What is the Best Mulch for Container Tomatoes?
The question about the best mulch for tomatoes has lingered for a long time. If you are growing tomatoes in containers, you need tomato mulch more so if your goal is to have a bountiful harvest.
The mulch helps your tomato plants develop more branches and consume nutrients better than those not mulched. You can also be sure of healthier tomatoes.
Choosing the best mulch for tomatoes in containers can be overwhelming. This is because there are many types of mulches available. That being said, I’m here to help you make an educated decision.
This article provides the answer to your question about, which mulch is best for container tomato plants.
So, what is the best mulch for tomatoes in containers? Pick one of the following, or combine some of them:
- Bark mulch or wood chips
- Grass clippings
- Red or black plastic mulch depending on what you want to achieve on the plants.
- Pebbles or slate
Read on to learn more about the different types of mulch and the benefits of mulching tomato plants!
Types of Mulch
There are thousands of mulch brands in the market, but they all come down to a few types: organic and inorganic mulches. Let’s look at each of these types, their benefits, and their drawbacks.
As the name suggests, organic material comprises formerly living materials such as wood chips, barks, grass clippings, or straw.
Most people prefer organic mulch because it decomposes and adds nutrients to the soil, enhances organism activity, and can be replenished after some time.
Below are some of the main types of organic mulch and how you can use them.
The next time you mow your lawn, don’t throw away the clippings as you can use them as mulch for your garden or as fertilizer for your lawn.
Some of the benefits of grass clippings include:
- Nitrogen – Grass contains lots of nitrogen since it facilitates their growth and gives them the lush green color. So, grass clippings will contain most of this nitrogen, which they can then add to your soil. Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients for tomatoes since it helps in photosynthesis, enzyme activity, chlorophyll formation, and many other plant activities.
- Phosphorus – If your garden lacks phosphorous, then you should consider grass clippings. Most living materials contain phosphorous. But lawn clippings tend to contain more since most of the lawn fertilizers have high amounts of phosphorus. Since excess phosphorous from fertilizers is bad for the environment, grass clippings provide a more environmentally friendly option.
- Potassium – Grass clippings also contain potassium, which facilitates enzyme activity, allows sugars to move within the plant, conserves water, and facilitates the synthesis of proteins and pigments in tomato plants.
- Save Money – If you have a large lawn, you may not have to buy any fertilizers since you will have enough clippings for a large garden.
- If the clippings contain any weeds, they may transfer them to your garden.
- Some may contain residue from synthetic pesticides, which may be harmful to your tomatoes.
- Grass clippings attract voles and shrews, which can cause lots of damage to your crops.
Wood Chips/Shredded Barks/Shredded Leaves/Pine Needles
If you have lots of trees around your neighborhood or live close to lumber mills, there are many tree byproducts that you can use as mulch. Wood chips and barks are the most common and are often offered for free.
The good thing about wood chips is, they also decompose and add nutrients to the soil. However, you need to check which tree the wood chips are made from.
Cedar wood chips have an added advantage since they can also act as a repellant to pests.
However, trees like Black walnuts have allelopathic properties that may inhibit the germination and growth of your tomato plants.
To be on the safe side, use wood chips and other tree byproducts when your tomato plants are already established and not on seedlings.
It’s also best to go for dried wood chips since wet wood chips may extract nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil.
Leaves also tend to decompose faster, and they may also carry more nutrients compared to chips.
Some of the best trees to use for mulch include:
- Douglas Fir
Some trees to avoid include:
- Black Walnut
- Chinese Elm
- Black locust
- Wood mulch decomposes to add nutrients
- It can act as decorative mulch
- Wood mulch is also good at regulating soil temperature
- Tree byproducts are a fire hazard
- They may attract insects
- Some trees have allelopathic properties
Straw and Hay
Straw and hay (preferably alfalfa hay) are also excellent mulch for your tomato plants.
They aren’t toxic, and when prepared well, they will not contain weeds.
Straw and hay function similarly in that they can prevent your tomato fruits from coming into contact with the ground. They also prevent soil erosion and the growth of weeds.
However, there’s a debate on which is better, between straw and hay.
In most cases, hay carries lots of weeds. But as long as you purchase from trusted farmers, you can reap the benefits of organic mulch regardless of the one you choose. You can also add hay into compost.
You could never go wrong with compost as mulch. You can make compost from waste food or animal manure. Either way, compost contains lots of nutrients which are slowly released into the soil over a long period.
Better yet, you can use compost with other mulches, such as wood chips or hay. However, make sure you compost the mixture well.
Otherwise, you’ll transfer pests and diseases to your crops or even cause burns since compost that isn’t ready may produce a lot of heat.
Compost may also contain too much nitrogen, so only use a little of it or mix it with other mulches to balance the nitrogen levels.
You may also want to read this detailed analysis of compost vs manure.
Cocoa hulls are a good option for those who love the chocolate smell.
Besides the smell, cocoa hulls are also excellent sources of potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorous.
