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!