What is the Best Mulch for Tomatoes?

You may have heard that mulching your tomato plants will make them more productive…this is definitely true.

However, use the wrong mulch and you could end up doing more harm than good. Here are your options when it comes to the best mulch for tomatoes to really thrive.

What is the Best Mulch for Tomatoes?

Do You Really Need to Mulch Your Tomatoes?

Mulching isn’t a necessity – you’ll still get a decent harvest without a mulch.

However, science has proven that mulching your tomato plants will not only give you a much bigger yield, but the fruits that you harvest will be larger and tastier too.

Here’s how mulching can improve your tomato harvest:

  • It improves moisture retention in the soil, meaning that irregular watering won’t affect your tomato plants quite so much.
  • It helps to keep the base of your tomato plants clean, which prevents soil-borne diseases from developing.
  • It suppresses weeds from growing around your tomato plants. This means that your tomato plants won’t have to compete for light, water, and nutrients – they’ll be able to absorb everything that they need.
  • It improves the health of your soil over time as it decomposes. This provides your tomato plants with a steady source of additional nutrients.
  • It regulates the temperature of the soil around your tomato plants, keeping them cool in the scorching summer sun but warmer once temperatures start to drop in the fall.

The Best Mulch Options for Tomatoes

What is the Best Mulch for Tomatoes?

When it comes to tomatoes, some mulches are far better than others. Here are some of the best mulch options for tomatoes:

Newspaper and Cardboard

Using paper products as a mulch will leave your soil incredibly rich, which is exactly what tomato plants love.

Both newspaper and cardboard are fantastic at keeping weeds at bay, but still allow air and moisture to make their way through.

The fact that both newspaper and cardboard are so easy to come by for the average gardener is an added bonus!

This video show how to mulch tomato beds and why this guy chose those types of mulch:

How to Use Newspaper and Cardboard to Mulch Tomatoes

Your first option is to shred your paper products. Then, place a 2 inch-thick layer of your shredded paper around your tomato plants. You will need to top this with a heavier mulch to prevent the paper from being blown away.

Alternatively, dampen your newspaper (or soak your cardboard) and then lay it around your plants. One layer of cardboard is enough, but you’ll need around eight layers of newspaper.

Again, you can cover this with another organic mulch if you don’t like the look of it once you’re done.

Straw

There has been quite a bit of research carried out on straw as a tomato mulch. Studies have found that wheat straw can increase yields by 43%, while also conserving 27% more moisture in the soil.

Straw is usually inexpensive, widely available to purchase, and clean to work with, making it a popular mulch among many gardeners.

How to Use Straw to Mulch Tomatoes?

The layer of straw that you place around your tomato plants needs to be about 4 inches thick. Any thinner and weeds will come through, but any thicker and you run the risk of harboring pathogens and bacteria.

Leave a few inches of space between the stems of your tomato plants and your straw mulch. If the two end up too close together, you may experience fungal problems.

What is the Best Mulch for Tomatoes?

Shredded Bark

Shredded bark makes for a very attractive mulch, but it has more going for it than just its looks.

It’s great for improving soil structure and encouraging the growth of beneficial microorganisms, while also increasing nitrogen in the soil.

One reason why many stay away from shredded bark as a mulch is because the bark used is often acidic in pH, which turns the soil it’s mulching more acidic too. However, this isn’t a problem for tomatoes – they love soil that’s slightly acidic!

How to Use Shredded Bark to Mulch Tomatoes

All you need to do is spread your shredded bark around your tomato plants. This layer doesn’t need to be too thick – two to three inches will suffice.

Since bark takes longer to break down than the other organic mulches on this list, you won’t need to re-mulch for the rest of the growing season.

What is the Best Mulch for Tomatoes?

Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are a great source of nitrogen, which will speed up growth in your young tomato plants.

They are also extremely effective at suppressing weeds and increasing soil moisture, making them a great choice for tomato plants.

How to use Grass Clippings to Mulch Tomatoes?

Lay your grass clippings around your tomato plants, about 4 inches thick. Leave a few inches of space in between the stems of your plants and the grass.

Since grass clippings break down faster than other mulches, you will need to re-mulch every month to begin with. However, once your tomato plants produce their first cluster of fruits, switch to a different mulch. If you continue to provide them with so much nitrogen, you will end up with more foliage than fruit.

What is the Best Mulch for Tomatoes?

Plastic

Unlike the other mulch options on this list, plastic is inorganic, meaning that it won’t break down and feed your plants over time. However, treat it right and you’ll be able to reuse it for several seasons, which makes its high cost a little more bearable.

Plastic mulches are available in various colors, but there are two that are best for tomatoes:

  • Black plastic – this is the best for weed suppression and warming up the soil, making it good for those in colder regions.
  • Red plastic – it is believed that some types of red plastic are able to reflect specific wavelengths of light, which promotes growth and fruiting in tomato plants. Research also suggests that red plastic outperforms black plastic when it comes to deterring the nematodes that would have otherwise munched their way through the roots of your tomato plants.

How to Use Plastic to Mulch Tomatoes

The best way to use plastic as a mulch is to lay your plastic sheets down before planting.

Then, make holes in the plastic and plant your tomato plants through.

What is the Best Mulch for Tomatoes?

When to Mulch Tomatoes?

You should only apply a mulch to your soil once it has started to warm up in the spring.

This also happens to be the same time that you would be planting out your tomatoes, meaning that you can mulch them straight away.

Make sure that you don’t plant out and mulch too early in the season. This will then keep the soil cool instead of warm, which will reduce flowering and fruiting.

If you pick a mulch that breaks down quickly, such as grass clippings, re-mulching throughout the growing season will be necessary.

Conclusion

While plastic has been proven to work well, organic mulches are usually considered to be the best mulch for tomatoes.

Like plastic, they keep the soil warm and suppress weeds, but they come with the added benefit of allowing air and moisture to permeate through, while also providing extra nutrients to your tomato plants as they slowly break down.

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Jill Sandy

Jill Sandy

Jill is a sustainable focus gardener. She loves decorating her home backyard with beautiful landscape design and creative garden care techniques she develops herself. You can reach her at [email protected]

Chanh Ho (MD, MPH)

Chanh Ho (MD, MPH)

Chanh is our Head of Medical Review. He is a research physician at Oxford University Clinical Research Unit. After accomplishing the program of level 1 sub-specialty in Pediatrics, he was awarded the Chevening Scholarship for his Master’s degree of Public Health in the University of Edinburgh in 2019

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