If you want to stop endless weeding chores, and produce more vegetables than ever in your garden this year – mulch is the answer. But it is how you mulch, and what you mulch with that can make all the difference.

The list of benefits for using mulch in the garden is long and powerful. It is a soil insulator, a moisture retainer, and most of all, an incredible weed suppressor.

stop weeds with mulch
Mulch in the garden helps to stop weeds and build better soil over time.

Even more, it helps to increase soil fertility as it breaks down over time. The end result is a more productive, healthier garden. And, most importantly, one that needs little to no weeding!

How To Mulch A Garden To Stop Weeds

The real secret to a weed free, low maintenance garden really comes down to choosing the right mulch for the specific areas within a garden.

stop weeds
Leaving soil bare in a vegetable garden will lead to endless weeding chores.

Here is a look at the best mulch to use for each garden area, and how each can help eliminate weeds.

Mulch In The Walking Rows

The first area we will tackle are the walking rows of the garden. These are the soil zones in between plants. Sadly, they usually require the most work to keep weed-free, all while producing zero crops!

rototilling between rows
Using a rototiller between crop rows to control weeds is time consuming. In addition, it can break down soil structure over time.

Why spend needless hours hoeing, rototilling and re-tilling your walking rows. Instead, use a heavy dose of mulch to stop weeds in these non-growing spaces for good! (See : How To Create The Perfect No-Till Garden With Ease)

Choosing The Right Mulch For Walking Rows

For the walking rows, low-cost options such as wood chips, shredded bark or whole leaves work wonders. When laid down thick at 4 to 6″, they are great for stopping weeds all season long.

We have used natural bark and wood chips from a local sawmill in our walking rows for years. Over time, it has all but eliminated weeding these non-productive areas.

stop weeds in the garden
Untreated hardwood bark or wood chips are excellent for keeping weeds out of walking rows. And they can often be found for free.

Wood chips can often be locally sourced, sometimes even for free from local tree trimmers and landscapers. And leaves of course can be found in abundance for free every fall.

Mulching Around Plants To Stop Weeds

Now that the walking rows are taken care of, it is time to talk about mulching around plants. Keeping plants mulched is critical for so many reasons.

First, it keeps out competing weeds. Weeds that grow and steal nutrients from your vegetable plants. But mulching also helps to insulate roots, and can even help to power plants with additional nutrients.

stop weeds with mulch - compost
Compost is one of the most valuable mulches to use around plants in the garden.

So what are the best mulches to use around plants? Here is a short list of great options, along with the benefits of each:

Compost

The absolute Champion of all mulches! We use it around every single plant – creating a 2″ thick mulch about 8″ in diameter around the base of each plant.  

This mulch not only stops weeds and insulates plants from temperature swings, but also leaches in impressive amounts of nutrients to the soil.  See : How To Make Great Compost – Fast!

Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are an excellent choice for using around plants. They are excellent for suppressing weeds. And, as clippings dry and break down, they add valuable organic matter to the soil as well.

stopping weed with mulch
Using compost or grass clippings to mulch around plants helps provide nutrients and weed control.

Even better, when first applied fresh and green, grass clippings leach valuable nitrogen into the soil. It should be noted that only non-treated grass clippings should be used in vegetable gardens.

Shredded Leaves

Whole leaves make a weed stopping mulch for walking rows, but shredded leaves are the winner when it comes to using in and around plants.

Why shredded leaves?

Whole leaves break down slowly and matte together. It is one of the reasons they are great for walking rows. But shredded leaves allow air and water through to plants while still keeping out weeds. (Product Link : Leaf Shredder)

shredded leaves
Leaves are extremely valuable for mulching a vegetable garden.

Keep in mind that some leaves are better than others as mulches for stopping weeds in the garden. Maple, Birch, Ash, Beech and fruit tree leaves are excellent choices. 

Oak leaves and pine needles on the other hand are not a good choice. The leaves of oak trees as well as pine needles are acidic, and can knock a soil’s PH out of balance over time.

Straw

Straw is an excellent mulch to use nearly everywhere in the garden. In the growing rows, near plants, or even in the walking rows. The only drawback is that it can be pricey, especially depending where you live.

straw bales
Straw is an excellent garden mulch, but can be on the expensive side depending where you live.

We still use it in our growing rows, but have scaled back now that we can use our own compost, grass clippings and leaves as well.

Mulches To Avoid

When it comes to garden mulch, there are a few you will want to avoid all together.

Hay –  Hay is not the same as straw. And when used, it will create a lot of weed problems in your garden.

Straw bales are the leftover stubble of a crop in the field. But hay bales are from the entire growth, and that includes seed heads and all. Using hay in the garden is like planting thousands of weed seeds!

hay bales
Hay is full of seeds, and should never be used to mulch in the garden.

Commercial Bagged and Bulk Mulch – Although commercial mulches are great for flowerbeds, they are not a good choice for gardens.

Most commercially available hardwood mulches are treated with artificial colorants, dyes, and fungicides. Because of that, placing them near consumable plants in the garden should be avoided.  

So get out there in the garden this year and stop those weeds with mulch, and enjoy a better crop with less maintenance. Happy Gardening, Jim and Mary!

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How To Use Mulch To Stop Weeds In Your Vegetable Garden – Forever!