Choosing the Right Mulch for Your Vegetable Garden

At Seedlings Gardening we generally use four kinds of mulch for our various projects. You may or may not have heard of them all: shredded wood, cedar chips, pecan shells and pine needles.

Reserve the shredded wood and cedar chips for general landscape beds,
i.e. around trees, flower beds, that sort of stuff.
These mulches are great when sitting on top of the soil. Don’t use them for vegetable gardens. It takes a really long time and a lot of nitrogen to decompose shredded wood and cedar chips – so much that if either one is mixed into the soil, the process of breaking down the mulch will tie up most of the available nitrogen which will end up slowing plant growth.

You dig around regularly in a vegetable garden as you plant throughout the season. While you should always move mulch off to the side when planting, eventually and inevitably some of it is going get mixed up in your soil. Best if it’s not robbing important nutrients and disrupting a balanced cycle.

We stick to pine needles or pecan mulch for vegetable gardens.
Both resist compaction more than wood mulch allowing water to gradually make its way into the soil (instead of running off) and they look pretty (or unique if you prefer that to “pretty”). Pine needles will make the pH of your soil slightly more acidic which is actually great for vegetable gardens; though, they’re somewhat difficult to source in Austin (perhaps the Houston area would have better access to pine needles?). Pecan shells are locally available in Central Texas and they’re even used to amend soil sometimes – the squishy material inside the shell mimics the spongy nature of compost and slowly releases water into the soil.

So there you have it, friends. If you’re planting a vegetable garden we recommend saying “no” to shredded wood and cedar chip mulch. Lay it on thick with either pine needles or pecan shells!

Do you use a different kind of mulch that works well in a vegetable garden?

 

How to Plant Vegetables in Your Garden

So, we’ve talked about deciding where to build your vegetable garden, how to amend your garden soil and when you should plant. Now we bring to you… how to plant the vegetables! I know, it seems like maybe we’re explaining the obvious but in all honesty the process isn’t that predictable if you’re not familiar with it.

Here are the steps we at Seedlings Gardening use:

  1. Clear off any mulch that’s on the bed (if you’re starting a new bed then you’d skip this step). We usually scoop it off onto a tarp so it doesn’t get mixed into weeds/gravel/soil that’s outside of the bed.

  1. Dig a hole for your plant that looks about the same size as the pot it’s currently in. It should be the exact depth of your plant. I usually dig first and then put the potted plant in the hole to test out it’s size.

  1. Gently shake or pop the plant out of it’s container – sometimes you have to push it from the bottom, sometimes you have to tip it upside down, sometimes you just have to cut the container. I always try to keep my hand on the top soil around the stem of the plant so as to handle the stem, roots and leaves as little as possible. Don’t break up the root ball – try to keep it intact.

  1. Place the plant in the hole you dug. The top of the soil in the pot should be even with soil at the top of the hole, i.e. you shouldn’t have to build up a mound of soil around your plant to cover it, nor should you have to push garden soil over the top of plant and up to the stem to make it even. (Tomatoes are an exception and we’ll talk about that in tomorrow’s post.)

  1. Wrap foil around the main stem of the plant (starting where the stem meets the soil to about 1 or 2 inches up the stem). We keep this on for about a month while plants are still young and fragile – the foil protects from cutworms.

  1. Sprinkle organic granular fertilizer over the bed. A good four finger pinch around each plant will do. This is the “slow release” food for your soil life and plants.

  1. Evenly spread your mulch over the bed and around your plants.

  1. Water immediately after you finish planting – give everything a gentle and steady shower. We go over everything once slowly (at this point the water soaks the top layer of the ground), and then we go back over everything again (and now the water soaks down into the soil and through the roots).

  1. (This step isn’t necessary but do it for best results and if you can!) Water with a seaweed fertilizer -usually 3 oz. to a gallon of water mixed in a watering can- after you water the garden. This helps reduce the impact of transplanting shock.

Cages and Trellises

This is also the time when you want to place small tomato cages around tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and tomatillos and trellises near melons, cucumbers, climbing squashes and climbing beans.

 

Here’s what we only transplant (i.e. what we grow ahead of time or buy in the 4” pots and plant as specified above):

  • Tomatoes

  • Peppers

  • Eggplants

  • Tomatillos

 

Here’s what we only start from seeds we plant directly in the garden (following the instructions on each seed packet):

  • Beets

  • Radishes

  • Beans

 

We use both methods (transplanting and direct seeding) for all the plants listed below:

  • Lettuce

  • Melons

  • Squash

  • Cucumbers

  • Basil

  • Chard

 

Are you about to start planting? Did you already plant? How’d it go?

 

Why Soil is the Most Important Garden Component, Part 3: Life in Your Soil

We posted last week about the most important nutrients in your soil which contribute to plant vitality in your garden. But here’s the thing: Plants can’t “eat” or absorb those nutrients in their raw form. Something must  first process the nutrients for them. That’s why organisms like earthworms, bacteria and fungi need to be present […] Read more »

The Best Way to Transplant Tomatoes (in our humble opinion)

I want to preface this post by saying that the technique I’m going to describe is by no means the only way to properly plant tomatoes. It’s a method we at Seedlings Gardening prefer because it works really well and will usually keep the tomato plants strong and disease free throughout the entire season. Specific […] Read more »