Are you looking for the best mulch for tomatoes?
Tomatoes are the most commonly grown vegetable plant in home gardens. It is estimated that 9 out of 10 home gardeners choose to plant at least one tomato plant in their garden plot(s). Overall, tomatoes are relatively easy to grow, and provide bountiful yields in relation to the care needed. One tomato plant can yield 8 to 10 pounds of fruit in a growing season; growing one or two plants can easily meet the needs of a small family. A few basic principles will help to ensure a productive growing season with a successful harvest.
To ensure maximum output, in this post, we are going to consider why using mulch is important when growing tomatoes and what are some best options.
What is the best mulch for tomatoes?
Here is a quick preview of a few great options
Before we talk about the benefits of each of these options. Let’s take a minute and talk about why mulch is so important.
Why use mulch?
After planting tomatoes plants in the garden it is extremely beneficial to cover the surrounding exposed soil surface with mulch. This is a protective layer of material that is typically spread 3-6” deep to cover the exposed soil between and around plants. There are many benefits to adding mulch to your garden. Mulching between plants is a fantastic way to preserve the moisture in the soil, it helps to regulate soil temperatures, it inhibits weed growth, cuts down on soil erosion, and even helps to minimize soil compaction between plants. Over time as the mulch breaks down it also improves the soil structure by adding necessary organic material and increases the nutrient content of the soil as well.
Common materials that are used for mulch include straw, grass clippings, pea gravel, bark chips, leaves, peat moss, wood ashes, and sawdust. Some of the best choices from this list are ones that come right from the garden and lawn. If you have a large garden area, the cost of buying mulch can quickly add up, so it is beneficial if you can utilize material you already have available in your yard/garden.
No matter if you purchase mulch or use something already on hand you will see definitive benefits in the plants grown and their harvestable outputs when you cover the exposed soil. There are many different options when choosing what materials to use to mulch between tomato plants. Some of the most recommended materials are grass clippings, leaves, straw, peat moss, and red plastic sheeting.
Grass clippings are one of the most recommended sources of mulch for tomato plants. They make excellent mulch for use in the garden and are readily available for most homeowners. Their small size makes it easy for them to be spread in tight spaces and between smaller garden plants. Over time, the grass clippings will begin to mat together creating a knitted layer of material that protects the soil surface. This mat is what helps to keep the soil moist and warm while decreasing weed germination.
Leaves work really well too as a mulch around tomato plants, and are another readily available source for many homeowners. They provide natural protection from weeds and increase moisture retention in the soil. The drawback to using them is that for them to be the most effective they need to be composted before application. This in turn means you can’t grab fresh leaves from the yard and spread them around the tomato plants. The effort to compost them must be done when the leaves fall from the trees in the fall, which is well before your tomatoes are planted.
Straw bales are used frequently in rural areas where straw is readily available for use or purchase. Straw is an extremely clean source of material for mulch and works extremely well at holding in moisture and preventing weeds between tomato plants. If possible choose golden straw or wheat straw, staying away from hay bales as they can be full of weed seeds. A layer of straw spread 1 – 2” deep provides enough protection during the active growing season. When using straw as mulch avoid touching the plant stems as this can increase fungal problems.
Peat moss is another popular mulch that looks nice when used in the garden. It holds moisture well, and can be purchased at most lawn and garden centers, making it easily available at an inexpensive price tag. Peat moss will add some nutrients to the soil as it gradually decomposes and will help to slightly acidify the soil as it breaks down, a welcome benefit to tomato plants that prefer slightly acidic soil.
While discouraged by some, red plastic sheeting is also used as mulch for tomatoes plants. It is used to retain residual heat in the soil and increase plant yields. It also reflects red light back to the plants which is believed to stimulate growth. Plastic sheeting is an inexpensive option and easy to use; you can lay the plastic sheeting down on the bare soil surface and then plant tomato plants through it at the desired plant spacing. Look for types that have small, pre-punctured holes to allow water and air to pass through.
Don’t forget about spacing your tomato plants…
Even though tomato plants are relatively easy to grow, it is important not to forget about proper spacing. For optimum growth they prefer a garden spot that receives 6 to 8 hours of full sun during the day and has good air circulation to minimize diseases in the tomato plants.
Plant spacing is dependent on the varieties chosen by the homeowner but most plants (besides dwarf varieties) require 18-24” between plants. This gives them adequate space to grow while maintaining good air flow around the base of the plant. Most tomato plants will need to be staked or caged to keep the plants upright as they grow; tomato plants will become very heavy when the fruit forms on the plant.
Found in most gardens, tomato plants are relatively easy to grow and provide great yields to the homeowner when properly cared for. Adding mulch around the base of tomato plants will provide added benefits to the garden by maximizing plant growth, while minimizing inputs. A 3-6” layer of material strewn across the exposed topsoil helps to prevent weeds from germinating and soil from becoming compacted or lost due to erosion. Most importantly though, mulch helps improve plant growth as it retains residual heat and soil moisture.
What do you think is the best mulch for tomatoes? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below…