I have found that plain black plastic works great as a weed barrier in my vegetable garden. It also conserves soil moisture in the garden. This is not the regular landscape fabric or weed control fabric, but plain black plastic that you can buy at a garden center or hardware store. I feel the black plastic acts as a better option to control weeds in the garden. You can also order it online at Amazon under black plastic sheeting. You can use 4 mil black plastic or 6 mil. I used 6 mil fabric on my garden and feel the thicker plastic has the best results and it lasts a long time.
Black plastic also warms up the soil temperature by as much as 5 degrees, therefore, you can plant some crops in early spring, especially in cooler climates. Warm-season crops may produce higher yields than without plastic due to soil solarization. Black plastic also reduces soil evaporation by up to 70 percent, which is a big plus, especially during warm weather.
A disadvantage to the plastic is that watering is not as easy, each hole where the plants are planted need to be watered and use of a soaker hose or drip irrigation does not work well. The good news is that you can install the soaker hose under the plastic. I may try this the next time I remove and reinstall the plastic.
A good article that discusses the pros and cons of using black plastic is at this link.
How to Install the Plastic
I prepared my garden, then unrolled the plastic sheets over the soil surface area I wanted it installed and cut it to size. As you can see it covers a large garden area at once. I have found the best way to hold the black sheeting in place is to use landscape staples. I use a lot of these landscape staples in the garden, including holding tomato cages in place. You can also use large rocks or a concrete block to hold it down as you get it adjusted.
When you are ready to plant, there are a few different methods to use, depending on whether you are transplanting plants into the black plastic garden or whether you are planting vegetables from seed. I’ve outlined those methods below.
Depending on what you are planting, there are several ways to put your plants into the ground. If you are transplanting plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, I just cut a circle where I want to plant and dig out some of the soil. My method is to dig out soil, place the plant in the hole and add potting soil and other nutrients, such as epsom salt, eggshell, coffee grounds, organic material or some compost material.
Planting Hills of Seeds
When planting things like melons or squash the seed packet will usually include directions to form a hill of dirt and then plant 3-5 seeds per hill. I cut a large hole and then pile up dirt and add potting soil and compost. I poke small holes in the hill and plant usually 5-7 seeds per hill.
These zucchini plants shown above turned into the plants below! They turned into monster zucchini plants, so the black plastic did not hurt their growth at all!
Planting a Row of Seeds
If you are planting a row of something, beans or peas for instance, I cut a strip out of the plastic the length of the row about 2 inches wide and plant the seeds in the cut-out portion. I plant cucumbers in both hills and rows. For the rows, I plant the cucumbers in a cut-out strip next to a cattle panel and let the cucumbers grow up the cattle panel like a trellis. It works great. I usually plant on both sides of the panel and get twice as many plants.
I love canning pickles, so I plant a lot of cucumbers. The first year I used the plastic, I did not use it in my cucumber/cattle panel area and regretted it, so many weeds! The next year, I cleared out all the weeds and put the plastic down and it was much better.
Using Plastic Makes Managing Your Garden Easier
Using black plastic in your garden is a great way to manage your garden with the fewest weeds and the least amount of water. The plastic weed barrier acts as a great weed suppression method and you can water the plants by using a watering can or hose to direct the water to the holes in the plastic. It greatly reduces the need for use of herbicides. It is not that much work to install and reduces the weed problem. You can also use it in larger areas or smaller areas such as flower beds.
Another great benefit is that you can walk into your garden after a rain and not have to walk in mud. There is also the option of adding a layer of mulch on top of the fabric to keep it from getting too slippery.
Starting a New Garden Area
When I first started this garden bed I placed plastic tarps on top of the grassy area that I wanted to use as my new garden space. I did that during the winter as an easy way to stop plant growth and kill the grass so that it was easier to dig and till the area. A better choice for the future that I will use will be black plastic.
Use in all Types of Gardens
Use of the black plastic mulch would be a good idea to prevent a weed problem in any type of garden including flower gardens or rock gardens.
Plastic Lasts for Years
An added benefit to using the black plastic vs. the weed barrier fabric is that it lasts much longer, plus does a better job of stopping weed growth. I have used the same plastic for a couple years. I actually used the same holes and just dug out the soil again and replaced with new potting soil and nutrients. My garden looked great the second year. It is still in place and I am debating whether to take it all up and start over or just use it for a third year and then remove it at the end of the growing season. I will let you know!
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