineup rocks or gravel around your garden bed to create a  border for the mulch. It will prevent erosion as mulch tends to erode easily. 

  • Remove existing mulch or replenish the top layer with a similar mulch 

When adding a similar type of mulch in your garden, replenish the top layer after leveling it with a rake.

However, if you need to replace an existing mulch, dig it away and transport with a wheelbarrow and dump it into your compost pile to break it down.

Manure combined with other organic material used as garden mulch.

  • Dumping all the mulch into one area is a Big No!

Toss a smaller pile of mulch into an area you want to add it to. Dumping all the mulch in one area will suffocate your plants’ roots.

  • Rake mulch in an even layer

Create a 2-inch layer of mulch over the entire garden if you are mulching in spring or summer.

You can also lay a 4-inch mulch layer in the winter to prevent weed growth.

Dried leaves raked evenly on the top of a garden bed

  • Water organic mulch

Watering organic mulch using your garden hose will save you time. The water will provide enough moisture to the soil. Be careful not to overwater it, as it could do more harm to your plants.

  • Replace organic mulch annually

Organic mulch loses most of its benefits in overtime. Inorganic mulch like plastics naturally fades due to daily sun exposure. Annual replacement is beneficial to your garden.

Gravels used as mulch in a vegetable garden

  • Refresh inorganic mulch when it no longer works as designed

When your mulch like gravel looks dirty, you can hose it down with water to clean. This method is much easier compared to replacing it with new ones.

Final Thoughts on Mulching Your Veggie Garden

Mulching is a very rewarding gardening technique that will keep your garden healthy if done right. It needs very little of your attention to function as intended but still needs to be maintained. Overall, mulch offers countless benefits for your garden.

Final Tip: Remember, it is important to remove weeds as soon as they start to grow to keep your garden attractive and tidy.

Are there any other mulches you use for your vegetable garden? Please let me know by commenting below as I would love to add it to my list!


About Benita Abucejo

Hi there! My name is Benita Abucejo. What can I say? I truly love spending my days in the outdoors, specifically in the garden. Gardening has always been a strong passion of mine since I was a little girl. It has brought me so much joy and happiness that it is definitely safe to say that I will be a gardener for life. For a period of time, I was able to work with people who are into home gardening and I found it to be quite beneficial to my physical health, as well as my mental well-being. Here at Seasonal Preferences, I am going to share with you my experience and ideas so that you can fulfill yourself with the same satisfaction and happiness. Of course, if you have ideas, I would love to hear those as well! Being creative in the garden can really be quite fascinating so let's share our experiences and be the best gardeners we can be. With that being said, thank you for dropping by and please leave me a comment on one of my posts if you would like to get in touch!

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