Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources • Oklahoma State University
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Fact Sheetsare also available on our website at:
Steven H. Dobbs
Extension Consumer HorticulturistMulching Oklahoma garden soils may be one o the mostvaluable cultural practices o gardening.The use o organic materials or mulches can providemany benecial eects. These include: the control o annualgrasses and weeds; the elimination o the need or cultiva-tion and the resulting damage to plant roots; the reduction omoisture evaporation; the increase o water absorption andretention; the decrease in runo and soil erosion; and theregulation o soil temperature. Other benets are: cleaner, moreeasily harvested crops; the reduction o ruit rot; and easiermovement through the garden during very wet periods.Surace mulches will provide conditions or plant roots todevelop throughout the surace inches o the soil to absorbwater, nutrients, and oxygen. Luxuriant stem, lea, fower, andruit growth ollows the development o vigorous, extensiveroot growth.Most Oklahoma soils are high in mineral content, but lowin organic matter. The use o organic mulches in the homegarden and their incorporation into the soil at the close oeach gardening season provides an opportunity to increasesoil organic matter content, improve the physical condition othe soil, and add some nutrients.
Many materials are available or mulching. The selectiono a particular material depends upon the cost, availability, theseason o the year, and the crop to be mulched.Since one o the more important actors in successulhome gardening is the maintenance o an adequate level oorganic matter in the soil, this act sheet will consider primarilythose materials that produce this result.Suitable organic mulch materials should decomposewithin a season and should not contain undesirable quantitieso viable seeds and harmul disease organisms or pests.The material should be easily applied and remain inplace. It should not pack down and should be eective or atleast one season. Finally the mulch should be incorporatedwith the soil or urther decomposition. It is a good practiceto incorporate or compost garden reuse at the close o thegardening season. This eliminates protective quarters orinsects to use in winter months.
Application of the Mulch
Growing Season Mulches
A mulch is requently applied soon ater the emergenceo the crop seedlings or ollowing transplanting.A delay in application o the mulch may be desirable i thesoil has not warmed suciently during the spring season.In the event o excessive soil moisture, crop plant rootsmay develop in the mulch layer where aeration is more avor-able or root growth at that time.The depth o a mulch layer will be infuenced by the textureo the mulch material since a primary objective is to prevent orgreatly reduce the germination and growth o annual weedsand grasses.The amount used might vary rom 1 inch or sawdust,peat moss, cotton seed hulls, ground corncobs, compost, orsimilar density materials to 4 to 8 inches or straw, hay, cornstalks, or other coarse materials.Another actor in determining the amount and type omulch material used, is the need to provide protection to oli-age, fowers, and ruits rom soil-borne disease organisms thatcould splash upon the plant. Also, to prevent the developmento ruit rots or lea diseases.Many o the more permanent plants o the yard and gar-den may also be mulched to maintain a continuous soil coverunder and around the plants. This might include trees andshrubs as well as hardy perennial fower, ruit, and vegetableplants.Some plants that benet rom summer mulching include:tomato, pepper, eggplant, okra, green beans, cucumbers,cantaloupe, squash, broccoli, cabbage, caulifower, brus-sel sprouts, sweet corn, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries,blackberries, dewberries, boysenberries, blueberries, andtree ruits. Also, chrysanthemums, columbine, roses, azaleas,asters, lilies, daylilies, perennial phlox, peonies, and manykinds o annual fowers benet.Generally, the semi-arid plants and most wild fowers, whengrown in higher rainall regions, should not be mulched.Sweet potatoes do not benet rom summer mulchingexcept in very sandy soils and in dry seasons.
Winter Season Mulches
The principal reasons or winter mulching are to providemore uniorm soil moisture and to protect the plant rom severetemperatures during cold weather.Winter mulches generally are applied around and overthe tops o low growing plants ater the plants are in a dormantor inactive stage o growth. This usually occurs in very lateDecember.The amount o mulch applied is infuenced by the severityo winter cold, the amount o drying winds, and winter rainall.
Mulching Garden Soils
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service