8 Benefits of Using Plastic Mulch in the Garden & Drawbacks to Consider

Whether you’ve been gardening for 3 weeks, 3 years or 3 decades, you’ve probably already heard about all the benefits mulch can give your plants.

Classic choices for garden mulch are organic materials such as straw, dried leaves, wood chips and grass clippings.

However, did you know that there is a inorganic The mulch that can work wonders for your plants?

It may not be as good for the soil or environment as organic mulch, but plastic mulch offers many benefits to both novice and expert gardeners alike.

What is plastic mulch?

Plastic mulch is a type of inorganic mulch, classified along with other inorganic mulches such as rock, stone and crushed gravel.

It first became popular in the 1950s and uses polyethylene film to protect plants. It’s just a sheet of black plastic that acts just like regular organic mulch.

The film insulates the soil, prevents erosion, reduces weeds and provides many other benefits.

Previously used in berry and vegetable production, now black plastic mulch can be used for a wide assortment of plants.

types of plastic mulch

8 Benefits of Using Plastic Mulch in the Garden & Drawbacks to Consider

There are two “traditional” types of plastic mulching. Black plastic is perfect for eliminating weeds, warming the soil, and retaining soil moisture. Clear plastic mulch is also perfect for warming the soil, but also for encouraging rapid growth throughout the growing season. It is not as good at suppressing weed growth.

In recent years, other colors of plastic mulch have also come onto the scene.

White plastic isn’t of much interest to most gardeners, as we have cool climates and a short growing season. We are more interested in heating the soil than in cooling it. However, for gardeners in tropical climates, white plastic mulch can help keep the soil cool around the roots of plants such as peas, cabbage and broccoli.

Brown plastic (also called brown infrared transmitting) mulch is relatively new. It is better at warming the soil than black plastic and also controls weeds.

Red plastic is unique in that it has beneficial effects, but only for certain vegetables (including eggplant, basil and tomato). Green mulch may encourage earlier ripening and higher yields of fruits such as melons, while blue mulch is ideal for summer squash, cucumbers and melons.

Lastly, silver mulch is rare but often used as a deterrent for aphids. It can also increase yields on plants such as peppers, squash and cucumbers.

Benefits of using plastic mulch in the garden

8 Benefits of Using Plastic Mulch in the Garden & Drawbacks to Consider

Ready to learn more about what plastic mulch can do for you? Here are some of the biggest benefits.

1. Moisture Retention

All types of mulch can help hold water, but plastic mulch is one of the best because it does so evenly and consistently. You can water your plants less frequently to keep them fully hydrated.

One thing to note with plastic mulch is that it can be a bit restrictive in terms of holding moisture. To make sure it has the proper amount of water, you may need to add it to the drip irrigation method.

2. Helps to heat the soil faster

Plastic mulch insulates the soil. Vegetables, in particular, can be quite sensitive to temperature. Mulch can help the soil heat up faster, at a rate of 5°F (or higher). Because of this, you can grow crops earlier than usual (up to 3 weeks earlier!) in the season.

It regulates temperature evenly, so you won’t have to face dramatic swings between plants in different areas of the garden. Since it helps the soil retain heat during cold weather, your plants may even survive a little longer in the fall.

You can even use plastic mulch around shrubs and trees to protect them from winter damage!

3. Improves Soil Texture

8 Benefits of Using Plastic Mulch in the Garden & Drawbacks to Consider

Plastic mulch can dramatically improve the texture and structure of soil. When you add mulch, it makes it difficult for the soil to stick together and stay compact. It also traps heat and moisture, making it harder for plants to obtain nutrients.

When you lay down plastic mulch, it also serves as a clear signal to people and animals not to walk on it. Therefore, it can reduce condensation even further.

4. Inhibits some pests

Some pests can be deterred with certain types of plastic mulch, especially silver mulch. While this effect isn’t the same across all plants and all types of plastic mulch, it’s definitely worth a try!

5. Protects Plant Roots

Plastic mulch can protect the roots of plants. This eliminates the need to work between plants, instead, you only need to walk between individual rows. Since the soil remains undisturbed, plant roots can easily grow and spread.

6. Suppresses Weeds

8 Benefits of Using Plastic Mulch in the Garden & Drawbacks to Consider

Personally, this is my favorite feature of plastic mulch—it’s a great way to control weeds.

If you don’t have time to weed the garden every single day (who does?) then using plastic mulch is the way to go. This prevents the weeds from getting the sun they need for photosynthesis, so you don’t have to resort to pulling them by hand.

7. Prevents leafy crops from coming in contact with soil

When you add mulch, you create a barrier between your plants and the soil. It is essential for plants such as leafy vegetables as well as fruit-producing plants. This can help prevent rot and the spread of disease.

Plus, since they’re not in direct contact with the soil, they won’t get dirty every time you water.

8. Provides a Clear Appearance

Last but not least, I’ve found that using plastic mulch in the garden makes it look better. Maybe there are fewer weeds around the plants or the effect of plastic around the plants is more clean.

Whatever it is, it will upgrade the aesthetic of your garden almost instantly!

how to mulch with plastic

8 Benefits of Using Plastic Mulch in the Garden & Drawbacks to Consider

Mulching is simple with plastic.

All you have to do is buy a roll and put it in the garden. I advise you to do this a few weeks before you start planting. This will give the soil time to warm up.

You can weigh the plastic either with special stakes or with loose rocks.

Once the plastic is in place, you can poke small holes in it for your seeds or transplants.

When it comes time to water, simply install soaker hoses under plastic or use a sprinkler system to irrigate your plants.

Disadvantages of Plastic Mulch: What to Keep in Mind

8 Benefits of Using Plastic Mulch in the Garden & Drawbacks to Consider

Plastic mulching has plenty of advantages—yet there are a few drawbacks to keep in mind.

For one, it’s not the most eco-friendly. Unless you’re careful about tearing it when you pull it off at the end of the growing season, it can’t be reused between seasons. Even if you are delicate with it, it will go bad and eventually go to landfill.

It is difficult to recycle and since it is derived from a petroleum product, it is not the best for the environment when it comes to manufacturing and disposal.

Another disadvantage of plastic mulch is that it can lead to an excess of both heat and moisture. Some crops are very sensitive to heat, so you may need to avoid this type of mulch for things like lettuce, broccoli, and peas. Since it traps water, you’ll have to use drip irrigation instead of overhead sprinklers, but it’s a good piece of growing advice to follow anyway.

As you can see, plastic mulch has all kinds of drawbacks, but the benefits easily outweigh most of these. Consider using some in your garden next spring!

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