Black Plastic instead of weeding?

deanriowa(4b)August 29, 2012

I am tired of weeding and I have seen people use black plastic between rows and around plants.

Any secrets, brand, thickness?

Does the plastic last only one season?

Anything not to do?

What are your experiences with using black plastic?



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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

I've used black landscape fabric. We bought big 4 foot wide rolls at places like BJ's and Sam's Club. The stuff I got was thick black fabric, and it is reusable.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 1:44PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

The advantage of weed fabric over black sheet plastic is that it lets the rain through. The fabric is not as warm.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 2:28PM
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harveyhorses(7 Midlothian Va)

I have had really bad expierience with it. Mine did not hold up for one full season, and made a perfect place for 'things' to get under, moles, snakes going after the moles, wasps. The worst was I think the heat made watering daily neccessary, and I just felt like it was cooking the roots. Mulch. Thick mulch, things still get under it, but they get through it.
Just my .02

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 3:25PM
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Agreed, mulching is the better option.

And please, don't think we mean mulch as "go out and buy mulch in bags" or anything fancy like that. Just tossing grass clippings from mowing the yard on there is perfectly fine.

For mine, whenever I go out to pull up the grass that is growing in the garden I just let it get a little big, pull it up, and then leave it right there in the garden. It makes a nice thick mat pretty quickly and then nothing grows through it.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 4:32PM
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I have raised beds that I only top-dress with compost each year.

In my walkways around the beds, I have thick landscape fabric that I put gravel on top of. It killed existing weeds and nothing burrows under it. You could do the same with fabric and landscape staples (instead of gravel.) I get some weeds blown in on top of the gravel, but it is very easy to pull up the weeds (typically by kicking at them.) Also, the number of weeds is incredibly less than I have in my open soil areas. The above works for me since I have no benefit of enriching the soil in that area.

Black plastic is temporary since it breaks down.

If you have permanent walkways, I would suggest a thick fabric like above........ if the layout might change every year, I agree (grass, leaf, bark) mulches would work best.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 4:49PM
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I use a decent weight landscape fabric in my walkways every year. Well, every year but this year (I let my husband talk me out of it and I am still very angry about it, we will be using again next year). It doesn't last year to year (it would if I didn't till and re-do my walkways each year and to be honest, it is the absolute best $40 I spend every year on it (my garden is 25x50 ft). And this year proves it to me! I hold it down with landscape spikes, but not the metal ones, there are green plastic spikes that hold way better, the metal staples pull right out.

I have tried the grass clipping route, but in order to lay it thick enough to keep weeds under control, I have enough at the very beginning of the season, but when summer hits and the lawn stops growing (and I have a huge lawn), I never have enough clippings to keep the walkways covered. Plus, it is a large amount of extra work. Again, best $40 I spend in the yard ever year.

I wouldn't ever go plastic though, you will have huge issues with drainage and your soil being heated.


    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 7:01PM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

I tried some as an experiment, but gave up when I realizd that black widow spiders like to hide under it. We seem to have more than our share of them here and I hate/fear them... To the point that I'm not willing to drag the sheet of plastic away from the edge of the garden until the cold months. So yes, things get underneath it.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 11:57AM
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From what I understand, the black plastic is mostly used by the farmers when starting their planting in the spring time to help heat the soil and protect the roots from any late frost. It also holds in the moisture in the early summer. Most of the farmers start taking it up about mid July, I believe. It is not really necessary if you are a backyard type of gardener! I was going to use it but decided against it and also the drainage problem and not letting the rain and water in when watering by hose or sprinkler. I use a light mulch on top of my vg. I wouldnt mulch heavily just to keep the weeds out, either. Save yourself some money!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 2:28PM
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Yes, there is a "secret" -- the cheaper 3 and 4 mill stuff will last usually one season only, maybe 2. The 6 mill will last for me at least 3, sometimes 4. And cost is more, but not proportionally more. Larger home improvement stores usually have the 6 mil thickness.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 2:33PM
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zzackey(8b GA)

