Weed control and synthetic plastic mulch

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I was in a store in Jeromesville buying a pack of chewing gum a few years ago and saw a friend reading my column. He asked me what happened to the black plastic you put on the gardens in the spring.

In a series of columns I wrote several years ago, I explained where you should start your garden. What should I do with the soil that is where I want to put my garden? What amendments should I include for what I want to develop? What plants can I grow in my garden? Where can I place my plants in my garden so that they grow well?

Many other issues were addressed. Each of the plants is going to have its own requirements, and the information you’ll need will be on the seed packets or readily available on the internet in a Google search.

Weeds interrupt any good gardening plan

Once you’ve finished planting the crops you want to eat and store for the winter, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to deal with the weeds that will appear. Weeds growing in a garden are a reason some people stop gardening. Continuous rototilization will break down the soil structure, making the good guys that help your plants’ roots do a harder job better, and water will cause your soil to crust and reduce your soil’s ability to hold water and to help your plants. The crazy part of the problem is that there will also be less oxygen and the ground will be harder.

This open area in your soil brings me to the ideas of mulching and cover crops. If you planted in rows and alternated in the row with companion plants, you will have a space between the rows that will be open. A common solution for covering this area would be a five-sheet layer of newspaper with a layer of straw a few inches above the newspaper. I have also seen black plastic sheets in many gardens; it will also save water. Double grind hardwood mulch is a good method of mulching a more permanent row.

All of these methods will help keep weeds between rows, reducing weed problems. What I also like is that you can also conserve water with this method. If you manage to keep the soil uncovered, you will find that the productivity of the garden is very good.

Consider biodegradable black plastic

To answer my friend’s question, lightweight plastic bags can last up to 500 years when transported to a landfill, therefore it’s unclear how long it will take when it comes to a heavier grade material.

The fact is that there are very thin biodegradable black plastic on the market today, 0.5 to 1 mil thick. This thin black plastic can be difficult to store and use, but can be found at some vegetable auctions and garden centers.

Over the years we have had many droughts. Therefore, especially on new transplants and seeds, you will need to be sure to water these new plants well immediately and for the first few weeks, probably once a day. After planting and if the temperatures are hot, you will have to water faithfully especially if you have experienced a drought.

Water your plants enough that you can feel or see that the soil is at least an inch deep moist. Once the seedling has developed and grown bigger, you can reduce your watering during normal rainy conditions – say an extra inch per week. Keep in mind that if you’ve had cover crops with deep roots, you should have a better chance of allowing your plants’ roots to stay moist.

Synthetic black plastic mulch placed in a raised bed.

There are a number of reasons for black plastic mulch on your garden. Black plastic warms the floor. Weed reduction with black plastic is substantial. Because the weeds have been reduced, you will have better yields. If you are an organized person, you will feel that the beds look better.

Planting your garden will take longer due to the extra time needed to cut holes in the plastic. Working on black plastic can be hotter on sunny days and more slippery on rainy days. Watering is necessary before the establishment of the plant. As a general rule I would say black mulch will help any vegetable garden if the plastic is biodegradable and will keep weeds out.

I wish you a nice walk in your garden this week. Spring is not far away yet. Because there are so many needs to start a garden, I will provide information on cover crops and mulching if you email me at ericlarson546@yahoo.com. You can find my site ohiohealthyfoodcooperative.org where you will find links to my Facebook pages and my blogs. Thank you for your comments and your participation in our column.

Eric Larson of Jeromesville is a seasoned landscaper and gardening enthusiast and a founding board member of the Ohio Chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.

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