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Mulch to prevent blossom-end rot

Straw mulch

Blossom-end rot in tomatoes, peppers and other garden vegetable is an annual problem. There are many home remedies that have been put forth to fix the problem. They are of limited value at best, and useless for most. But the simple answer to the problem is make sure the plants have enough water. For if they have enough water, they will be able to take up the calcium needed with the water to prevent the rot. Lack of calcium is the cause of blossom-end rot, and lack of water causes the lack of calcium.

Gardeners get into trouble with blossom-end rot with irregular or light surface watering, allowing the plants to get too moisture stressed between waterings. Another cause is hoeing or rototilling close to the plant. If you are close to the tips of the plants branches, you are too close. These weed control activities close to plant cut off the small roots which are the main water and nutrient gathering tools the vegetable have. Without them, they can’t take up enough water, and if they can’t take up enough water, they can’t take up enough calcium as well. And you end up with blossom-end rot.

Keeping hoeing and tilling at least 2 feet away in all directions from the plants is the easy way to prevent blossom-end rot. It will mean more hand pulling weeds, but it will also mean more useable vegetables.

A better practice is to mulch around the plants out to the 2-foot line. This will hold down the weeds, making the gardener’s job much easier. The mulch will also conserve moisture. A gardener has a choice of using an organic mulch or using clear plastic mulch. Each had its own advantages and limitations.

Organic mulches such as straw, clean hay or cardboard or newspaper are best put on after the soil is warm. Otherwise the soil will be slower to warm up and help plant growth. Organic mulches will hold weed growth down and will conserve moisture. Organic mulches have the added advantage of being able to be recycled back into the garden in the fall. The added organic matter from the mulch will add nutrients, conserve moisture, and improve drainage in the garden. There is a potential for mice, voles and slugs with organic mulches. There are control methods for each which may need to be used.

Clear plastic mulch can be put on before the planting time for the vegetable. This is because it will speed the warming of the soil. There will be early weed growth under the plastic, but the heat will kill the seedlings and weeds will not be a problem. Vegetable plants are planted in slits cut in the plastic mulch. A small amount of soil is placed on the plastic next to the plant to hold the plastic down. Plastic mulch has the added advantage of speeding up maturity and harvest of vegetables. Research has shown maturity can be shortened by seven to 14 days with plastic mulch.

Plastic mulch has the disadvantage of more expense and also the single use of it. It will need to be pulled and disposed of each year as the sunlight breaks it down too much to allow two-year planting use. But it does have the advantage over organic mulches that slugs, mice and voles are very seldom a problem with it.

Whatever method you decide to use, if done properly it will greatly reduce or totally eliminate blossom-end rot. And you will have a more enjoyable gardening season.

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