The Benefits of Mulch
Copyright © May 17, 2008 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
Your vegetable plants will produce more vigorously if you place some type of mulch on the ground around the plants (see picture on right).
Most people evaluate the success of their gardening efforts by the size and quantity of the vegetables they grow. However the size and quantity of your vegetables is directly proportional to the root system of each vegetable plant. If the roots are properly cared for, then your vegetable crop should be a good one.
The roots are responsible for transferring moisture and nutrients from the ground to the plant. This is one of the most important principles of successful gardening.
Mulch helps a plant's root system in all the following ways:
I personally prefer wheat straw even though it is a little more expensive per bale in my area. Each year I purchase my bales of wheat straw from the same store. Some years the bales of wheat straw contain some wheat kernel heads and some years they do not. This year I did not notice any wheat kernels in my bales. However last year each bale contained about a dozen wheat kernel heads. I did not bother to remove the wheat kernels last year and I scattered them over my garden area along with the wheat straw. Some of those wheat kernels took root and produced a wheat stalk this spring. A picture of one of those wheat stalks is on the right. I intend to let the wheat stalks grow beside the corn I planted in this same area this spring and I will harvest the wheat later this year when it is ready. These wheat stalks will not yield a lot of wheat but they will provide a little emergency wheat seed for future years if the need should arise.
- Mulch protects the ground from the direct rays and heat from the sun. This helps the ground to conserve its moisture for a longer period of time. Moist earth is essential to the transfer of nutrients into the roots that feed the plant.
- Mulch helps the ground to stay at a more even temperature during the day and during the night. During the day it prevents the earth from baking under the sun. At night it helps the ground to stay warm and not release its warmth into the cool night air. By providing a more consistent ground temperature the root system will be stronger because it will not have to deal with temperature extremes.
- Mulch minimizes the growth of weeds. Weeds compete with your vegetable roots for moisture and nutrients. Fewer weeds will result in more moisture and nutrients for your vegetables.
- Mulch encourages healthy root growth. Healthy roots will result in a more productive vegetable garden.
- There are many different types of mulch including pine straw and wheat straw (bale of wheat straw in picture above right). Both are organic mulches and as they gradually decay they will add nutrients back into your soil. This is another benefit of using mulch - it helps to gradually replace the nutrients your vegetable plants remove from the soil.
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