I’m the Front-yard Farmer, and I am a selfish mulcher. I know that mulching my Northwest Florida vegetable garden will benefit my growing veggies in several ways; however, my number one reason for doing it is because I like to fish.
There is little opportunity for fishing when all my free time is consumed in the garden pulling weeds, combating disease, and keeping my plants watered. Proper mulching results in less time watering, fewer problems with disease, and far fewer weeds to deal with. In fact, it is a good thing I am practicing a bit of yoga these days because without weeds to pull I am not doing nearly as much forward bending in the garden as I once did!
In addition to the extra free time I now have, mulching has resulted in less competition from weeds in my garden. Fewer weeds mean more moisture and nutrients for my veggies, so my yields have increased while my time in the garden has decreased.
The use of mulch in your vegetable garden will help moderate soil temperature, keeping the roots of your plants cooler during the summer. Soil temperatures in Florida can be reduced by 10 to 20 degrees or more by using mulch on the soil surface. During the winter, mulch helps to moderate those cold Florida nights in the north and central parts of the state.
Mulch helps maintain the moisture in the soil, keeping your garden more evenly moist, and reducing the amount of irrigation needed. Maintaining consistent soil moisture is essential to success in your Florida vegetable garden. If you are paying high water rates, mulch can be extremely cost-effective, too.
Mulching helps prevent disease by eliminating the splashing of water on your plants from the soil during rain or irrigation.
Mulching conserves nutrients, protects against soil erosion, helps control nematode damage, and protects fruit by keeping it from making contact with the soil.
What’s more, for those of us who find beauty in a growing vegetable garden, mulch provides the added benefit of enhancing vegetable beds with a groomed and tidy appearance.
Mulches come in many forms, both natural and synthetic. I prefer to use plant-based mulch such as pine straw. Commercial pine straw is largely a leftover by-product of Florida’s lumber industry. Natural mulch can come from your yard in the form of dried leaves or grass clippings. Other natural mulches include straw, cypress, eucalyptus, pine bark, sawdust and wood shavings. Synthetic mulches are such materials as garden fabric and plastic (polyethylene mulch).
Natural mulches are placed on the soil surface around vegetable plants. Most are applied to a depth of two to three inches. Pine bark can be applied to a depth of four inches. More is not better. Adding additional mulch beyond a few inches can obstruct the ability of water to reach and make its way into the soil.
The coarser and less compacted the mulch is the better water will penetrate it. In some instances, mulch must be raked an inch or two back during irrigation for the water to reach the soil. This is especially true with lawn clippings, leaves, sawdust and wood shavings.
I am not fond of using plastic or fabric in the home garden. I find it hard to maintain proper moisture in the soil when I use them; I either apply too much water or too little. Also, ants find synthetic mulch appealing to live under.
Peppers, tomatoes, okra, eggplant, Southern peas, Lima beans, squash and most other warm season veggies now growing in many Florida home gardens will greatly appreciate a good mulching, and you will appreciate stronger plants, greater yield, and more time to pursue your other joys in life.