There are many different types of mulch available
for using in and outside the vegetable garden
The list below has been kept to the organic materials that are best suited to mulching and are generally easily available. There are many more organic materials that can be used but often these are very local in supply. If you are organic matter poor, and wish to remedy that situation, go hunting for organic materials in your local area. You might be surprised what you can get, and often free for the taking.
Not all vegetable plants like the same growing conditions, so try to match the mulch to the crop, weather conditions and soil.
High soil temperatures can stress your plants, cool season crops will grow longer into the summer months with a cooling mulch. On the other hand, growth of warm season crops can be seriously effected by using a moisture-retentive and soil-cooling mulch to early in the spring.
Alfalfa is a perennial flowering crop used primarily for cattle feed across the world. The depth of its root system, that can reach down as far as 12 feet, allows the plant to access minerals and nutrient out of reach of many other plants. Alfalfa is considered a complete natural fertilizer, high in nitrogen, which remains reasonable high even as it ages. As a mulch it is one of the most nutrient rich ones available.
For a more detailed article on the use of alfalfa as one of the best types of mulch available follow this link to Alfalfa meal fertilizer
Cardboard, especially corrugated material, is a great addition to the list of suitable types of mulch. Its biodegradable glues contain some nitrogen. It can be shredded, but is better left whole. A word of warning, some cardboard has a plastic coating and should either be removed if feasible, or not used.
Cardboard, like newspaper, makes an excellent first layer when sheet composting, if thick enough either of these mulches will totally suffocate all weeds and ground cover. When planting leave the mulch in place and poke holes in the cardboard, the mulch will decompose completely while the plants are happily growing.
Cardboard is great for worms they will devour it like there is no tomorrow.
For a more detailed article on the use of paper and cardboard as one of the best types of mulch available follow this link to paper mulch
Buckwheat hulls and rice hulls, this information applies to most grain hulls. They add very few nutrients to the garden and are very slow to decompose. They do however make an excellent soil conditioner for heavy clay soils or areas that have poor drainage.
The main problem with grain hulls in general is keeping them on the garden. Being very light and fluffy makes them easily blown away in even the slightest wind movement and difficult to use by themselves as a mulch.
The easiest method of using grain hulls in the home garden is as the first layer in sheet composting rather than your vegetable growing area during the season. Rough up the top 1 inch, (2.5 cm), of soil. Then spread the hulls 1-2 inches, (2.5 -5.0 cm) thick and cover with an 1-2 inches (2.5 -5.0 cm) of hay straw or any other mulch that will keep the hulls in place. Thoroughly wet the top mulch, this will percolate down to the hulls and nature will take over from there.
For all the difficulties grain hull present they are well worth the extra effort to handle because of the great job of they do of opening up these poor draining clay soils.
Our little wriggly friends love them too, they will convert these hulls into compost in about four months.
Hay is mostly carbon, of all the different types of mulch, hay is one of the most common. The greener the hay the more nitrogen it contains, however this nitrogen is lost very quickly and even good quality shed stored hay will rapidly deteriorate.
Pasture hay needs to be weathered before using as mulch, even the seed from good quality grasses are not desirable in the veggie garden and if left to germinate will turn your garden into a weedy nightmare.
The best way to overcome this is to leave the bales to spoil, similar to treating straw bales, but for different reasons. By exposes the bale to the elements much of the seed will germinate, turning the hay over a few times will prevent them from taking root and they will wither and die. Once all the seed has germinated and died it is good for mulching.
Pasture hay makes excellent mulch material, its uses are similar to straw, follow this link for more on how to use hay and Straw as mulch.
Lawn and grass clippings are high in nitrogen and one that would be the most readily available organic material the average home gardener has access to. It pays to be cautious if you are receiving this organic matter from sources outside your own and check what if any lawn fertilizers has been used as many also have herbicides mixed in.
Lawn clipping are especially high in nitrogen during the new growth period in spring and also again in the fall. Don’t layer them onto the garden too thick. Clipping are incredibly wet even in hot dry weather and tend to mat down, going slimy and stink.
If you have an excess available they can be spread out somewhere for a few days to dry before adding to the garden and preventing this to some extent. What a bonus it is in the fall when there are plenty of leaves on the lawn, you can mow the lawns, shred the leaves, and put the whole mix straight down as perfect mulch.
Dry leaves are mostly carbon, low in nitrogen but rich in minerals, while living green leaves contain abundant nitrogen. The fallen leaves from most trees make excellent mulch and we will deal here only with leaves fallen in the fall.
Of the types of mulch that gardeners have, leaves are often the second most available source of home grown organic matter. Unfortunately, this is usually a famine or feast situation.
Excess leaves can be bagged or binned up for use over the next spring, summer growing period. Shredding also helps immensely, leaves will pack much tighter into bags or any storage container than whole leaves will. Very little composting takes place even over a long period, tending more towards leaf-mold, which is one of the best home grown types of mulch you can use.
Mushroom compost is mentioned here because in some areas it is cheap and readily available so it is often used as a mulch, however it really doesn’t fulfill the obligations of a mulch.
Because both compost and mushroom compost are so fine textured they offer little in the way of weed suppression or moisture conservation and in fact are the perfect growing medium for weed seeds to germinate.
In the list of types of mulch for your vegetable garden newspapers are pretty close to the top.
For a more detailed article on the use of paper as one of the best types of mulch available follow this link to paper mulch
Pine needles or commonly known as pine straw makes excellent mulch material, follow this link for the low down on Pine straw mulch
The nutrients supplied to the garden from these mulches is way off the charts. They are more of a fertilizer than mulch but depending on the bedding material some can be very useful mulches. Stable or barn bedding materials should not be applied to the garden if they contain fresh manure, they will need to be weathered for two to three weeks at least.
For a more detailed article on the use of stable and barn beddig as one of the best types of mulch and fertilizer available follow this link to manure as fertilizer
Straw, as a mulching material is similar to, but with less nutrients than grass hay. It is right up there as one of the most often used vegetable garden mulches. Straw and hay, for different reasons need to be treated much the same way. Follow this link for a more detailed article on straw mulch
All wood products belong in a similar types of mulch category. Wood bark, sawdust, wood chip, shavings and wood waste are obtained from a variety of different tree types both hardwood and softwood. They all make excellent mulches but because they are very low in nitrogen and dense in nature most are best suited for use around the vegetable garden rather than in the vegetable garden.