In the last couple of years, I've learned that mulch is essential in my vegetable garden--especially when gardening in containers and most especially in the summer. The dry, hot summers of Southern California will dry out dirt quickly, and mulch can help keep the soil evenly moist and your plants healthy. Mulching also means you don't have to water your plants as heavily or as often.
Summer plants like tomatoes and eggplants don't respond well to fluctuations in soil moisture level. When the soil goes through a cycle of getting wet and drying out completely, your veggies can get blossom end rot. This has happened to me before, and, let me assure you, it's frustrating. Basically, a brownish or grayish spot appears on the end of a fruit as it grows, ruining it. Mulching can help prevent blossom end rot by holding water in the soil when it might otherwise evaporate. I've managed to stop blossom end rot in my vegetables by mulching around the base of my tomatoes and eggplants. This year, I'm doing the same with my squash, which are also known to suffer from blossom end rot.
In terms of what type of mulch to use, there are many options: bark, garden plastic or, my current favorite, hay. They all work fairly well. The nice thing about hay is that I can just turn it into the soil at the end of the season and it should break down quickly. (Plus, I use it as bedding in my chicken coop first.)
That's it for my thoughts on mulching. I have a couple more gardening tips in mind, and I plan to role them out in the next few weeks. Hopefully, at least one reader will find them helpful.
Previously: Tip #1