June can be a wonderful month in a polytunnel – everything should be really shooting up at this time of year and if you have planted plenty in the spring, you should now be beginning to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labours. This month you can enjoy a wide range of home grown produce. There is the growing challenge, however, of keeping everything in your polytunnel well watered. The heat of June can make it a little more important to make sure that all your plants get enough to drink. Mulches can help to reduce water loss from the soil in your polytunnel and can offer some protection to certain plants.
When it comes to mulches, however, it is important to choose the right mulch for the right plants and the right mulches for the right situations. If you have not already done so, adding mulches now can make it easier to care for your plants over the summer.
Organic mulches can be added to add fertility to the soil and to make extra nutrients available to your plants as well as to help hold in water. Which one you should choose will often depend on the needs of the plants around which you plan to place it. For example, if you are mulching leafy vegetables such as cabbages or lettuces, a nitrogen rich compost will give them the boost they need to produce top quality foliage. Grass clippings from your lawn are ideal.
For tomatoes and other flowering and fruiting plants, potassium is the key nutrient to consider. You can improve your soil by mulching with comfrey leaves, which are high in potash. Simply layer comfrey leaves around your plants. Another way to use comfrey (an organic gardener's friend) is to simply add it to your compost heap.
If you have enough home-made compost, it is also a good idea to spread this on the ground between plants. If you have a well balanced compost this should be good to use around all plants, as it will have a mix of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus as well as trace elements. Leaf mould, if you have some, is even better.
Bracken is another option for a weed-suppressing and moisture retaining mulch, better when it is somewhat broken down but fine straight from the hillside. For farmland areas, straw is also a good mulch material and will additionally help to keep fruits like strawberries off the ground and prevent them from rotting. If you live my the seaside, seaweed is a wonderful mulch as it not only provides the benefits of other mulches but also contains a wide range of micro-nutrients for your plants. Seaweed is a particularly good mulch for potatoes. Mulching potatoes thickly could be a good alternative to earthing up in some settings.
Mulches can help to keep down weeds but can also attract slugs and snails. If you find you have a problem with slugs in your polytunnel then it is best to keep mulches lighter. Sometimes, however, mulches, such as comfrey, can attract slugs and since they will go for the comfrey preferentially, will keep your other plants safer.
If you are in doubt about the best mulch to use, remember, it is best to use what you have to hand in your own area. What works well in one place may not work as well in another. Use trial and error in your own polytunnel to see which mulches work best where you live.