Tomato plants are one of the easiest choices for beginner gardeners. They’re hearty, strong-willed, and tough to kill. However, if you’re anything like me when I first started gardening, you can always find a way to kill even the strongest of plants! In this article, we’ll walk you through how you can use mulch to protect your tomato plants.
If you want to learn more about gardening —whether it’s the Best Winter Crops or the Best Mulch for Blueberries—we’ve got you covered. Seriously, we’ve got an entire section of our blog dedicated to gardening.
Why You Need to Mulch Your Tomatoes
Mulching your tomato plants is serious business. Ok, maybe it’s not serious, but it will help you keep your plants alive. Here are a few reasons why you should mulch your tomatoes:
- Retains Moisture: First off, mulch helps retain moisture in the soil, keeping your tomatoes hydrated and happy.
- Stops Weeds: Secondly, mulch can help suppress weeds — which, let’s face it, we all hate. Weeds are like that annoying cousin that’s always showing up uninvited. When you mulch, you’re telling that annoying cousin to “Get lost,” in the most effective way.
- Regulates Soil Temperature: Mulch acts as a natural protective layer over the soil, keeping the roots safe from extreme temperatures or weather. Seriously, you can think of mulch as a natural air conditioning system for your tomato plants.
All in all, mulch is important. Because if your tomato plant is healthy, you’ll be getting some juicy fruits. And that’s the goal, right?
If you’re looking for cheap mulch, I recommend using this around your tomato plants! It’s completely natural and smells fantastic.
What Are The Best Mulches For Tomato Plants?
You’ve got plenty of options. We’ve picked the top 6–although there are actually 9 on this list for you to choose from. It’s good to have options…
First on our list of the best mulches for tomato plants if grass clippings. Grass clippings make an awesome mulch for tomato plants because they’re fantastic at holding in moisture. Additionally, they’re pretty much resistant to sunlight—I mean, it’s grass.
Grass clippings decompose quite quickly, allowing your plants to absorb the nutrients much quicker than they would with another type of mulch. Of course, you can also locally source your grass clippings (which is just a fancy way of saying you can get them from your yard).
To use grass clippings around tomato plants, add a layer of 2 to 5 inches of clippings around the plants. Ensure that none of the pieces of grass are touching the stem of the plant. For more about grass clippings mulch, read our full guide.
Second, on our list is hay. Hay is a fantastic mulch for tomato plants because it’s full of nutrients. And, just like grass, it’s easy to find and cheap to use.
Generally speaking, you can use either conventional hay or hay that has already begun to decay. However, the older the hay you’re using is, the shorter it will last in your garden. Additionally, while we love hay, it’s not as absorbent as grass clippings—meaning it won’t hold moisture for as long.
To use hay, place a thin layer around the tomato plants, making sure that it doesn’t contact the plant’s stem. After placing it, water the mulch to hasten its decomposition process and prevent wind from carrying it away.
Wood chips are one of the most popular options for mulch. Compared to our first two options, wood chips decompose relatively slowly. Seriously, it can take one to two years before wood chips will decompose and give the soil the important nutrients.
If it’s your first year mulching a tomato plant, we recommend using one of the first two options because of the timeline. That way your plants can have the good stuff it needs a lot quicker.
When it comes to benefits though, wood chips work wonders in controlling weeds. To use them, surround your plants with a thin layer of wood chips—keeping them away from the tomato stem by about 2 to 4 inches.
If you use wood chips as mulch, you will notice that when it rains, the water will splash around as it hits the wood chips. However, tomato plants don’t like getting their leaves wet, so you’ll need to cut off the tomato plant’s lower leaves to prevent them from getting wet.
Rubber mulch is just like wood mulch—just made out of rubber. However, unlike wood mulch, it almost never degrades and comes with a completely different list of benefits and disadvantages.
For one, rubber mulch is made out of old tires. While that sounds great (yay, sustainability), if you live in an extremely hot climate, the mulch might melt. Once the rubber begins to melt, all the chemicals in it will seep into the soil and degrade the soil quality. So, if you’re using rubber mulch, be careful to utilize compost in addition to the rubber mulch. That way, your plants still get all the nutrients they need.
Rubber mulch does a great job of controlling weeds, but as it heats up, it may start to dry out the soil. Keep this in mind to give your tomato plants regular waterings. And, just like the other types of mulch, be sure not to let the rubber mulch touch the tomato plants’ stems when you spread it.
Interested in rubber mulch? We’ve got a beginners guide on using it!
Cardboard is another fantastic option to use as a mulch for tomato plants. Think about it, cardboard is just decomposed wood—so it has plenty of healthy nutrients. The key distinction between cardboard and wood chips is that the former tends to decompose far quicker than the latter.
That means it’s much better suited for first-year and younger plants. To use cardboard, lay 2 to 5 inches of shredded pieces of cardboard as mulch around your tomato plants. After placing it, water the cardboard thoroughly.
If you want more info, we’ve got it. Here’s a complete guide on using (and making) cardboard mulch!
Everyone’s got it, and it’s completely safe to use in your garden. The only issue you might face when using newspaper as mulch is the ink. That’s because some inks contain harmful substances. Thankfully, that’s more so older newspapers, so if you’re using new ones, you should be fine.
Just like cardboard, newspaper will decompose a lot quicker than normal mulch. Just make sure to water it and keep it away from your plant stems for the best results. However, similarly to the other types of mulch, to use it you just need a thin layer of it around your plant. Additionally, it is a good idea to apply an organic mulch in addition to the newspaper mulch, as this will allow the organic mulch to enrich the soil with beneficial nutrients.
Here’s our gardener’s guide to using newspaper mulch!
Leaves makes an excellent mulch for tomato plants. They’re both rich in nutrients and absorb water very well. Additionally, leaves have a tendency to break down very quickly—meaning your plants will soak up the nutrients extra fast. That means bigger and riper fruit for you!
While you can use whole leaves, we recommend breaking them down for ultimate decomposition. You can do this in your lawn mower or by hand (although the lawn mower is a lot easier). Once they’re broken down, you’ll just need to spread a 3-inch layer of leaves around your tomato plant and give it a thorough watering. Then you’re good to go.
Pine needles can be used for mulch on tomato plants since they are rich in nutrients. However, even though they’re small, they decompose a lot less quickly than alternative options. Also, if you’re using exclusively pine needles, your soil will become acidic. Thankfully, there’s no need to worry as this has little impact on the health of your plants. Once the pine needles become brown, they will stop acidifying the soil and decompose—enriching your soil with beneficial nutrients.
Like all types of mulch, make sure the pine needles are not in direct touch with the stem of the tomato plant. Additionally, mulch made of pine needles can be combined with mulch made of cardboard, grass, hay, wood chips, and other materials.
Compost is a wonderful choice for mulching tomato plants since it has all the essential elements tomatoes require. Additionally, compost tends to decompose very quickly, accelerating your tomato plants’ growth. Remember that the compost you use will mostly decide how effective it is as mulch for your tomato plants.
Kitchen waste should not be used as mulch if you are composting them because it will start attracting pests. Make sure the compost is not in direct touch with the plant stem.
As you can see, mulching tomatoes is simple; just be careful to choose the appropriate mulch. Your tomato plants will grow robust and healthy if you use an organic mulch that feeds the soil and helps retain water.
Interested in reading more about organic gardening? We have a library of free resources!