Plastic mulch may sound like a contradiction to those us who are continually trying to make that important move towards a greener lifestyle. Although organic mulch may be more beneficial in terms of soil nutrients and improving the quality of a plot, there are also uses in our gardens for inorganic matter and, in particular, plastic mulch.
Step One - Being Realistic about Plastic Mulch
When choosing to use inorganic mulches, one needs to be realistic about what they can actually accomplish. One also needs to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of using plastic mulch.
Inorganic and plastic mulches do little or nothing to improve the soil quality. They will not break down into the soil, which means that they will have to be removed when they have outlived their usefulness. However, they are long lasting, inexpensive and provide a number of uses. Importantly, by reclaiming plastic keeps it away from life in a landfill where it will sit, causing harm to the environment.
Step Two - Black Plastic Uses
One of the wonderful things about plastic is that it is available in many colors, textures and thicknesses. Black plastic provides several key benefits compared to plastic of other shades. Black plastic is an excellent material for controlling weeds. The dark color blocks out the sun so that the rays cannot reach the weed seedlings. This will prohibit them from growing making the weeding process for the following year far simpler.
Those that wish to extend their gardening season will be pleased to know that black plastic is highly effective in increasing the temperature of the soil. It can make an excellent protector from frosts and unexpected cold snaps.
Step Three - Uses for Clear Plastic
In warmer climates, clear plastic is an excellent source for soil pasteurization as well as increasing the temperature. The sun can pass through clear plastic, but the heat cannot escape as quickly, thus creating a mini-greenhouse effect. The soil temperature can be increased by up to 10 degrees with the use of clear plastic. This is highly effective early in the season for those that grow fruit and late in the season for those trying to squeeze the last possible moments out of their gardens for winter vegetables.
Step Four – Avoiding Problems
Plastic makes a great mulch option for outdoor gardens, but for flower beds one needs to be very cautious. Plastic tends to restrict the water and air supply to plants. Condensation can also build up under the plants, leading to rotting of the root system. While it is true that using the plastic will help stop weeds from growing, in such a restricted space it can also effect the growth of the plants.
There are several other types of inorganic mulches that can be used. Newspaper, old tires, lava rocks and pebbles make excellent sources. Remember that inorganic mulches can be recycled many times over. They can be used again for the next season and will not break down for decades.