Requesting Details on Mulching Veggie Garden w/ paper & leaves

jaidogJune 22, 2011

I have a 10' x 20' garden to which I added 800 lbs of manure compost and mushroom compost last fall. I've planted a variety of vegetables this spring which are now doing well, but I have lots of weeds. I've read quite a few posts regarding mulching a vegetable garden, and have decided to go the paper + leaf route since I have access to free cardboard, newspaper, and leaves (in the fall). I'm trying to determine exactly when and how to proceed.

At some time, I suppose I should lay down newspaper or cardboard and then an 8" layer of leaves on top. Which is better -- newspaper or cardboard? And, when exactly should this be done? At this time, it doesn't seem practical to place cardboard or newspaper in my garden since it would take a lot of time to 'fit' the paper around my existing plants. Plus, I don't currently have any leaves.

So, do I wait until fall to do this after my plants have died? Or, do I do it next spring prior to planting? By the way, I live in the Chicago area so the ground freezes during the winter. Do I till the soil prior to putting down paper and leaves? And, is there a special method to planting after the paper and leaves are down? If I use cardboard, will I need to cut through it wherever I have plants? How do I build up mounds or rows if there is a layer of cardboard everywhere?

Maybe I'm over-thinking this, but I don't want to end up with a big mess on my hands that will make things worse. Thanks in advance for any advice.

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mustard_seeds(4 -Onalaska Wisconsin)

do you sow seeds directly into garden or do you plant seedlings that are already growing?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 11:58AM
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jaidog

I sow seeds and plant seedlings.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 12:11PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

The newspaper, or cardboard, acts as a light barrier so any plants covered by it cannot continue to grow. Shredded leaves layed on a garden to a depth of 8 inches would do the same so the newspaper would not be necessary. The newspaper helps extend the mulch material you have so you could cover more of the soil. All you need over the newspaper is enough shredded leaves to hold the paper in place and hide it from view, about 3 to 4 inches.
There is no reason to till your soil before covering with the paper and leaf mulch, and there is no reason to till in the spring since the mulch will help keep the soil warm enough for the soil bacteria to keep working much later and possibly by spring the newspaper, or cardboard, will be pretty well digested. If some is still present when planting time comes you can make planting holes and you can pull the mulch back enough to sow seeds.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 12:32PM
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jaidog

kimmsr,

Based on your advice, I will plan on putting down the paper and leaves in fall rather than spring since this will keep the soil warmer. Few followup questions:

- In the fall, what type of prep should I do to my plot prior to covering it with paper and leaves? Just pull out the dead plants, or something else?

- Will I need to mulch again in spring? Or, can I put down 6" of leaves in the fall rather than 3" and hope that 3" remain come springtime?

- Do the leaves need to be shredded or can whole leaves be used as mulch?

- With the paper and leaves covering the soil, how is fertilizer applied?

Thanks.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 1:09PM
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connie_cola(DE 7)

You can still mulch this year for weeds!

I have used grass clippings with much success in the past - pile them on thick - they shrink. I started it about halfway through the summer that year. I pulled all the weeds then put on a nice thick layer. I had to replenish it a couple of times. It worked so well that I started doing it earlier in the season, whenever I could get some clippings.

I am using leaves this year (more leaves are available to me this year). They are working great. I tried an area with wetted newspaper underneath the leaves and I really can't see that it will be worth the effort in the future, as it is doing about the same as the leaves-only.

I read about using shredded paper under straw on the Vegetable Gardening Forum back in May. That sounded like a good solution to me - I will keep it on file just in case I run short on grass clippings or leaves.

Whatever way you choose, you will need to get rid of the current weeds or cut them down really short for the best results.

Here is a link that might be useful: Shredded Paper Mulching

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 9:11PM
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connie_cola(DE 7)

@ - In the fall, what type of prep should I do to my plot prior to covering it with paper and leaves? Just pull out the dead plants, or something else?

*-* Some plant stalks can stick around for a while and be a nuisance - I had some tomato & cucumber vines that did that. I pull them out now & stick them in the compost. Any other plant matter can be left there or not as you please.

@ - Will I need to mulch again in spring? Or, can I put down 6" of leaves in the fall rather than 3" and hope that 3" remain come springtime?

*-* The 2 feet of leaves that I applied one year in the fall was down to about 4 inches by planting time in the spring.

@ - Do the leaves need to be shredded or can whole leaves be used as mulch?

*-* Either one will work. Shredded ones seem to be less likely to get caught up in the wind, in my experience.

@ - With the paper and leaves covering the soil, how is fertilizer applied?

*-* The same way that you add plants, just push the mulch aside & then back into place when you're done.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2011 at 9:31PM
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jaidog

connie,

Thanks for all the answers to my questions. Regarding mulching with grass -- I have a friend who tried this and burned his plants. After hearing this, I've shied away from the idea of using grass as mulch.

Just today, I was browsing craigslist and came across someone trying to dispose of last fall's leaves. If I can get those, I will mulch with them as soon as possible. In the fall, I'll use leaves from my yard to amend the mulch.

