Mulching is a good practice in flower beds. Should I also mulch my vegetable garden? If so, is it appropriate to use the same mulch as I use in my flower beds? What is this I hear about using colored plastic for mulch?
Mulching your vegetables is good for the same reasons. It reduces the loss of moisture during hot periods, keeps plant roots cool, and reduces the number of weeds that can grow to compete for soil nutrients. Know your vegetables because some will thrive in dense conditions. They will naturally crowd out the weeds. Organic mulches such as ground leaves, straw, pine needles, and grass clippings also add food for soil-dwelling organisms and eventually decompose into soil themselves. Avoid more than a couple inches of mulch around your vegetables. Overmulching can absorb the water, retard soil warmth, and even change the pH and nutrient content of your soil.
As for the colored plastics advertised, be sure to understand what the product is made for. Most often seen is black plastic. It is cheap, provides good weed control, and warms the soil. However, it does prevent water from penetrating. IRT (Infrared Transmitting) plastic provides good weed control since it blocks the visible light that weeds need for growth. However it costs more than the traditional black and still acts as a water barrier. SRM (Selective Reflective Mulch) is the red plastic marketed. It offers poor weed control and prevents water penetration, but it does warm the soil.
There is planter’s paper mulch which offers good weed control, lets water permeate, and is biodegradable as well. Landscape fabric provides excellent weed control, allows water and air to permeate but does not raise the soil temperature. It is four times more expensive than plastic, but it is longer lasting and can be reused.
The above products serve different purposes. You need to determine what factors you wish to control the most and how much you want to spend.