The difference between a decent tomato harvest and a great tomato harvest often doesn’t go beyond the mulching practice adopted by the gardener. However, as important as mulching is, a lot of gardeners don’t know how to pick the best mulch for their tomatoes and when to use it.
There’s no single best mulch for tomatoes. Shredded leaves, straw, grass clippings, peat moss, and red or black plastics are all effective in helping tomato plants by retaining moisture, preventing weeds, and encouraging a generally fertile and pest-free environment.
Finding the best mulch for your tomatoes is pretty easy. Most of the options we’ll take a look at are either free, cost effective, or easily obtainable. We’ll teach you how to select a tomato mulch that will increase the quantity and the quality of the tomatoes you grow in your garden.
Should You Put Mulch Around Tomatoes?
There’s always a choice when it comes to how you grow your tomatoes. Of course, each decision you make affects how plentiful your harvest will be and how sumptuous your tomatoes will taste. You can also do without mulching and get by with just a few regular tomatoes.
However, if you’re looking for a buoyant harvest of juicy, fresh tomatoes, then you definitely want to put a mulch around those tomatoes.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of mulching, and you can see for yourself whether you want to put mulch around your tomatoes.
Mulch Protects Your Tomatoes
Nothing hurts more than large tomatoes with rot in them. Even worse? A harvest full of rotten tomatoes.
If you have any experience growing tomatoes in your garden, you know how devastating this can be, and the truth is that it’s very easy for your tomatoes to develop rot or have their growth delayed since they hang so low to the ground.
What better way to protect them than to add an extra layer of protective covering?
Mulch Keeps Weeds at Bay
When left unchecked, weeds will suck all the nutrients and water from your tomatoes and strangle them until there’s nothing left.
However, a mulch cover will keep those weeds at bay before they ever become a concern to your tomatoes.
Mulch Saves Water
Your tomatoes need some sort of cover that will prevent excess heat from touching the soil and causing the moisture to evaporate from it. Mulch provides that needed shade.
Mulch saves water by exposing your tomatoes to just the right amount of light and keeping water evenly distributed through the roots. The mulch will also prevent excess air that may erode your garden soil and wash off the water.
Mulch Keeps Plants Clean
Mulches like leaves and grass clippings protect your tomatoes from a host of pathogens and fungal diseases. Compost mulch also covers the top layer of the soil and prevents water and wind erosion.
Best Mulches for Tomato Plants
Mulches for tomato can be classed into two categories: organic and inorganic.
Organic mulches are natural coverings that can protect your tomatoes from heat, wind, weeds, and pathogens. Some of these include:
Shredded leaves offer great mulching benefits. So, next time you find leaves strewn all over your lawn, put them to good use!
Shredded leaves are not only easy to obtain, but also cost effective. Furthermore, the leaves will improve the health and fertility of your garden.
Always make sure to use shredded leaves as mulch Unshredded leaves prevent water and air from getting to the soil because they form a very thick layer. They also trap the moisture and keep it from spreading evenly across the roots.
In case you don’t have shredded leaves, you can shred the leaves with a leaf shredder (on Amazon). You can also use your mower to ride on the leaves to achieve the same desired result.
Shredded leaves aren’t the only helpful material you can find on your lawn. Grass clippings can also go a long way. You can spread grass clippings evenly over your tomatoes to protect them from heat and weeds.
Grass clippings make a great cover to preserve soil moisture and prevent erosion. However, they can prevent stems from getting enough water. For this reason, keep the clippings away from the stems.
Straw also make great cover for tomatoes, and you can obtain it quite easily. Straw helps to preserve soil moisture, but it also sprouts seeds, which can be a problem.
To prevent seeds from sprouting from your straw, be careful about the type of straw you get from the start. Straws like feed hay naturally harbor all kinds of weeds. Instead, go for wheat or golden straw.
Also don’t let the straw touch the stem of your tomatoes. This can lead to pathogenic infestation and fungal problems.
Peat moss makes an attractive dressing for any tomato garden. The best part is that you can find it growing naturally in your garden.
Peat moss will conceal your tomatoes from excess sun, but it can also compete with your plants for water. To prevent your tomatoes from losing too much water, give them a good watering before spreading the peat moss.
Tomatoes love warm soil, and since black plastic (on Amazon) retains heat, it can considerably help to improve the yield of your tomatoes — especially if you’re growing them on a commercial scale.
Black plastic is especially suitable for commercial tomato growers, and it can increase the yield significantly. That said, black plastic can be very labor-intensive and isn’t the most cost-efficient method out there.
It’s best to add this mulch in the spring and take it up by fall.
Just like black plastics, red plastic (on Amazon) makes great mulch for tomatoes. Why red? The red plastic reflects some shades of red light, which helps to repel nematodes that feed on tomato roots.
Most often, when you hear commercial farmers talking about selective reflecting mulch, they’re talking about using red plastics to cover their tomatoes.
Red plastic isn’t very cost-effective in the short run, but it can be reused for a long time and it offers several benefits, including increasing the tomato yield and retaining soil moisture.
Make some tiny holes in the plastic to allow water, nutrients and air to pass through it.
How to Mulch Tomatoes
Wait for the ground to warm up so that the soil can soak in enough heat, then add some tomato-tone (on Amazon). After this, calculate about 2 inches of space to allow your tomato stem access to adequate water and air, then spread your mulch on the tomatoes. Water your tomatoes well after mulching.
When to Mulch Tomato Plants
Using the best mulch available doesn’t always directly translate to reaping a bountiful harvest of tomatoes. Many gardeners and farmers find one mulch to be ineffective, then switch to the next one and find the same results. The problem is not always the mulch — and it’s not that they’re terrible farmers. It’s just the timing.
In order to get it right yourself, you need to understand the kind of weather tomatoes love. Tomatoes enjoy warm soil in the early stages of their growth, so you might want the soil to warm up a bit before planting your tomatoes.
The best time to plant is usually late spring when the soil has warmed up but is still cool enough to receive and nurture the seeds. Even when you plant around this time, don’t apply the mulch immediately.
If you mulch too soon, you may stunt the growth of your tomatoes because they won’t receive enough sun. So wait a few weeks after planting your tomatoes to lay the mulch.
Whichever mulch you choose, remember that nothing is as important as doing it right. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, so make sure to familiarize yourself with each and prepare in advance for the possible negatives.
Be sure to pick a mulch accessible to you and stick with it. Now that you know when and how to apply mulch, you should see beautiful, tasty tomatoes in your garden before you know it. Happy growing!