Plastic mulching is one of the most popular methods of landscape management. However, there are some pros and cons to using it. There are many opinions about whether or not plastic mulches are environmentally friendly. Some believe that they are harmful to the environment because they contain toxic chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA). Others say that these types of products have been proven safe for human consumption due to their low levels of toxicity.
But what do you think? Do you agree with other people’s opinions? What are your thoughts on this issue?
The following article will give you the facts about plastic mulching and its environmental impact.
What Is Plastic Mulch Made Of?
Plastic mulch is made up of two main components: polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and cellulose acetate. PET is a synthetic polymer that was first manufactured in the early 1900s. It is used primarily in food containers and medical devices. These materials are very strong and durable. They’re also recyclable, which means that after being disposed of properly, they can be reused again.
Cellulose acetate is another type of plastic material that’s often found in home insulation products like foam board or drywall. Cellulose acetate is made from wood pulp, which makes it renewable and non-toxic to humans.
Are There Any Other Chemicals Used In Their Manufacture?
While the names of these two synthetic materials sound quite intimidating, there are no other harmful chemicals used in the manufacture of plastic mulches. Manufacturers do not need to add any other ingredients for them to be effective. These materials are able to block light, as well as water and air, which prevents the growth of weeds and harmful pathogens.
Does Plastic Mulch Have Any Other Names?
You may have heard the terms “weed barrier” or “plastic sheeting” being used to refer to plastic mulch. These are all basically the same type of product. However, some manufacturers may use slightly different ingredients when manufacturing plastic sheeting. Some of these differences may result in a weaker or stronger product. It’s best to ask your local landscape supplier for details about their specific products.
How Does It Work?
Plastic mulches are laid on the soil to a depth of between 4 and 10 cm (1.5 – 4 inches). They prevent sunlight, water, and air from reaching weed seeds and plant roots. If these things aren’t available, the plant cannot survive. The bottom line is that weeds will not be able to grow in this type of environment.
Due to the fact that plastic sheeting is non-porous and water resistant, it doesn’t allow water or air to seep through to the soil. The lack of these two elements kills any seeds that happen to fall on the mulch from plants above it.
Plastic mulches also make weeding much easier. You can pull up the entire mulch, along with any weeds that are still growing in the soil.
Are They Effective?
Yes, plastic mulches are very effective. They’re able to kill the seeds and roots of most weeds within a relatively short period of time.
Are They Environmentally Friendly?
Whether or not plastic mulches are good for the environment is a matter of debate. The most common argument against these types of mulches is that they prevent light from reaching the soil, which in turn negatively affects the growth of beneficial microorganisms living in the topsoil. These microorganisms play an important role in keeping the soil healthy and fertile.
However, it should be noted that plastic mulches were originally designed to prevent the growth of weeds, not beneficial microorganisms. Whether or not they have a detrimental effect on the soil has nothing to do with their intended purpose. It’s purely an added side effect of using these types of mulches.
There are benefits that come with their use as well. For example, studies have shown that plastic mulches help maintain a more constant soil temperature. This means they can prevent large temperature swings in either direction.
Can They Be Used For More Than Just Weed Control?
Yes, plastic mulches can also be used to control the growth of grasses and flowers (as long as you apply them before these plants emerge through the mulch). The process is similar to how they’re used to kill weeds. Sunlight is able to reach the soil below, but the top layer of soil is blocked from receiving any. This process prevents any plants living within that zone from growing. Any plants that do emerge through the top layer will not be able to receive enough sunlight to maintain healthy growth. This allows you to manage your garden much easier.
There are several different types of plastic mulches available for different types of gardening needs. There are some that allow air, water, and sunlight through while blocking weeds from growing. There are others that allow sunlight through but do not permit water or air to pass through. This is great for raising certain types of vegetables that require plenty of water, but need to be prevented from drying out.
What Kind Do You Recommend?
