There are both pros and cons to gardening with black plastic. I’ll go over a few of these below to help you decide if this gardening technique is right for you.
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Pros of Gardening with Black Plastic
Putting down black plastic before you plant your garden has many advantages. First it keeps the weeds down. Weeds can’t grow through the plastic so the only place you may have to weed is around the edges of the holes you cut for the plants. The weeds aren’t taking nutrients and fertilizer from the ground when they aren’t able to sprout. So instead of spending your weekends weeding, you can enjoy your garden.
Another great thing about plastic is you don’t have to water nearly as often. This saves a lot of time and can save you money if you have a water bill.
We typically go on vacation for 10-12 days during the hottest part of the summer. My Mom picks my produce while we’re gone but I don’t ask her to weed or water as she has her own garden to tend. I’ve never lost a plant in my garden while on vacation and she doesn’t water it.
Last summer it did not rain the whole two weeks we were gone. My veggies all looked healthy when we returned. It’s true they may have produced more if they had been watered, but I was just pleased everything was still alive.
A third benefit to plastic is that it warms the ground sooner in the spring. This allows you to put out plants a little earlier since the ground has warmed up a little. Things like peas appreciate the warmth to germinate and tomatoes and pepper plants appreciate the warmer soil when you transplant them in the garden.
Cons of Gardening with Black Plastic
Next let’s look at a few reasons you might not want to use black plastic in your garden and a few thoughts to help you work around some of the challenges.
Plastic can make the soil too hot
The plastic helps warm up the ground in the spring which can be a good thing. However come summer time, it can be a detriment. It can make the soil too hot for certain vegetables and even cause them to stop producing too soon.
The easiest way around this is to layer a light mulch over the plastic when the temperature starts to get above 85 degrees. At the end of the season it is fairly easy to sweep the mulch off with your hands or a broom. You can then use it in pathways, walkways, or compost it. The mulch can also be used to top off flower beds for the winter.
Plastic can make watering difficult
The plastic can make it harder to water plants if indeed they do need watering. You can install soaker hoses under the plastic if you choose, but I typically don’t. If it is really dry, I will take a hose on fine spray and aim it at the holes in the plastic. Sometimes I farm this chore out to my children!
I also have several spikes that you put on the top of an empty soda bottle, turn upside down, and stick in the ground. You cut off the bottom and you can fill the bottle up with a hose and it slowly drips water to the roots of the plant.
A few crops are almost impossible to grow in plastic
A third downside to gardening in black plastic is that there are a few crops that really can’t be grown in the plastic. I have found that vegetables with very small seeds, such as carrots, radishes, and beets, do not germinate very well in black plastic. It can be difficult to sow such small seeds in the holes. You actually waste gardening space since these vegetables are typically sown close together.
To get around this problem, I keep one bed free from plastic. If you are growing a small garden, you can just cut the plastic away from the entire area where you plan to grow these vegetables.
The environmental impact of gardening with black plastic
The biggest con to using black plastic in the garden is the issue of the plastic not being environmentally friendly once disposed of. This was the one reason I avoided using it for many years. However, water is a resource too and using less water is an environmentally sound practice. Also, I can typically use the same plastic for two years on each bed.
My results gardening with black plastic
After seeing my results last year when my garden wasn’t watered for over two weeks, my own Mom decided to switch to plastic as well. If you decide that gardening with plastic is right for you, see my article on how to do it the right way.
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