It’s important to cover soil beneath tomatoes with a mulch of some kind, such as straw, grass clippings, compost or shredded leaves. Many tomato diseases spend part of their time living in soil. When rain hits soil, particles splash up and can land on lower tomato leaves, leading to a disease outbreak. Covering soil is one way to help control tomato diseases. Mulch also helps soil stay moist, which helps ensure a hefty tomato crop. Another reason to mulch is that it suppresses weeds.
Here's a general rule for when to mulch a yard: Wait until after a hard frost in the fall to apply winter mulch. You don't want to apply it too early in the fall because mulch can delay the soil freezing process by retaining heat in the soil, according to experts with The Morton Arboretum in Illinois.
The recommended mulch depth is 3-4 inches for medium to coarse textured materials, says experts with The Morton Arboretum. Spread mulch under trees, shrubs and throughout planting beds, as seen at this home, handcrafted by OakBridge Timber Framing, on a 5-acre lot on the shores of Lake Erie, Ohio.
Colored plastic mulches are the result of university research, which has shown that certain vegetables have higher yields when grown on colored plastic mulch. The increased yields are most pronounced with plants growing under less-than-ideal conditions, such as less than six hours of sun daily. Red is the color for tomatoes. Other colors include green or blue for melons, silver for peppers and blue for summer squash (like zucchini or patty pan) and cucumbers.
After applying organic mulches, water thoroughly to help the mulch bind together. If possible, time mulching before rain and let nature handle the watering. To help prevent weeds, consider adding a pre-emergent weed preventer like Preen on top of the mulch. This type of weed control prevents weed seeds from germinating.
Winter mulch is one of the best things you can do to help improve soil for the long term. A winter mulch layer protects plant roots, a boon with plants prone to frost heave. Mulch also keeps soil warm longer, which means worms stay active longer into the season, continuing to improve the soil through their burrowing activities.
Straw is a more utilitarian mulch typically used in vegetable gardens or strawberry patches. Straw is simply the stalks of grain plants. Ask your local straw supplier if their product is clean (doesn’t contain grain heads) and weed-free. Prevent weed seed issues by spreading three sheets of damp newspaper under straw. Some gardeners let straw bales sit a few weeks so weed or grain seeds germinate. This leads to moldy straw—plan to wear a dust mask if you have allergies. Expect to get one to two growing seasons out of straw, depending on how thickly you spread it.
An outstanding mulch that’s free for the taking, shredded fall leaves provide a great alternative for informal planting beds, vegetable gardens and shade gardens. As leaves decompose, they add fantastic organic matter to soil. Slugs tend to like shredded leaves, so use caution applying them around slug favorites like hosta or leaf lettuce. Expect leaves to last from one to two growing seasons. Always shred leaves with a mower or leaf vac before using them as mulch.
Mulching can be a big task in the fall, if you have multiple garden beds. Here's a tip from The Morton Arboretum in Illinois: Organic mulch should be composted or otherwise treated before use. The step kills insects, weed seeds and disease microorganisms. The texture of composted mulch generally is more uniform, creating better curb appeal.
Think about tree safety. "My magnolia in the front of the house has been pruned up, so I put a mulch island under it," says Josh Fuder, agriculture and natural resources agent for UGA Extension - Cherokee County. He suggests getting the mulch island as close to the drip line as possible. This example does not go all the way out to the drip line, but with a diameter of 21 inches, it is a little more in proportion with the size of the tree.
Don't forget about hidden nooks, such as this spot with a mossy garden gnome. For choosing materials, medium-textured mulch is best because fine particles will pack down and retain moisture, which evaporates before reaching plant roots, according to The Morton Arboretum in Illinois.
This beautiful home features a tasteful and timeless design. Black roof shingles add texture to the gray siding. A small stone stairway leads through the neatly mulched garden from the the sidewalk to the driveway.
Elevated mulch sections, a concrete path and accent wood panels create a beautiful collaboration of texture for the landscaping of this modern home. Concrete stepping stones border the shape of the house with strips of grass growing up in between. Plants and shrubs add personality and natural color to the gray and neutral home components.
Natural stone steps connect paver patios in this gorgeous backyard. Stones create a bed for a pond bordered by planted shrubs lined in a mulched area. The patio pathway leads to a seating area and descends slightly to a fire pit with additional seating.
A paver patio section is surrounded with boulders and bright plant life for a gorgeous mix of texture to naturally decorate the space. A stone fire pit is surrounded by brown adirondack chairs on the paver patio. A fountain blends into the mulched area creating a subtle extra in the design.