BOZEMAN - Want to be the envy of your neighborhood? Try mulching. Mulches increase your garden's yield and decrease the need for water and fertilizer. They also save time in weeding and cultivating and they'll keep
the garden looking attractive.
Both organic and synthetic mulches conserve soil moisture and suppress weed growth. Organic mulches are inexpensive, and they eventually decompose to add valuable organic matter to the garden. But on the downside, soil microbes use some of the soil's nitrogen to break the mulch down. That can rob your vegetables of an important nutrient unless you add extra nitrogen when you apply the mulch.
Large woody mulches like wood chips, corncobs and sawdust have little value in the garden since they take a long time to decompose. Planer shavings break down a little faster. Straw and shredded newspapers decompose even faster and steal less nitrogen in the process. Grass clippings break down the fastest and make good mulch for all vegetables. But never use clippings from a lawn treated with herbicide. Let the clippings dry for a day before you use them and be sure your grass clippings and straw are relatively free of weed seeds.
Have other gardening questions? Search Dr. Bob's Web site at http://gardenguide.montana.edu, visit MSU Extension's online catalog at
http://www.montana.edu/publications or contact your county