Using Plastic in the Garden

Photo credit Wikimedia Commons.

You know, I’ve never liked plastic. It has some excellent uses, sure – but still, I like to avoid most stuff that takes roughly a bazillion years to break down.

When I started my home nursery business a year and a half ago, I did a lot of research into methods of controlling weeds. I thought about mulching an area for my potted plants and trees… considered using my parking slab as a work area… wondered if I could just stow potted plants here and there around the food forest… then decided to heck with it.

There’s a nursery I love located between Ocala and Gainesville called Taylor Gardens Nursery. Their plants are nicely lined up on this really tough woven landscape plastic. Though there’s over an acre of plants, the weeds are minimal and it makes for a good shopping experience. Dave, the owner, also plants his gardens in plastic sheeting with holes cut for transplants.

For my nursery, I decided to just go their route and put some plastic down in my yard. The stuff lasts 10 years, even in Florida sun.

Yeah, eventually I’ll have to throw it out, but it will get a lot of use before then. Plus it will save me a lot of work. No need for a weed eater or for procuring and then hauling mulch around.

So… the plastic barrier was broken… but I wasn’t about to add plastic to my garden. I’m a permaculture and organic guy, for goodness sake!

In my nursery last year, I covered about a 12 x 30 area with woven plastic ground cover last year, then decided to move it and plant a garden in that area.

I pulled up the plastic and found the ground beneath was moist, weed-free and ready to plant.

Hmm. Food for thought.

It turns out Martin Crawford, author of Creating a Forest Garden: Working With Nature to Grow Edible Crops, agrees with me. He uses heavy tarps and landscape fabrics to kill off areas of problematic weeds for a year before planting new patches of food forest.

Woven landscape fabric (unlike straight cheap black plastic) allows water to pass through into the soil beneath. This, and the warmth of the plastic, encourages the germination of weed seeds – and their death through light starvation.

However, it wasn’t Martin Crawford, my experience with the nursery, or the knowledge of weedy death that really pulled me into the idea of experimenting with plastic in the garden.

The final plastic straw that pushed me over into testing weed barriers in my garden this fall was seeing three videos from Herrick Kimball (inventor of the Whizbang Chicken Plucker and author of The Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners which I now believe is a must-buy book for homesteaders)

Check these out – four-day carrots!

Now that’s a clever, if somewhat time-consuming idea.

One of the biggest problems we face as gardeners is twofold: time and weeds.

Weeds take time to eliminate… and if you don’t eliminate them, they’ll eliminate your yields.

In annual gardening, fast growth is everything. Weeds keep plants small and starved for nutrition, cutting a lot of potential from your garden.

For huge fields, using plastic in the garden probably isn’t worthwhile. In a small area, it seems as if it could be a valuable tool. I’m imagining they would be particularly useful with sprawling crops such as melons and squash, since they’re really difficult to weed.

As gardening preppers, the point is to grow the most food for the least amount of work. If this method works well for me, I’ll let you know. Thus far I’ve planted my own four-day carrot bed, plus onions and cabbages in holes cut through cheap hardware store plastic. When I get more professional woven plastic groundcover, I’ll try using it as a weed killer over the winter and spring and see what happens.

Herrick writes about his inspiration for this method here if you’re interested in reading more.

This isn’t the most waste-free or ideologically pure way to go about gardening – but if it helps you grow food at home, I think it’s worth a try.

Anyone else using plastic in the garden with success? Let us know in the comments.

About David The Good

David The Good is a naturalist, author and hard-core gardener who has grown his own food since 1984. At age five, he sprouted a bean in a Dixie cup of soil and caught the gardening bug. Soon after, his dad built an 8’ by 8’ plot for him and David hasn’t stopped growing since. David is the author of four books, writes a regular column for The Ag Mag in North Central Florida, is a Mother Earth News blogger and has also written for outlets including Backwoods Home, Survival Blog and Self-Reliance Magazine. You can find his books on Amazon here. David is a Christian, an artist, a husband, a father of seven, a cigar-smoker and an unrepentant economics junkie who now lives somewhere near the equator on a productive cocoa farm. Visit his daily gardening and survival blog here: The Survival Gardener And for lots more gardening info, click here and subscribe to his often hilarious YouTube channel.

View all posts by David The Good

3 Responses to “Using Plastic in the Garden”

  1. Fat Junie Says:

    If you have a chance, look at this documentary:
    It’s one of my favorite inspiration pieces. The trailer and an update are available online to watch free. The DVD is well worth buying.
    The relevance to your post is that Stephan Sobkowiak uses heavy black landscape fabric in his “beyond organic” orchard rows — where he interplants berries, veggies, herbs, etc. In the film, he discusses why this does not inhibit biology/fertility.


  2. TheSouthernNationalist Says:

    I’ve heard using plastic for ground cover against weeds is bad because it kills the microbes in the soil from the heat.

    What I have discovered and am now using is cardboard.
    I set out cardboard on the ground to size I want my growing area then I’ll lay down logs or boards to make a boarder then sprinkle in some composted cow manure or garden soil, wet it all down real good with a water hose then take a shovel and cut through the dirt and cardboard a wee bit, throw in seed or plant and let it be.

    There is no tilling involved, no picking weeds, you just lay that cardboard down on top of the grass and weeds and they will die and self compost.
    I also throw in table scraps too.


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