Does Colored Mulch Improve Tomato Growing?If you’re a die-hard tomato grower, you’ve probably heard about using red plastic mulch to improve your yield and get your tomatoes to ripen earlier. Some early testing did show a considerable benefit from mulching with a specific shade of red plastic. But like all things scientific in the garden, there are still a lot of variables that prevent the results from being conclusive.
How Does Red Mulch Work?The idea behind using red mulch is that it reflects and bounces far-red light wavelengths back up into your tomato plants. These red light wavelengths stimulate the growth of tomato plants through a reaction with a specific pigment in the tomato plants (phytochrome). This seems to be true, but it also seems to be dependent on the amount of sunlight and maybe even temperature - something very much out of our control.
Whether red mulch means the end of late season green tomatoes remains to be seen. However, colored mulches in general appear to do a better job of warming the soil than black plastic, which at least gives your plants a head start.
Montana State University did a 2 year study that found silver and red mulches did speed ripening in tomatoes and that black mulch was not much better than no mulch at all. At Penn State, they found that blue mulch did an even better job of increasing tomato yields. However none of the colored mulches was as good as black plastic for suppressing weeds.
What Does This Mean to You, as a Tomato Grower?It means that you can do your own experiments with colored mulches and see if it makes a difference in your garden. Red mulch is just beginning to be readily available on the market. You might even find it in your local garden center. The red mulch at this site was developed jointly by the USDA and Clemson University. 8 pre-cut 3' x 3' pieces cost $11.95 plus S&H.
If you’re determined to grow the more and better tasting tomatoes each year, red mulch is worth a try.