Using black plastic in the garden is one of the best ways that you can create a healthier garden.
We have used black plastic mulch in the garden for a few years now, and we are using it again this year.
I wanted to share with everyone what we’ve gone through setting up and what we have accomplished with our plasticulture garden after three weeks.
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Using Black Plastic in the Garden
We have used black plastic in the garden as mulch for several years.
A few years ago, I came across the concept of plasticulture gardening. I actually came across the idea when I was working on a research paper about erosion control. Plasticulture was developed as a way to reduce erosion of soil.
If you work hard to maintain your soil health, using black plastic in the garden can help.
Black plastic mulch in the garden is a newer concept. Read more about the benefits of plasticulture here.
In case you aren’t aware, erosion of agricultural soil is a huge concern. Millions of acres of soil are eroded in the U.S. alone. This is a very costly problem that can be easily remedied by using better agricultural practices. One of those practices is plasticulture.
How is black plastic used in the garden?
Plasticulture gardening is a method of gardening that uses thick plastic as a mulch.
Essentially, you lay thick, black plastic down on the soil, cut holes into it and plant within the holes. NRCS in Alabama called plasticulture the Future of Farming.
The plastic does more for the plant than just preventing the soil from eroding.
The plastic helps to keep the soil warm.
This is helpful if you plant seeds, as they prefer to sprout in warmer soils. The warm soil also means you get a longer growing season.
Last year, I harvested tomatoes from May-November. Most of the gardeners around me finished harvesting tomatoes in September!
The plastic also prevents moisture from evaporating from the soil.
You will use much less water with plasticulture.
The water that does evaporate will evaporate right around the plant. This is also beneficial because this water vapor can be used by the plant leaves during respiration.
One of my favorite benefits of plasticulture is the fact that pests hate it!
When plasticulture gardening was being studied, scientists found that it had all of these benefits for the plants.
One of them being it helped keep pests away.
The plastic heats up during the day, and most pests don’t want to walk across it.
The plastic also keeps pests away by reflecting light.
Many pests can’t handle direct sunlight. During the hottest part of the day, the pests will move to the underside of the leaves to get shade.
The plastic reflects enough light that the underside of the leaf is no longer shady!
You can also use black plastic in your flowerbeds!
As long as you cut a hole about the size of the plant that you put in the ground, the plant will be able to pull moisture from the soil.
You can mulch right over the plastic to create a weed-free flowerbed.
If you want to plant landscaping plants that are generally pest-free, you might want to consider planting chrysanthemums.
Fighting the Plastic
This year we split the garden up in to two sections.
One was covered in plastic, one isn’t.
The part that isn’t is where we planted potatoes which need to be mulched multiple times during the growing season.
I wasn’t sure how that would work with plastic mulch, so we left that part uncovered.
Laying plastic down is really simple… if you have two people.
If you have two people, it’s a five-minute job. Really.
But, if you try to do it yourself, there will be a breeze, the plastic will instantly become static-y and you will struggle. Trust me. I went out one day with Dallas, who’s two, and thought I would knock it out real quick.
We’ve done it a few times.
We. Not me.
There wasn’t the slightest breeze until I started trying to unfold the plastic. And then the plastic decided to become full of plastic. It was crazy. It took me almost 30 minutes to get one 30′ x 100′ piece down. Literally it should have taken five minutes. So I waited until Michael could help.
Magically, the plastic didn’t have any static in it and there wasn’t any wind. Imagine that!
We had the other two pieces down in ten minutes. We also had all of the stakes down in all of the plastic.
So, lesson learned, make sure you have help!
Fighting the Mud
Another thing that I would have done differently this year- not fight the mud.
In the early spring here this year, it rained every weekend. There was a time when we got rain 8 weekends in a row.
Do you know what that does to rich, tilled garden soil? Turns it straight to a slopfest.
We had one Sunday (one of those 8 weekends that it rained) that it didn’t rain. We laid the plastic down that day. It was muddy, but not too bad.
Remember when I said the plastic holds water?
Well we had this plastic down on already soft soil. Of course it rained for a few more weekends and I couldn’t get out in the garden.
The first weekend that it didn’t rain, I just knew that I needed to get out there and plant.
I put my rain boots on and went out there.
When I say it was sloppy, that’s an understatement.
There were places where my feet sank several inches. This pulled the plastic off of the stakes in multiple places, so the stakes had to be redone. Not to mention the fact that the soil was really unlevel after that.
It was really easy to plant though! No shovel required this year!
I also haven’t had to water this year. The soil was so saturated at the beginning that it’s still damp.
Our Plasticulture Garden So Far
Now that I’ve probably managed to scare you from putting plastic down, let me give you proof of why you need to use plasticulture gardening like we did.
We are about three weeks in.
Some of our garden was started from seeds in the ground. The rest of the plants were transplanted into the garden.
Some of the plants in the black plastic are already producing!
We planted a large amount of tomato plants this year. One of them is already over five feet tall! I’ve already started picking some of the cherry tomatoes as well.
Guys, these are plants that I put in the ground three weeks ago!
The squash has baby squash on it. There are also baby peppers, okra, beans and cucumbers that are only a couple of days from harvesting.
I also haven’t seen a single bad bug in my garden. I have noticed that the baby tree frogs that are all over the farm don’t mind the plastic. That’s pretty awesome because I love frogs in my garden. More frogs means less bugs!
I don’t know about you, but the fact that I am already harvesting vegetables after a pretty long winter is pretty incredible. Not to mention the fact that I’m not fighting weeds or bugs! That’s pretty awesome.
The proof is in the pudding, guys. Plasticulture gardening is the way to go! PlasticultureFarming.com now has a free downloadable reference guide to plasticulture gardening that you should check out for more information.
Have I convinced you that you need to use black plastic mulch in your garden? Here’s what you need to get started!
- Black Plastic Sheeting OR
- Black Plastic Row Covers
- Landscaping Pins (to secure the plastic to the ground)
How is your garden coming along? I’d love to know!
You might also be interested in:
- Black Plastic for Gardening
- Benefits of Starting Seeds at Home
- When to Harvest Yellow Squash
- 10 Common Tomato Plant Problems
- What to do with Tomato Suckers
Oregon Squashking says
Yes go grow. They even got that made from corn starch now so at the end of the year you don’t have to pull it up. It works wonders
I didn’t know that you could buy a biodegradable version! That’s awesome! I’ll definitely have to look that up. Pulling it up was not a fun task.
Shelby, just curious about plastic components leaching into the soil as the plastic breaks down via bacterial and UV action. Have there been any studies regarding that? It is an interesting idea, one that I have seen farmers around here use, but did not seem applicable to the raised bed gardens we use for our suburban “homestead” because the intensive method pretty much takes care of weed issues. Seems like it might be helpful with squash beetles and other bugs, though. Thanks for the thoughts on this method!
That’s an excellent question! You can purchase plastics that don’t break down as quickly. These are resistant to UV damage and are greenhouse quality. These plastics can last up to 10 years without starting to break down. These do cost more but could be an option for someone concerned about potential plastic components getting into the soil. I totally agree that you wouldn’t want to use plastic in your raised beds. Raised beds are much easier to maintain and keep weed-free. The pest control aspect of plasticulture is by far one of my favorite benefits of using plastic mulch. It’s interesting to note that different colored plastics have been researched and have been shown to keep pests away. Some pests seem to dislike red plastic while others dislike white or black more. There’s definitely a bunch of science around plasticulture that is pretty interesting.