Pros and Cons:

  • Really cuts down on the weeds
  • Organic mulches add to the soil
  • Plastic mulch warms up the soil
  • Plastics, even reds, will degrade in the sun
  • Red plastic mulch improves tomato yields
  • Plastics don’t let the water through either way, which means trickier watering and moisture/fungus problems underneath
  • Landscape fabric lets in air and water, but needs to be weighted down
  • Organic mulches only work if you weed first.
  • If you have a real wet spell, organic mulches can host slugs, which are worse than weeds
  • Organic mulches can enrich the soil, but they can also alter the soil ph
  • Mulches can reduce the need to water by minimizing evaporation in the garden
  • Earthworms love the dark damp spaces under mulches

Mulches Can Do Double Duty:

Crushed oyster shell makes an attractive mulch … with the added bonus that it will deter kitties who do not like the feel of it on their paws AND will also deter slugs

Special Caution for Pet owners

Cocoa Bean mulch is toxic to dogs. No matter how cheap it is, its not worth the risk.

Clearly we are never too old to learn new tricks.

For years and years, I gardened in a pretty conventional, straight rows leaving lots of room to till way.  Why?   Because I thought that was easier of course!    Last year, I threw out the play book and tried heavily mulching the entire garden with straw.   But I was still careful to stick to the straight row plan, just in case tilling would be needed.

And what do you think happened?     Almost no weeds!   Huh!     So this year, I can confidently plan on having an interplanted vegetable garden.   Why is that such a good thing.

You don’t need to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.    Climate change is very visible to gardeners.    Summers have become hotter and drier.   Even more worrisome is that summer seems to start later every year

In keeping with Science Project Year in the garden, I also tried a wide variety of mulches last summer:

  • top of the charts is the red plastic mulch for tomatoes.  It comes in three foot wide lengths .. so what i did was to lay up a line of tomato cages on each side …. and then I cut the plastic up the middle.    After all, tomatoes cannot be successfully direct watered, so it suited them very well to get their moisture from the well watered center.   I also laid a heavy mulch of compost between the two rows to conserve water and found that to be very effective.   The pop up cucumber seeds from the compost were just like the prize in the crackerjack box
  • I liked Vesey’s bio mulch and will use it again.   It delivered exactly as promised by warming up the soil for an earlier start.   But of course it is only well suited to areas where seedlings will be planted and would not be at all useful for direct seeding.
  • black landscape fabric is supposedly compostable but i suspect i will have to lift that out.    It would be perfect as an underpinning for a raised bed to discourage weed growth but is poorly suited as a topical mulch.
  • Compost was very effective … even allowing for the unanticipated pop up seeds that are the inevitable by product of cold composting.    I mixed it with manure and every time it rained the garden had a snack 🙂
  • Straw is my new favourite thing.   I had worried thick layers would attract rodents, but there was no sign of that at all last summer.  I was impressed by how effective it was in controlling weeds and like the compost, every time it rained or I watered, the garden was fed.

So an intensively planted garden just makes good sense for me because: 

  • Interplanting will save on watering and one does not have to be a scientist to see that is going to become more of an issue within my lifetime.
  • I suspect that companion planting practices will work very well in close quarters
  • for anyone, like myself, living in Canada, fruit and vegetables promise to be very expensive in the near future.    I believe that my garden is going to be the best buffer against that