Now is a good time to mulch garden vegetables if you haven’t done so already.

Mulches provide several benefits including weed prevention, reduced watering due to less evaporation and cooler soils that enhance root growth. A mulch layer is the best weed control for the garden. Many common species of weeds require sunlight for germination. The mulch layer blocks sunlight from reaching the soil, thus reducing weeds. It’s best to cultivate and remove weeds prior to mulching.

Mulch can help decrease the risk of disease and increase the quality of the harvest. Foliage or fruit that touch the soil can become infested with disease or even rot because of the humid conditions at ground level. The mulch covers the soil and protects the fruit from rot, and the fruit is cleaner when harvested.

Straw and hay are popular mulches in Kansas due to their availability. However, both may contain weed seeds that will germinate if the thatch layer is not thick enough. Grass clippings can also be used if the lawn has not been treated with weed killers. Add only a thin layer of clippings at a time and allow to dry for 2 to 3 days before adding more. A thick layer will form a mold that is almost impervious to water. Leaves can be used and are often available in great supply in the fall. A mulch layer one-half to three-quarters inch thick is about right for grass clippings but leaves, hay or straw should be at a depth of 2 to 4 inches.

— Scott Eckert is a Kansas State Research and Extension Agent for Harvey County. Horticulture is his specialty. The Harvey County Extension Office can be contacted at 284-6930.