Best Mulch For Tomato Plants: What I Use And Why

Best Mulch For Tomato Plants: What I Use And Why

If you’ve been following my articles for a while, you’ll know that I love growing a variety of different tomatoes every year. I normally grow them in my designated vegetable beds that I replenish regularly with homemade compost. I also mulch my plants and want to share with you the best mulch for tomato plants and why I use this.

Plus, I’ll give you a few other options that you can use to mulch your tomatoes.

My Number One Best Mulch For Tomato Plants

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Every year I grow a range of different tomato plants from the larger varieties to tiny ones that are easy to throw in salads. It’s now well into autumn (fall) and my tomatoes are still happy in the garden and the fruits are still ripening.

In fact, I like to leave them to grow for as long as I possibly can so that I can continue to harvest the fruits.

My favourite mulch for tomatoes is pea straw and I’ve used this extensively this year all over my vegetable garden beds.

Why Is Pea Straw My Favourite?

There are a few reasons why this is my absolute favourite mulch to use:

  • It’s easy to apply and you don’t need a lot
  • Pea straw creates a cover over the soil to prevent too much moisture loss
  • It also creates a bit of a blanket to keep the soil warmer as the temperature starts to drop
  • Pea straw also adds valuable nutrients to the soil as it breaks down
  • Provides a barrier so that weeds don’t grow
  • Improves the soil quality and structure once it breaks down

If you know a little about growing legumes such as peas and beans in your garden, you’ll be aware that these valuable plants can absorb nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil.

For that reason, pea straw is rich in nitrogen and this gives my soil a real boost as it starts to break down and release its nutrients into the soil. Combine that with the compost that I add regularly and I don’t often find that I need to add extra fertiliser.

This saves me both time and money and ensures that my veggies thrive and provide me and my family with lots of healthy fresh produce.

I also find that pea straw doesn’t contain weed seeds. But, I have had the odd pea plant come up from seeds contained in the straw.

What Other Type Of Mulch Can You Use On Tomatoes?

bales of straw mulch

If you find it difficult to source pea straw for mulching from your local nursery or garden centers, there are other types of mulch that you can use instead. 

While I consider pea straw as the perfect mulch for my tomatoes, other types of straw can work just as well. The best mulches are natural organic mulches such as sugar cane mulch or wheat straw can be just as effective for mulching your tomatoes in your vegetable beds.

Grass Clippings

If you’re looking for an inexpensive mulching material that you’ll likely already have on hand, you could consider using your lawn or dry grass clippings. But, you want to be careful that your lawn clippings don’t contain any weed seeds, otherwise, you’ll have to stay on top of the weeding.


You could even use compost as a mulch around your tomato plants. But, bear in mind that your compost will start to break down and won’t really provide much of a barrier against moisture loss or weed growth.

Shredded Leaves

Shredded leaves are another free mulching material that you might already have on hand. These do provide a bit of a barrier over the soil and they’ll take a little time to break down. Of course, once they do, the soil will benefit from all the extra nutrients.

One thing I did this year is shred up some very large leaves from the comfrey plant that I have growing behind my veggie beds. Comfrey is an excellent plant to have near your vegetables because it adds nutrients to the soil even while it’s growing.

By shredding up the leaves and putting them over the soil, I’m not only mulching my plants but also providing them with additional nutrients at the same time.

Pine Needles

garden bed mulched with pine needles

If you happen to have pine trees in your garden or somewhere nearby, pine needles also make a great mulch for your tomatoes. Contrary to common belief, they don’t actually make the soil more acidic.

But, they do provide a really good barrier to weed growth and will prevent too much moisture from evaporating from the soil. Plus, like pea straw, they act like a blanket to keep the soil a bit warmer.

The only thing you’ll have to watch out for is an increase in insect activity because certain ground-loving insects such as cockroaches, earwigs, termites and centipedes seem to be attracted to this type of mulch.

Wood Chips

I like to use wood chips as a thick layer of mulch in other areas of my garden because they provide an excellent mulch cover for many of the ornamental plants that I grow. Like other mulches, they’ll provide a barrier against weeds and will also prevent moisture loss from the soil.

But, I tend to not use these on my veggie beds. Why? Generally, wood mulches do take quite some time to break down so I can’t just rake them into the soil at the end of the season when it’s time to plant a new crop.

This also means that the soil is not replenished with additional nutrients as quickly as I would like when growing seasonal crops like vegetable plants.

Shredded Paper And Cardboard

Some gardeners even use shredded paper mulch or cardboard around their tomato crops. While this is perfectly acceptable, I simply don’t like the aesthetics of paper scattered around my garden.

The other disadvantage with using paper is that it’s lightweight and the strips can easily blow around your garden.

In my opinion, it’s far better to add the paper and cardboard to your compost pile. Or, you can lay it down on top of the soil and cover it with other mulch such as wood or bark chips when you want to create a new garden bed from a patch that’s covered with weeds.

Why Should You Mulch Your Tomatoes?

There are many good reasons to mulch your tomato plants especially if you use the right mulch. Here are just a few:

  • Helps with soil moisture retention
  • Is excellent at weed suppression
  • Prevents soil erosion
  • Keeps the soil warmer toward the end of the growing season
  • Enriches the soil with nutrients as it breaks down
  • Improves the structure of the soil

When Should You Mulch Your Tomatoes?

I like to add my pea straw mulch around my tomato plants as soon as I’ve planted them in the garden. You’ll have to be a little careful if the plants are small but because the pea straw breaks up quite easily, this shouldn’t be a problem.

You just want to make sure that the soil temperature has warmed up enough before you add the mulch. If you add it too soon when the soil hasn’t had time to warm up sufficiently, you might stunt the growth of your plants or delay the harvest of your first fruits. Tomato plants do need warm soil to produce the best results.

And, with pea straw, you don’t have to add much mulch to be effective. Just a thin layer of the mulch (around 1 to 2 inches or 2.5 to 5cm)  will be perfectly fine. You can always replenish it later in the season if it breaks down too quickly but I generally find that this is not necessary.

After you apply the mulch layer, be sure to give it a good watering as this will help it settle down onto the soil to form a nice soil moisture barrier.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is black plastic mulch a good mulch to use around tomatoes?

While it’s fine to use black plastic as a mulch around your tomatoes, it’s not something I would recommend as plastic mulches will stop the water from penetrating into the soil. It’s far better to use organic matter mulches that will eventually break down and feed the soil. In my garden, I much prefer to use natural mulches for a healthy ecosystem.

What’s the most effective way to water tomatoes?

I like to use a soaker hose around my plants that’s attached to a timer on my garden tap. This is the easiest and most effective way to keep my plants watered and prevent foliar diseases because the leaves don’t get wet.

Final Thoughts

Using the right kind of mulch around your tomatoes has numerous advantages. My absolute favourite mulch for tomato plants and around my vegetable garden, in general, is pea straw. It’s easy to use, provides a moisture retention barrier and keeps the soil nice and warm. Plus, when it breaks down, it adds lots of valuable nutrients to the soil. 

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