Posted on 06 August 2011 by

Mulch: A Tomato Gardener\’s Trade Secret


By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

Gardening for me is a combination of luck, good genes, and scientific inquiry that starts with extension publications.

I seem to be a collector of these publications and love to read about the newest research being conducted in plant science.

One of the most useful publications I have ever found was one on mulch.

Mulch in recent years has become a generic term that includes leaves, grass clippings, landscape cloth, wood chips, and plastic.

But while all these mulches serve a purpose the plastic mulch is the most unique. Colored plastic, in recent years, has been showing up all over gardening catalogs and home improvement centers. The principle behind the colored plastic deals with the sun, wavelengths, and the likes and dislikes of certain plants.

Tomatoes love a certain wavelength that is reflected back onto them when red plastic is laid as mulch. This equates out to mean an increase in bloom production, which means more tomatoes on the vine. But using this mulch can be a challenge for some gardeners.

The process begins with the preparation of the garden soil. Compost, Epsom salt, and manure needs to be tilled or mixed into the soil. Once this is done, smooth out the surface of the soil and roll out the plastic. This can be done very early in the spring if the goal is to get the tomatoes out as soon as possible. The plastic covered soil will warm very quickly.

After the plastic has been rolled out, secure to the garden surface with landscape staples or stakes. During this process, try to keep the plastic as taught as possible for the best reflection possible. Once this is done, arrange the plant material on top of the plastic. Another approach consists of measuring and marking the plastic where each plant will be placed. This approach works best if you want to have the plants placed consistently as far as correct plant spacing.

Once the plant location has been determined, remove each plant and cut an “X” in the plastic. Fold the “X” back and dig the hole for the tomato plant. Place Epsom salt and calcium into the hole and remove tomato plant from its container. Tease the roots or break up the root mass and place in the hole. Fill in the hole and water in. Once this is done, fold the “X” back into it original shape.

After the tomatoes have been planted, spray off the plastic periodically to keep it clean. This is all that is required when it comes to using the red plastic.

When using the plastic, an irrigation system can be laid under the plastic or holes can be poked in the plastic to allow water to percolate down through the plastic.

When the season is over, some believe the plastic should be removed because it keeps the soil too warm. I personally keep my plastic on year round and replace it every 2 years. This allows me to garden sooner and helps control weeds when my garden is not in use.

So until we blog again, plastic is red and tomatoes are blue, when the mulch is not around to reflect the sunlight too. Increasing your yield with the color red will spread the abundance of joy around the gardener’s shed.

One Response to “Mulch: A Tomato Gardener\’s Trade Secret”

  1. NancyBerghold Says:

    How about recycled glass mulch, color red, will that work as well?

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