The Importance of Mulching in Vegetable Production

Mulching in Vegetable Production
Soil and Water conservation

Thabang Daniel Habi

District Resource Teacher in the Ministry of Education & Farmer

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Mulching in vegetable production is common among farmers globally in many different crops. The main reason for the wide use of this practice is the many benefits it can offer. 

What is the meaning of mulching?

Mulching uses materials such as leaves and plastic to cover the soil surface and create favorable conditions for plant growth. The term “mulch” means covering the soil.

Which are the major types of mulches?

  • Organic
  • Inorganic

Organic mulches are made of organic materials. While decaying, mulches provide nutrients like potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and trace elements to the soil. Organic mulching degrades the soil, improves organic matter, and, as a result, improves the water-holding capacity of the soil. 

Sub-types of organic mulches

  • Grass clipping
  • Sawdust
  • Dry leaves
  • Straw
  • Compost
  • Wood chips
  • Grasses
  • Old hay
  • Crop residue
  • Bark

Inorganic mulches refer to those materials that cannot break down over time; these can be artificial products. Inorganic mulches do not improve soil health because they never release nutrients. However, gravel and river stones work best for plants that prefer additional heat and require good drainage. In some situations, they are more appropriate than organic.

Sub-types of inorganic mulches

  • Gravel, pebbles, and river rocks
  • Black plastic
  • Landscape fabric
  • Rubber mulch
  • Slate chipping
  • Film
  • Bricks
  • Cobblestone

What is the benefit of mulching?

Weed management: Mulch will not entirely remove weeds but can reduce their emergence by competing with them for space and light access, saving farmers weeding time and decreasing the need for chemical weed control.

Habitat for beneficial insects: Mulches provide a beautiful home for valuable insects and other animals, which work as natural enemies of essential crop pests, keeping them under control. 

Improve soil quality: As they break down over time, organic mulches release nutrients into the soil, which enhances soil health and quality.

Improves soil water retention: Mulch helps maintain water by decreasing its evaporation from the soil surface. In this case, there is less need for frequent irrigation, making the crop more drought-resistant.

Protect roots from extreme temperatures: It retains heat in winter and helps maintain the soil cool in summer. It acts as a temperature leveler, forbidding the ground from reaching high temperatures and protecting roots from damage.

Protect from soil erosion and reduce nutrient leaching: It protects rain droplets from hitting the soil surface and slows run-offs of soil and nutrients.

Reduce mud-splashed incidences: Heavy rain sometimes could lead to waterlogging. Many vegetables are sensitive to these conditions, reducing yields and fruit rotting.

Reduce costs: When is applied, the farmer needs fewer herbicides and fertilizers. The labor required is also reduced.

How and when to apply mulch 

Generally, the optimum time is in the spring after some rainfall. 

Mulching too early in the spring will cause a further drop in the soil temperature, which is undesirable. Plant enthusiasts are advised to mulch in the gardens after all spring bulbs bloom. Because one of the primary purposes is soil moisture control, applying it shortly after a light rain is considered a good practice as long as the ground is not fully wet. After spreading the mulch, softly spray the area with water to help it set and remain in place.


Organic mulches can suppress annual weeds and offer vital benefits to crop plants. Some of them are the organic matter and nutrients added, better moisture retention, the soil protection from erosion, and the moderation of soil temperature. Organic mulch can improve crop growth and competitiveness against weeds by maintaining soil moisture. Inorganic mulch prevents heavy rain from splashing soil on the lower leaves of plants, as well as keeping the pores open. It also helps avoid compaction on the sidewalk throughout the garden and beds.


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