Gardening with Plastic Mulch
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We have been gardening with plastic mulch for close to 20 years now. And yes, that is a picture of my personal garden several years back. I am so glad that we found it. Our garden is healthier, more productive and easier to manage. Plus, it cuts our water bill way down.
We have changed the way we use the plastic mulch through the years. At first, we just mounded up our beds and put the mulch over the dirt – no edging. We used ground staples and placed a brick on each staple. The previous homeowner had left a big pile of bricks that we used.
Now we have raised beds edged with concrete blocks. The first couple of years we only had one row of blocks (see picture of my garden below). We have since increased that to 2 rows with a concrete cap on top. It makes It easier to kneel and to just sit down and garden. We still use the ground staples. We place them at 18” spacing. Then we place rebar on the edges all the way along the raised bed.
No matter which way we used we have never had any mulch blow off the beds. It stays nice and secure especially when the plants start growing and you put cages around them.
Benefits of Plastic Garden Mulch
I don’t have any scientific evidence, but our plants are pretty much disease and pest free. I can’t remember the last time we had an issue. We did have some tomato hornworms for a couple of years, but they have been gone now for years.
- Water is conserved. Evaporation is slowed due to the plastic mulch. Therefore, you do not have to water as long or as frequently. Please note that water will not pass through the mulch so you will need a watering system underneath it. We use a Drip Tape System on a timer. Even in the hotter summer months we only water for 30 minutes every other day. You should determine your own watering schedule based on your plants and their needs.
- Weeds are kept at bay. Now, I am not saying that there are zero weeds if you use this method. You are making holes where you are putting the ground staples through and where you are planting your seedlings or seeds. Also, it is just about impossible to get it tight to all the edging. So naturally weeds will peek through at these spots. When we just mounded our dirt, we did not have problems at the sides. It is still a whole lot less labor intensive than weeding an entire garden.
- Yields will be higher, and plants will start producing earlier. Some of this can be attributed to the light that is reflected off certain colors of the mulch.
- Warmer soil. The plastic mulch will warm the soil in the garden. This leads to faster plant growth.
- Nutrients will remain in the soil and not leach out due to excess rains.
What color is best?
There are several different colors of mulch available for different plants and climates.
- White on black mulch – This has always been our choice as we are in the South. The white on top helps keep the soil cooler than a black on black mulch. This can decrease the soil temperature as much as 12 degrees F.
- Red mulch – This is excellent for tomatoes and strawberries. Red light is reflected back to the plants. This is useful in increasing photosynthesis capabilities. This color will increase the soil temperature 4 to 6 degrees F.
- Blue mulch – This is good for cucumbers, squash and melons. This will increase the soil temperature slightly more than the black.
- Black mulch – This can be used for warm season and cool season crops. At a level of 2” to 6” the soil temperature will be increased 3 degrees to 5 degrees F.
- Metallic mulch – This is thought to help control pests. It has been shown to reduce aphids and whiteflies. It is believed that the metallic sheen confuses the insects.
Installing plastic garden mulch
When it is planting time, you should work your soil as you normally would.
- We use a small tiller and then level out our soil with a rake.
- Set up your watering system and check it for leaks.
- Roll out your mulch and secure it with ground staples and any other weights you may choose to use.
We have found a method of rolling out the mulch that works best for us. We place the roll at one end of the bed and place the good side up. We have one person on each side of the bed. We then roll it out about 10 feet. We then place our ground staples at approximately 18”. Then we just repeat until we reach the end of the row. Once we have placed enough ground staples for our rebar to fit we will place it over the top of the mulch on the edges. We have found that just rolling it out like this, a little bit at a time, allows us to put our mulch down even on windy days. The wind always seems to kick up in the Spring just as we are getting ready to put our mulch down. It never fails.
Plastic garden mulch is only good for one year. You will remove it and dispose of it once the season is over. You will be rotating your crops and will need different spacing of the holes next season.
We have always used ground cover in our walkways. This gives us a nice (almost) maintenance free garden. The ground cover will last 5 or 6 years even being walked on daily.
Plastic garden mulch is one of the best innovations for gardeners. It helps us keep a healthy, clean, high producing garden. I am glad that I found it when I did. I would never go back to gardening without it. Share your experiences with us in the comments below.