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When the peak of the summer season rolls around, it can be hard to stay on top of all the garden chores. As a result, our beloved pepper plants struggle with things like weed competition, disease, and heat stress.
But luckily, mulching your peppers can help to prevent all of these things. So what exactly should you mulch them with?
The best 4 mulches to mulch your pepper plants with are straw, shredded paper, grass clippings, or plastic mulch.
I’ll go over all of these mulches in greater detail as well as explain why it’s so important to mulch your pepper plants at all.
Why is mulching your plants important?
There are plenty of good reasons why you should be putting mulch on your garden. Mulching mimics the forest floor and its layers by blocking out light, cutting back weed germination, and minimizing water evaporation.
The more you mulch, the less you need to water and weed.
You really should never leave your soil exposed because you want to protect it from being damaged and eroded. This top layer of soil is where most of the organic matter your plants need to survive is located.
Even if your garden is not in production, you should keep the soil covered. Planting cover crops in the winter is a great way to protect your soil and return nutrients that may have been lost during the growing season.
I mulch my entire garden with straw every year and find that I seldom have to worry about weeds.
Mulch is a great weed suppressant because it blocks out the light that the weeds need to grow and smothers them under a thick layer of organic material.
Before I lay down my mulch, I like to do one pass down my rows with a shuffle hoe to kill any weed sprouts that may be just starting to germinate. You can use a dutch hoe as well. Then, I’ll lay down my mulch.
Mulching is also great because it eliminates the need to add any chemical herbicides to kill back the weeds.
Mulching helps to keep water in the soil because it provides a buffer from the sun that would otherwise evaporate all of the water.
Peppers don’t like wet feet, so mulching helps you to not have to water too frequently. In general, I say to water your peppers about every other day, but you might find that, with mulch, you have to water them even less frequently than that.
Keeping roots cool
Similarly to helping retain water, mulch can also provide a shade buffer for the soil and keep the roots of your plants cool in the hot summer months.
Roots that get too hot can become heat stressed and lead to slow growth in your peppers. Roots that dry out can become unable to take up water and important nutrients that the plant needs to live. And, if the roots get too hot, then the plant can die.
Lastly, mulching your beds can help to prevent the spread of diseases to your pepper plants. Most plant diseases are soil-borne and your soil probably has diseases in it that you’re not even aware of.
One way that disease can spread from the soil to your plants is through water droplets that splash up from the soil.
When heavy rains or a heavy watering by hand come through your garden, water droplets that hit the soil can splash up onto the leaves of the plant and spread diseases to them.
Mulch helps to prevent this from happening by providing a barrier between the above-ground portion of the plant and the soil.
4 Best Mulches for Peppers
My number 1, go-to mulch for everything I grow is straw. I have a good local straw supplier in my area where I can buy bales and it’s so easy to apply to the garden.
Even better, I don’t have to clean it up and can work it back into my soil as an extra source of carbon at the end of the season.
Applying straw to your garden is simple. Most straw bales easily come apart in sheets. Layer these sheets around the base of your plants and cover any other sections of bare soil near where your peppers are growing.
I layer my straw mulch about five to six inches thick. I know that sounds a bit excessive but your straw mulch will settle and some will get blown away over time by the wind.
If you put too little down, then you run the risk of having bare patches of your soil exposed again virtually eliminating all of the benefits that mulching provides.
2. Plastic mulch
Something else you might consider is applying plastic mulch. Although most plastic mulches need to be removed at the end of the season, some can be worked back into the soil due to their biodegradability.
Plastic mulch can be a bit labor-intensive to put down because it has to be dug into the soil so that it will stay in place.
Laying down plastic mulch is a two-person job in my opinion unless you have access to a tractor.
It’s helpful to have one person hold the roll of plastic while the other person walks it down the row. Then, once it’s in the proper position, you can begin to dig it in on all sides.
Make sure the plastic is nice and taut before you dig it into the ground. Loose plastic can easily be ruined by gusty winds.
Black plastic and white plastic also come with their own benefits and disadvantages. Because black plastic is so dark, it absorbs a lot of the sun’s heat and greatly warms the soil. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.
In cooler months, this helps to keep your plants’ roots nice and warm. But, in the hot summer months, it can do the opposite. The black can also help to solarize weeds as they start to germinate.
On the other hand, white plastic reflects the sun’s heat and light onto the plant. Because of this, your peppers will be better able to photosynthesize. White plastic also helps to keep the soil cooler in the hot summer months.
I don’t think one is particularly better than the other. It just depends on personal preference and what climate you’re growing in. I’ve always found that black plastic works best for me in my garden.
Shredded newspaper can also make great mulch in much the same way that straw can. You can apply shredded paper simply by sprinkling it around the base of all your plants, making sure to cover any exposed soil.
Once you have it laid down, give a little bit of water to help add some weight to the paper. This will keep it from being blown around your yard by the wind.
Newspaper breaks down on its own and can easily be worked into the soil. Just make sure, you’re not using any papers with a glossy finish as these are usually coated in harsh chemicals that aren’t good for your peppers and won’t break down as easily.
4. Grass clippings
The last mulching option that you can try is grass clippings. Grass clippings are great because they can add a good source of nitrogen to your soil.
You can apply your grass clippings similarly to how you would apply straw or shredded paper. Simply sprinkle the grass around the base of your peppers.
The grass you’re using must be completely dry. If you try to use wet grass clippings, you may accidentally prevent oxygen from reaching the roots of your peppers and kill your plants.
With grass clippings, you also don’t need to apply it as thick as you would apply a straw mulch. Thinner layers will also help to make sure oxygen is still reaching the roots of your plants.
Mulching is something that everyone should be doing for the health and well-being of their pepper plants.
Mulching is easy and will save you a lot of time and energy in the future by suppressing weeds, locking in soil moisture, and preventing the spread of diseases.
Straw mulch is a great option to start with if you’re not sure what to mulch your peppers with. If you don’t have access to straw, then you can also try shredded paper or grass clippings you may have on hand already.
Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, maybe consider laying down a plastic mulch in your garden this season.