I've also started reading about mulching with hay. Seems worth considering since transporting bundled bales of hay is probably easier than hauling loose leaves. Of course, leaves are free and hay is not. And, I'm not sure how much hay I would need.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 1:01AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Many people will suggest removing the plants that grew there this year taking nutrients from your soil. These, now dead, plants can be composted, extra work, or can be left in place and covered with the paper and leaves to put those nutrients back into the soil they grew in.
The shredded leaf mulches I put down in the fall usually are digested by August and the soil really needs more mulch, and some years I have some to put down while others I don't. If I do have mulch material I will add it but if I don't I don't get overly concerned about it.
Shredded leaves will be digested by the soil bacteria sooner then whole leaves would, depending on the tree species, which means the whole leaf mulch will last longer but will not feed the soil as soon and whole leaves are known to keep some plants from growing if they cover them.
I add compost to the mulch and do not concern myself with "fertilizer" since the compost and leaf mulches keep the soil in my garden well supplied with necessary nutrients, as periodic soil tests have shown.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 6:45AM
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luckygal(3b)

With traditional vegetable row gardening (vs. square foot gardening) some people heavily mulch the paths between the rows to eliminate weeds and only have to hand pull the weeds in the rows. Next year plant where the paths were by pulling aside any remaining mulch and again mulch the paths (which is where the plants were the last year). This way all the soil is eventually nourished and weeding can be kept to a minimum.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 12:29PM
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terrene(5b MA)

This year I have created a new small bed for vegetables, and haven't mulched it yet (still planting), but am planning to mulch with newspaper, compost, and then straw on top. I use a lot of leaves as mulch, but prefer straw for veggies, because it keeps the them nice and clean if they sprawl a bit. Straw is generally better to use than hay, because it has fewer seeds.

I often use paper layers as a weed barrier, but discovered that it's best to put the paper down in the Spring. Over our long, wet, cold winters, the paper has softened and decomposed enough by the Spring so that many weeds can grow through it, thus defeating its purpose.

With the 800 lbs of organics you added, I doubt your plants would even need fertilizer this year!

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 1:57AM
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jaidog

I've settled on going the leaf route for mulching since I found a source for free leaves. One [hopefully last] question -- when I mulch with the leaves, do I need to keep them a certain distance from the stems of my plants or can the leaves touch the stem?

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 3:58PM
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flowersnow

My biggest problem was weeds around the border of my garden. I did a great job of keeping weeds out of my plants, but along the wood boarder, weeds just crept in and then took over. This spring I decided that I would tackle the edge first. I put down layers of cardboard and some newspaper..thick! So far so good! I actually have extra mulch so I am sprinkling that over the cardboard. The few weeds that have still come up are easy to handle. Jaidog, I have put leaves right up to the plant stems with no problems, but just make sure water can get to the roots.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 10:59PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

How quickly, or slowly, paper is digested by your Soil Food Web deoends on how active it is and how thick a layer of paper you put down. If the paper is just thick enough to suppress "weed" growth, 4 to 6 sheets thick, and there is a very active Soil Food Web then the paper will be digested fairly quickly. If the soil does not have an active Soil Food Web then that paper can be around a year or more and if the paper is put down really thickly (20 or 30 sheets) it would take even a really active Soil Food Web a year or more to digest that. As a rule anythign thicker then 6 sheets of paper is a waste of resources.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 6:50AM
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tn_gardening

Posted by jaidog none (My Page) on Mon, Jun 27, 11 at 15:58
I've settled on going the leaf route for mulching since I found a source for free leaves. One [hopefully last] question -- when I mulch with the leaves, do I need to keep them a certain distance from the stems of my plants or can the leaves touch the stem?

===============================================

I never really thought about it, but I'd say that as I am planting I naturally pull back the leaves/mulch to plant.

I am pleased with how things are working in my garden this year. I have pretty good soil (been adding compost for a few years) and made mounds for my plants. I then put down a couple sheets of newspaper and mulched with shredded leaves. It's all starting to break down and could use a bit more leaf mulch (next year I will have to make sure to save a bag or two).

    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 7:59AM
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connie_cola(DE 7)

* Posted by jaidog none on Thu, Jun 23, 11 at 1:01
" Regarding mulching with grass -- I have a friend who tried this and burned his plants. After hearing this, I've shied away from the idea of using grass as mulch. "

Wow, I never had that happen! The grass I used was a bit dried, not fresh. Maybe that's why I didn't see that on mine. The grass was piled up by the neighbor & I don't know how long it sat before I found it. So I guess if you let it dry a bit you would not get burning on the plants.

Thank you so much,jaidog, for letting me know about that!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 9:28AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

If fresh, green grass clippings are used as mulch, and they touch the plants growing in the garden, and they are more then about 2 inches thick those grass clippings will heat up and can fry your seedlings, and even fully grown plants. If fresh green grass clippings are put down as mulch and do not touch the plants and are not too thick so they do not generate enough heat they will be fine.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 7:46AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

you can mulch now, just be careful not to smother the plants that you want to keep growing.

Which is best, newspaper or cardboard? Whichever one you have readily available.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 9:46AM
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