They also have a pH of 5.8, so they won’t alter the soils too much since tomatoes thrive in pH levels between 5.5 and 7.5.
In addition, they retain moisture and inhibit weeds just like all other mulches.
However, there are two main issues with cocoa hulls. Firstly, when they get wet, they may attract pests.
Secondly, cocoa hulls may be toxic to pets and are not the best if you have pets at home.
Cocoa hulls are also quite expensive. You’ll need several bags if you have a large garden.
Considering they also decompose quite fast, they may not be a sustainable option for large farms.
Coconut coir, the waste product after processing coconut is another type of organic mulch.
They are best known for their water absorption qualities, which they will then release slowly into the soil over a long period.
They can also help in soil amendment when you’re growing tomatoes in sand or clay soil.
And with a pH of 5.5 to 6.8, your soil’s acidity levels will remain intact.
Better yet, you can add coconut coir to your compost heap to improve its quality.
However, coconut coir is known to contain too much salt, altering the soil’s nutrient levels. But not all coconut coir contains excess salts.
So, make sure you check with the vendor before buying.
- Inorganic mulch is often made from synthetic materials such as plastics and fabric. They have no nutritional value to your plants but have a wide range of other benefits, including:
- They inhibit the growth of weeds.
- They enhance moisture retention close to the roots
- They can help regulate soil temperatures. For instance, you can use them as a blanket to keep the soil’s warm to prevent frosting. You can also use them during spring to keep the soil cool.
- They can minimize water runoff and erosion and enhance infiltration.
- Inorganic mulches can help minimize how often you have to cultivate. While organic mulches enhance organism activity, these activities may also lead to compaction. On the other hand, inorganic mulches minimize these activities, leaving the soil intact for the next growing season.
- Inorganic mulch also enhances better root growth. Initially, roots tend to grow deeper in search of water and nutrients. But with the mulch, the roots can grow to the surface, where there’s more organic matter.
- They retain soil moisture by minimizing evaporation.
With all that in mind, below are some common types of inorganic mulch.
The use of plastic mulches, also known as plasticulture has been in practice since the 1950s. It involves using differently colored plastics, each with a different application.
For instance, clear mulches enhance solarization, a method used to kill soil pathogens.
Some issues associated with plastic mulches include:
- Excess heat.
- Plastics are not environmentally friendly.
- Sometimes they trap too much moisture than the plants need.
Rubber mulch is another common type often used in lawns and vegetable gardens since it’s soft and suppresses weeds growth.
It’s an eco-friendlier option since it’s made from recycled tires, and it can come in different designs, allowing you to decorate your garden.
Some of the issues of rubber mulches include:
- Some may contain toxins that may be harmful to your plants.
- They are challenging to dispose of.
- They are flammable.
Gravel, Stones, Pebbles, Slate
Gravel and stones are good options if you want to give your tomato plants a decorative touch while insulating them and suppressing weeds. But that’s all they do, and they are quite expensive.
Other Types of Inorganic Mulch
Other types include:
- Crushed seashells
- Crushed glass
Benefits of Mulching for Tomatoes
Your tomatoes stand to gain much with mulch. Here are some of the reasons why you should use mulch.
Improvement of Soil Health
Once organic mulching decomposes into the soil, it transforms the soil by improving its health.
This is a plus for tomato plants since they can get minerals and micro-nutrients from the decomposed mulch.
On the other hand, decomposing mulch becomes home to bacteria, fungi, and beneficial worms, making your plants healthier.
Soil Temperature Regulation
There is a lot that takes place during the growth of plants. For your tomato plants to grow well, they need proper regulation of soil temperatures, and mulch dramatically helps with this.
For example, during the winter season, it keeps the soil warm, thus helping absorb nutrients. On the other hand, mulch cools down the soil during the summer.
If you use mulch, you will not be watering your plants every day. This is because mulch has high water retention levels, and therefore your plants can go for days without water.
In addition, mulching reduces water evaporation, which is a significant contributor to weed growth.
Reduction of Soil Erosion
This is another benefit of mulching to tomato plants. Mulching is great in protecting the soil against erosion, more so by the wind. This further reduces soil compaction, which leads to slowed growth in plants because it affects the roots.
Increased Biological Activities
Most types of mulch have a considerable amount of beneficial earthworms and microorganisms.
They are responsible for increasing the biological activities in the soil. You may wonder how this happens.
These microorganisms feed on the mulch material, enhancing soil aeration and adding to the organic matter.
Protection of Plants
Sometimes plants are exposed to frigid weather, and you might find your hands are tied since nature is taking its course.
However, when you mulch your tomatoes, you will be protecting them from frost damage. This is because the mulch acts as a blanket or covering.
What is the Best Mulch for Tomatoes in Containers – Conclusion
So, what’s the best mulch for tomatoes in containers? Wood chips, bark mulch, straw, and grass clippings are some of the best mulches you can use for your container tomatoes (potted tomato plants). They are the best in nutrition, water retention, prevention of erosion, and soil amendment. If you want to use inorganic mulches, plastic mulches and pebbles work best.