I've used all three. Black plastic, growers black fabric, and old grass clippings. They all work well. The plastic lasts the least amount of time. I had the black fabric for 10 years when I had a nursery and didn't have any problems with it going bad. The only place I had holes was where pots had sat too long and the roots went through the mat. We got ours for free from a local nursery that was remodeling a greenhouse (that's in our new house, not the nursery. I never saw any black widow spiders or anything else under it. We had plenty of the black widows. They preferred the handles of the nursery pots and any place undisturbed. They give me the willies too! Almost grabbed one more times than I care to think about!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 6:09PM
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I had some heavy duty large heavy duty rubbish bags from Lowe's that I decided to use on my tomatoes and peppers this year. You need to put down irrigation before you lay down the plastic. I used soaker hose. I liked it. It prevents rain from splashing up and carrying soil diseases. And it did keep the soil moist for longer than bare soil by a long shot. I only used it for peppers and tomatoes, so I could cut an 'X' and plant the starts easily.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 10:42PM
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This is one of those questions where you'll get as much misinformation as you will sound advice. There is no doubt that black plastic is the cheaper way to go since I get 4000' rolls (4'wide- 1 mil)for around $100. Although there is a biodegradable type that breaks down within the season, most types will last the season, probably 2 if you care to work with it but think about the holes that you have in it (more weeding) and the possible diseases you may spread thru reuse. If you go with a large sheet of black plastic film you will need to put drip tape or some irrigation form to get water to the plants. Drip tape is relatively cheap too. Also with it, one season's use leads to less complications.

Warming the soil is just another benefit of black plastic mulch. I wouldn't even attempt to grow melons without it since in our area you would have trouble harvesting the crop before frost. Rodents like the warmth under the film but they like other forms of mulch more.

The plastic mulch will produce a crop with minimal weeding but I always pull weeds in the same slits that the vegetables grow through. It does make the difference between a doable task and one that you just can't keep up with.

I believe everything grows better planted on plastic mulch, including cool season crops like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts that some people plant on white plastic but I've used the black mulch and I'm harvesting my largerst and best looking broccoli crop ever this year. I plant 2 rows of most crops to a 3' exposed row of plastic- all peppers, eggplant & cole crops. Tomatoes, melons, squash just get one planted row per plastic row.

If you want to build organic matter in the soil plant a cover crop between plastic rows or immediately after you raise the plastic at season's end.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2012 at 11:02PM
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This is the first year I have ever had a garden so I am trying to learn as fast as I can.

My garden is 14' x 28', we just bought the house last year and the garden was already there. Last fall I poured about 5-6 bags of grass clippings into it and tilled everything together this spring. After tilling my neighbor mentioned I should use landscape fabric to handle the weeds which sounded like a good idea. Now I am not sure as I am learning more and more.

I used scotts 4' x 200' landscape fabric and covered the entire garden. I then cut holes out to plant all of my vegetables. I have corn, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, jalepenos, Strawberries, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, and spinach.

Everything is growing very well but I don't know if the fabric is the best way to handle weeds. Do you think I should take it out and lay down a layer of Compost or mulch instead? Would this help the plants grow even better?

I didn't want to add mulch on top of the fabric because I don't want to have to deal with pulling it up when I want to till next year. Please let me know your thoughts, thank you in advance.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 12:10PM
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bart1(6/7 Northern VA)

I went from using landscaping fabric from the local garden center to something called Lumite from Shaw Fabrics (via a tip from Gardenweb) and I couldn't be happier.

The Lumite is woven strips of some kind of plastic and lasts for years. I plant my tomatoes between two 3-foot strips of Lumite and run a soaker hose between them.

I can only access my garden on the weekends so it saved me huge amounts of time (not) weeding.

This year, I'm using a 4-foot wide strip to plant my peppers and eggplants and basil in/under. I have 2 rows of holes about 14 inches in from the outside edge, again with soaker hoses underneath.

The best way to cut it is using a torch so it melts the ends so it doesn't unravel.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lumite

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 1:47PM
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