Many people are like me in one respect -- they enjoy tilling garden soil and planting vegetables just to see things grow. Fresh tasting vegetables are an added benefit. My favorite vegetables to eat are fresh okra, peas and sweet corn, but I enjoy growing tomatoes the most. Tomatoes just seem to be more of a challenge for me.
One plant I have no problem growing is weeds. I guess weeds have been growing naturally for thousands of years and have adapted to our environment unlike the vegetables we plant. The natural ability of weeds to grow and over take our cultivated plants requires us to be more creative in controlling them.
Many gardeners want to use herbicides to control weeds because of the ease they offer. However, no herbicide will give the results that a trusty hoe can give. On the other hand, gardeners quickly realize that hoeing is hard work when Georgia summer temperatures start to rise.
Luckily, there is another way to get around applying herbicides and hoeing. Mulching can give very good weed control along with other benefits. Some other added benefits an application of organic mulch are it helps reduce water loss, and keeps the soil cooler and softer, thereby allowing vegetable roots to grow faster. As a result, faster growth is faster maturity.
So what is organic mulch? Organic mulches include pine straw, wood chips, tree leaves and grass clippings to mention a few. These can be laid to a depth of 3 to 4 inches between your vegetables, but make sure to keep it off of the plant stems –mulch on a stem will cause disease and insect problems.
Before spreading your mulch consider putting newspaper on top of weed free soil then place a layer of mulch. Newspaper is an excellent way to control weeds. Use sheets of newspaper rather than shredded. One very important part of weed control in a vegetable garden is to place mulches over clean soil with no germinated weeds. Even the smallest weed can grow around mulches and plastics giving your vegetables competition.
One note about wood chips, do not till them into the soil at the end of the growing season. The wood will not decompose enough by the next growing season. This will rob nitrogen away from the soil, causing your vegetables to look sick.
Most organic mulches can be tilled into the soil to help build the organic matter. Organic matter will create soil structure and hold on to fertility and water longer promoting higher yields. I like organic mulches because they are free if you have leaves and grass clippings that need to go somewhere.
Manufactured mulches like black, red or clear plastic can provide good weed control too. In early spring when the soils are cool, plastics can warm the soil causing vegetables to mature quicker. One big disadvantage to plastic is taken up at the end of the growing season and storing. This can become troublesome because it’s bulky.
Instead of throwing your leaves, grass clipping and newspaper into the landfill, keep them for your garden. Even if you use plastic as a weed control, I think you will be surprised how much work this will save making gardening more of a pleasure.
If you have any mulching questions, take a look at The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s publication for more ideas. The website is http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.cfm?number=C984 .