Mulching Tomato Plants: What's The Best Mulch For Tomatoes?

Tomato Plant
cherry tomatoes
(Image credit: Hans Verburg)

Tomatoes are a favorite of many gardeners, and it only takes a few healthy plants for an ample harvest of fresh, plump fruit. Most people who grow robust tomato plants with healthy fruit know the importance of mulching. Mulching tomato plants is a great practice for many reasons. Let's explore some popular mulch options for tomatoes.

Tomato Mulch Options

Mulching helps retain soil moisture, protect the plant, and keep weeds at bay. There are several options when it comes to tomato mulch, many of which are free or very low cost, but effective. The best mulch for tomatoes depends on many things including your budget and personal preferences. Shredded Leaves: Don't bag up those fall leaves; compost them instead. Composted leaves provide valuable mulch for your entire vegetable garden, including your tomatoes. Leaves provide excellent protection from weeds and also increase moisture retention. Grass Clippings: If you mow your lawn, you'll most likely have grass clippings. Spread evenly around the stalks of your plants, grass clippings mat together to protect plants and retain heat. Keep grass clippings a little ways away from the stems of tomatoes so that water has access to the roots. Straw: Straw makes great mulch for tomatoes and other veggie plants. The only issue with straw is seed sprouting. To remedy this, make sure you know what you're getting-- know your source and exactly what is in the bales, as there are many different types. Golden straw and wheat straw are good choices. Stay away from feed hay, as this is full of weed seeds. Place a 3 to 6 inch (8-15 cm.) layer of straw around your tomatoes, but avoid touching the stems or leaves of plants since this can increase the likelihood of fungal problems. Peat Moss: Peat moss decomposes slowly over the growing season, adding nutrients to the soil. It makes an attractive top dressing on any garden and can be found at most home and garden centers. Be sure to water your plants thoroughly before spreading peat moss; it likes to suck moisture from the soil. Black Plastic: Commercial tomato growers often mulch with black plastic, which retains heat and usually increases tomato plant yield. However, this type of mulch is labor intensive and costly. Unlike organic mulch, the black plastic must be put down in the spring and taken up in the fall. Red Plastic: Similar to black plastic, red plastic mulch for tomatoes is used to retain soil heat and increase yield. Also known as Selective Reflecting Mulch, red plastic prevents erosion and retains soil moisture. Although not technically a mulch, red plastic is thought to reflect certain shades of red light. Not all red plastic will give the same results. It must be red plastic that has been proven effective for tomato growing. Some studies indicate that red plastic offer additional benefits of repelling nematodes that like to munch on the roots system of tomatoes. Tiny holes in the plastic allow air, nutrients, and water to pass through. Although the red plastic costs, you can reuse it for several years.

When and How to Mulch Tomatoes

Mulching tomatoes should be done immediately after planting for best results. Spread organic mulch evenly around the plant, leaving some space around the stem so that water can reach the roots easily. Anchor black or red plastic down around plants using earth anchor pins. Apply a couple of inches (5 cm.) of organic mulch over tops for best results. Now that you know about some of the most common mulch options for tomatoes, you can grow some of your own healthy, mouth-watering tomato fruits.