The time and effort you put into mulching around vegetable plants now will really pay off later in the season. Besides the benefit of preventing moisture loss from the soil, mulch also suppresses weed growth, reduces fertilizer leaching, cools the soil, and keeps vegetables off the ground. Water absorption by a mulched soil is much better than areas where mulch has not been applied. This is very important during periods of limited rainfall.
Some good mulching materials include leaves, pine needles, wood chips, compost, straw/hay, sawdust, peat moss and newspaper. The suggested depth of the mulch is three to four inches after the mulch has settled. Keep in mind that too little mulch will give limited weed control and too much will prevent air from reaching the plant’s roots. Any type of wood products (wood chips, sawdust, etc.) used as a mulch should not be used when it is green. Fresh chipped wood needs to be aged for at least six to nine months before it is used around plants in our gardens.
Finally, at the end of the growing season organic mulches can be tilled into the soil to increase the future water-holding capacity of the soil and improve its texture.
If you have to water your garden, you should use that water wisely. Only watering once or twice per week and being sure to soak the soil is much better for most plants than watering more frequently and only wetting the soil surface. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems are much more efficient than overhead sprinklers. Most vegetable plants need about one inch of water per week. So, we need to monitor the weather and only water when necessary.
For more information about conserving water in your garden, call the Walker County Extension Office at 706-638-2548.
Norman Edwards is coordinator of Walker County Extension Service.