Posted on 07 June 2008 by tomatocasual.com

On Mulch and Tomatoes

By Kira Hamman

Mulch is the cashmere sweater of the garden — cool in warm weather, warm in cool weather, and right for every occasion.

It keeps the soil from drying out too quickly, and it smothers weeds in the bargain. What’s not to love?

Tomatoes adore mulch, of course, since they hate to be chilly or thirsty, and tomato gardeners love it because in addition to all the wonderful properties already mentioned, mulch protects dropped or sagging tomatoes from rotting before they can be harvested.

The only question, then, is “which mulch to use?”

Organic mulches include dry leaves, straw, wood chips, and grass clippings, to name a few. In addition to being good for the plants, they’re good for the soil, since they add organic matter as they slowly decompose. Organic mulches should be spread on well-watered soil after plants are established. Many of them are free or cheap and are easy to come by, so there’s really no reason not to use them.

Inorganic mulches include fabric and a rainbow of plastics. Like organic mulches, inorganics should be applied to well-watered soil, but unlike organics they’re usually laid on the soil some time before planting to help warm it up. The edges are weighted down with something (usually soil) and seedlings are planted through slits. Many inorganic mulches are available at garden centers and through garden supply catalogs.

So which mulch is best for tomatoes?

Well, as usual, it depends. Red plastic mulch has gotten a lot of press in recent years for increasing tomato yields by up to 20%, so if you’re looking to increase your yields that might be the way to go. If, on the other hand, your soil could use a boost, then organic mulch might be better for you. But really, any kind of mulch will give you happier plants with less weeding, so there’s no bad choice here.

Tell us what you use and why!

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8 Responses to “On Mulch and Tomatoes”

  1. tomatocasual.com deb Says:

    I put newspaper down first and then cover that with rough compost. When the paper starts to show, add more compost.

  2. tomatocasual.com Dani in NC Says:

    Thanks for posting about mulch today. I’ve been panicking because we are having a heatwave in NC — 100 degrees almost every day last week. I didn’t know if there was any protection I could give my tomato plants. I have a pile of dried leaves; I wonder if that would be good enough for mulch?

  3. tomatocasual.com Kira Says:

    Dried leaves are great, Dani. If you have the energy (not likely in that heat!) you could try to chop them up first so they break down into the soil more easily. One easy way to do that is to put the leaves in a big garbage can and stick a running string trimmer in it for a minute. Works kind of like an immersion blender. Be sure to wear eye protection! I actually often use Deb’s trick with the newspaper, but with dried leaves on top instead of compost.

  4. tomatocasual.com HappyTomatoSecrets Says:

    Thanks for the post on Mulching, very helpful! I also use the newspaper trick like Deb and Kira and I find it works really well. I can’t see a post on growing inside tomatoes, would love to see something on this as it is coming into winter in Australia and I hate buying Supermarket tomatoes.

  5. tomatocasual.com Patt Says:

    I have a quick question. I haven’t heard of anyone doing this, so there must be a reason. But maybe I don’t know.

    We have a daylight basement with lots of southern-facing windows. I would like to grow fresh “garden” food down there in the winter. Does anyone know if one can be successful growing tomatoes in this kind of an inside garden in the winter? If this is possible, are there other fresh-type fruits or vegetables that would be successful for winter indoor-gardening as well?

    Thanks!

  6. tomatocasual.com Patt Says:

    I have a quick question. I haven’t heard of anyone doing this, so there must be a reason. But maybe I don’t know.

    We have a daylight basement with lots of southern-facing windows. I would like to grow fresh “garden” food down there in the winter. We live in eastern Oregon (the dry side of the state.) Winter daylight is as little as 8-10 hours in the dead of winter

    Does anyone know if one can be successful growing tomatoes in this kind of an inside garden in the winter? If this is possible, are there other fresh-type fruits or vegetables that would be successful for winter indoor-gardening as well?

    Thanks!

  7. tomatocasual.com Marjie Says:

    We pile up dried leaves in fall (Wisconsin) and let then just sit and break down all winter. They makes a great spring and summer mulch and break down quickly into the soil. Worms love them and we have all sorts of rich topsoil as a result.

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