Mulching vegetables and flowers can take a lot of the work out of gardening and at the same time be very beneficial.It can prevent weeds from getting started, conserve water by reducing evaporation losses, aid in the movement of water into the soil, especially from hard showers where most of the water normally runs off, and help check erosion.
Herbicides (weed-killing chemicals) should not be used in the home vegetable or flower garden. They are specific in character; a chemical may be safe for one plant but deadly to another, and the risk is too great. Accuracy of application is of the utmost importance and is not likely to be accomplished on the home-garden scale.
Pulling the weeds can be a back-breaking job, mulching can eliminate the need for it.
The soil should be free of weeds when the mulch is applied. The mulch prevents weed growth by blocking out light on the soil surface. The mulch should be deep enough (4 to 6 inches) so that young seedling weeds cannot grow through it.
The mulch material itself should not be a favorable media for growing weeds or else control may be inadequate. Barnyard manures give poor weed control for this reason and may even be a source of weed seeds.
Some of the materials used for mulching include hay, straw, salt hay, tree leaves that do not mat down (including oak, sycamore, beech), pine needles, sawdust, woodchips, pine bark, buck-wheat hulls, black polyethylene plastic, newspaper and aluminum foil.
Grass clippings are one of the cheapest and most available materials for mulching. The problem with grass clippings, however, is when used fresh they tend to rot and pack tightly. This can be overcome by mixing them with leaves, half and half.
Black plastic is excellent as a mulch, but it may be hard to apply after plants are already in the ground.
With newspapers, spread five to 10 sheets on the ground and cover with a thin layer of soil to hold them in place.
Soil exposed to the sun is likely to crust badly. When it rains or when watering is done, the crust sheds most of the water and allows little to enter the soil. The runoff causes erosion. A suitable mulch prevents crusting, absorbs the impact of the falling rain drops, and allows faster and greater penetration of water, reducing runoff and erosion.