How to Use Black Plastic In Your Garden

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Using black plastic can be an easy way to start a garden. It helps control weeds and conserve moisture. By growing your vegetables in plastic, you can save time by weeding and watering much less often.

If you aren’t sure about using black plastic in your vegetable garden, my post, Is Gardening With Black Plastic Right For You? may help you decide.

Okra and watermelons growing in a black plastic garden

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If you want to use black plastic in your garden, you need to purchase a roll of thick black plastic (at least 4 mil, but 6 mil will last longer). Most home improvement stores carry it, but it can also be purchased on Amazon.

Most rolls of black plastic come in 10 foot wide rolls. Anything larger can be hard to work with. Sometimes you can find 3 foot or 4 foot wide rolls which are great if you want to use it on gardening beds or raised beds that are those widths.

If you can get the plastic on the garden area in early spring, it will start to prevent weed seeds from germinating. It will also smother existing grass and weeds and allow them to start to die before you are ready to plant.

Additionally, the black plastic will help heat up the soil so you can get a bit earlier start growing vegetables, especially heat-loving crops like tomatoes and peppers.

How to Use the Black Plastic in Your Garden

Before ever rolling out the plastic, you need to decide where you are going to start your new garden. Measure the garden area carefully so that you can determine the best way to place the plastic.

It is also a good idea to water the area thoroughly and add a layer of fertilizer before covering it with plastic. This will allow plenty of moisture and nutrients for your plants later on.

You want to roll out the plastic over your garden area and cut it to fit. I use garden beds and only put plastic on the growing areas, not in the walkways, but you can certainly cover your whole garden if you would like. I covered my whole garden with plastic when I had a much smaller garden.

As you are rolling out the plastic, anchor it down with rocks, bricks, or boards to keep it from blowing away.  You can also purchase gardening staples to hold the plastic in place.

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.

Transplanting Plants

Depending on what you are planting, there are several ways to put your plants into the ground.  If you are transplanting plants, the easiest way is to cut an “X” in the plastic where you want to put your plant. (See pictures below.)

The “X” needs to be large enough to get your trowel in to make the hole for your transplant, but you don’t want to make it any bigger than necessary. Once you have your “X” cut, dig out a hole wide enough and deep enough to put your plant in, piling the dirt on the plastic beside the hole.

Gently place the plant in the hole and use the dirt to fill in around the plant. (I typically add a handful of compost to the hole as I am planting.) I find it easiest to fold the plastic flaps made by my “X” down into the hole just a bit and cover them with dirt.

If you don’t want to bother cutting into the plastic, Gardener’s Supply has this nifty black plastic that already has perforated holes in it. You just punch out the holes where you want to plant your veggies. It comes in a four foot wide roll which makes it perfect for a raised bed too.

Planting Individual Seeds or “Hills” of Seeds

If you want to plant individual seeds, such as marigolds or peppers, you will need to cut an “X” in the plastic like above. Dig a hole however deep your seed packet says you need to. Drop 2-3 seeds in each hole and cover with dirt.

When planting things like melons or squash the seed packet will usually say plant 3-5 seeds per hill. I use the same method I just described, but drop 3-5 seeds in the hole. Then cover with dirt as usual.

Because the produce rests on the plastic and not on the dirt, it usually stays much cleaner. Since I don’t usually spray my produce either, I’ve been known to eat many things right from the garden.

Planting a Row of Seeds

If you are planting a row of something, beans or peas for instance, it can be a little trickier.  I always plant wide rows of veggies so I cut a flap in the plastic (see photos below).

Then I dig a trench with my trowel or a hoe and sow my seeds quite thickly. (This is not what the back of the package is going to tell you to do, but I’ve done it this way for years without any trouble! You get more veggies in smaller space this way.)

Cover the seeds with dirt and anchor the flap of plastic with a few rocks or a board so it does not cover the newly sown seeds and prevent them from germinating. Once the seeds are several inches tall you can remove the board and tuck the flap of plastic up against the base of the plants if you wish.

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. If it is very dry, you can water the plants occasionally by using a watering can or hose to direct the water to the holes in the plastic.

Seeing my garden after a two week vacation and no rainfall, sold me on this method. I also had very few weeds to pull on my return. For me, this was an easy way to simplify my life (no watering or weeding). It actually allowed me to spend more time growing delicious veggies to eat!

Have you ever used black plastic in your garden? Is this a method you would be interested in trying? If you have any questions about using black plastic in your garden, leave your question in the comments. I’ll be glad to answer them if I can!

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Using black plastic in the garden can help save work watering and weeding.

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8 thoughts on “How to Use Black Plastic In Your Garden”

    • This is a very good question. We do have a slug problem where I live, especially this year with so much rain, but I also have seen slugs in my containers too. Honestly, I haven’t noticed the slugs being any worse with black plastic than with using any other type of mulch. But I could see how it might provide the slugs with a nice home. If you have the room, it might be worth testing black plastic on one part of the garden, and another type of mulch on the other.

      Reply
  1. Also, if you need to water how do you do that? Do you have drip lines under the plastic? Do you have mulch under the plastic?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • I have put soaker hoses under the plastic, but you could use drip lines too. However, I usually don’t do either. If I need to water (which is rare) I will water the plant at its base, where I cut the hole in the plastic. I don’t put mulch under the plastic as it really serves no purpose. I hope this answers your questions. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  2. I see where you say the plastic will hold in enough moisture so that you rarely have to water. So do you water before you put the plastic down? How much?

    Reply
    • I usually put down my black plastic in early spring when the ground is already damp. If the soil is dry, I would water until the soil is damp about 6 inches down.

      Reply
  3. I’ve tried black plastic but gave up because the water puddles on the plastic and doesn’t get to the plants. What am I doing wrong
    Thanks

    Reply
    • I don’t think you are doing anything wrong using black plastic in your garden. Usually the plastic will hold in enough moisture so that you rarely have to water. And unless you cover a huge area with plastic, the rainfall will usually still get to the roots via the walkways. (I don’t cover my pathways with black plastic because it is too slick) However, you could try using a thick layer of wet newspaper covered with some mulch to hold the newspapers down.

      Reply

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