The kind I recommend are ones that allow air, water, and sunlight through but do not allow weeds to grow. These are the safest types of plastic mulches to use. They’re very easy to apply and do an excellent job of killing weeds without affecting the surrounding soil.
You can find these at your local garden center or buy them online. I have provided links below for your convenience.
Here are some examples of the kinds of plastic mulches I recommend:
Liquid mulch: This type is very easy to apply. You simply paint it on the area you want to “mulch”. It’s non-toxic and safe for kids and pets (as long as they don’t eat any).
Flouride free: If you or anyone who might come in contact with this has dental work, you should get this type. The ingredients used to make this type are known to break down tooth enamel.
Weed Barrier: You don’t actually apply this to the soil, rather you lay it on top of the soil. It provides a nice looking barrier between the soil and what’s above it. This helps if you have a large area to cover and don’t feel like digging holes or putting down landscape fabric first.
Do They Really Work?
Yes. You are not actually killing the soil, rather you are only killing what’s above it. The roots of the weed still remain in the soil and continue to take in moisture. Since they can’t receive any more water from the top, they eventually begin to die and decompose which in turn provides nutrients for the rest of your garden. This method works extremely well on all types of weeds, including woody bushes and trees.
OK, How Do I Use It?
Using a plastic mulch is not as hard as it might sound. The hardest part is simply gathering all the supplies you need before you begin. Once you have everything to hand, the whole process should only take you about half an hour.
To start off, you need to mow your lawn. You don’t mow it to a short height or anything like that. You just need to make sure that it is at least at a height where you can easily pull out any weeds you find. You don’t want to apply the mulch on a day that is too windy. You want the plastic strips to lay flat on the ground, so if it’s windy it will be more difficult to keep them in place.
Once you are ready, the first thing you want to do is lay out the weed barrier. This is the easiest part of the process because you can just let it flow out and then smooth it over with your feet. Don’t worry about it being wrinkled or anything, you’ll be putting something heavy on it later and that will help keep it in place.
Now, you are ready to apply the plastic strips. You want to overlap each one by about 6″ to 8″. That way they will all connect later. Lay them out flat and smooth.
You will need something heavy (but not too heavy) to go over the top of the plastic strips. This is what will keep them pressed down so they stay in place. It will also prevent birds and other critters from being able to walk on top of the plastic. A good idea would be to get a pile of small stones and bricks and set them on top. About 10 pounds per square yard of plastic should do the trick.
Leave the plastic in place for at least 2 weeks, but 3 weeks is even better if you can manage it. If it starts to rain during this time, you will need to keep an eye on it because you don’t want the plastic to get too wet. If it looks like it might be too wet, you should take some of the weight off so the water can run off. After the 3 weeks is up, you can remove the plastic. Most of the weeds should be dead at this point and if they aren’t, you can easily hand pull them out.
If you want, you can top dress your lawn with some organic fertilizer or top quality lawn lime after you remove the plastic. This will help the new lawn grow in nice and thick!
Weed barrier is a great way to block out weeds in your lawn or garden without using chemicals or harming the environment. It’s easy to use and once you get the hang of laying down the plastic, you can have a weed free lawn in no time.
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Sources & references used in this article:
Microclimate modification with plastic mulch by JM Tarara – HortScience, 2000 – journals.ashs.org
Plastic mulches for the production of vegetable crops by WJ Lament – HortTechnology, 1993 – journals.ashs.org
Strawberry Plasticulture in North Carolina: II. Preplant, Planting, and Postplant Considerations for GrowingChandler’Strawberry on Black Plastic Mulch by EB Poling – HortTechnology, 1993 – journals.ashs.org
Use of plastic mulch for vegetable production by T Maughan, D Drost – 2016 – digitalcommons.usu.edu
The effects of black plastic mulch and weed control strategies on herb yield by JA Ricotta, JB Masiunas – HortScience, 1991 – journals.ashs.org
Modeling the effect of mulch optical properties and mulch-soil contact resistance on soil heating under plastic mulch culture by JM Ham, GJ Kluitenberg – Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 1994 – Elsevier