Mulching is one of the best ways to get a larger yield from your vegetable garden and at the same time reduce the amount of work necessary to keep the plants healthy and vigorous. A muclh is a layer of straw, pine bark or some other material applied to the surface of the soil.
The mulch helps to control weeds and conserve water by reducing evaporation losses. It also may aid in the penetration of water into the soil, especially from hard showers where normally most of the water runs off.
Organic materials most frequently used for mulching include straw, hay, crushed corncobs, peanut hulls, leaf mold, composts, sphagnum peat, sawdust, shavings and animal manures. Organic mulches return organic matter and plant nutrients to the soil and improve soil tilth as they decompose. Most organic materials require additional applications of nitrogen fertilizer to prevent a deficiency of nitrogen to the mulched crop.
Synthetic or inorganic mulches include paper, polyethylene, paper-polyethylene combinations, wax coated papers, aluminum foils and asphalt spray emulsions.
Black plastic mulches are especially good for cucumbers, eggplant, melons, squash, peppers, tomatoes, and pumpkins, which need warm soil and warm growing conditions.
The soil under black plastic usually will be 5 to 10 degrees warmer in the spring, which gets the plants off to a fast start and noticeably hastens ripening of the crop. This is especially important in areas that have a short growing season.
The serious limitation of polyethylene film is that it does not decompose when in contact with the soil and must be removed at the end of the crop season. Otherwise, the film will remain in the soil to become entangled in tillage equipment, interfere with precision seeding and be an unsightly nuisance for many years to come.
Kraft mulching papers are resistant to fungal attack and have wet-strength and extensibile properties important in field application.