How to use black plastic in a garden

Written by robin stephenson
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Growing fruits and vegetables in your own garden can be very rewarding. It can also be challenging, especially when trying to keep your plantings free of weeds. Fortunately, black plastic sheeting is readily available at most garden centres, and using it is one way to reduce the time you spend weeding your planting beds. As well as discouraging weed growth, it also helps retain moisture in the soil, which means you have to water less. Here's how to use it in your garden:

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Compost
  • Garden shovel
  • Water hose
  • Black plastic garden sheeting
  • Time-release fertiliser
  • Vegetable plants
  • Garden fork
  • Assorted rocks

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  1. 1

    Pick an area in your garden to be your planting bed. Keeping it a manageable size is a good idea; making it too large can make it difficult to access individual plants, should you need to remove pests or add fertiliser. Also ensure that it's in an area that gets plenty of sun, otherwise your vegetable plantings won't thrive, no matter how many weeds you discourage!

  2. 2

    Add composted material to the planting area. If you have your own compost pile, use that; if not, buy bags of compost or dried cow manure from your local garden centre, and work it into the soil with a garden shovel. Improving the soil will work wonders for the plants and their yield.

  3. 3

    Water the planting area with a garden hose. Then lay down the first sheet of plastic and secure it with rocks or stones. Add more sheets until the planting area is entirely covered with plastic sheeting, making sure that there's a little overlap so that weeds don't sprout in between any gaps.

  4. 4

    Cut 6-inch holes in the plastic sheeting in the spots where you intend to plant your fruit and vegetable plants. Dig holes for the plants, and add some of your favourite time-release fertiliser to the planting hole before adding your plants.

  5. 5

    Punch small holes in the surface of the plastic, using the tines of a gardening fork. This will allow rainwater and any water from your sprinklers to penetrate the plastic sheeting and reach the soil so it can irrigate the plants.

  6. 6

    When all planting is complete, secure the plastic on all sides with more stones. If the sheeting isn't held firmly in place, windy conditions can easily rip away the sheeting, undoing all your hard work and once again leaving your soil vulnerable to rampant weed growth.

Tips and warnings

  • Using soaker hoses is an efficient way to water your plants, since the water drips directly onto the soil where it is needed. Just remember to set them up before you lay down the plastic so that they can efficiently water the plants, rather than collecting on the surface of the plastic, where it'll be prone to evaporation.
  • If you don't particularly care for the appearance of shiny, black plastic in your vegetable garden, you can always add a layer of wood chip mulch on top of the plastic for a more natural look. This won't be quite as effective at retarding weed growth, but weeds sprouting in mulch are far easier to remove by hand than they are when growing in soil.
  • Plastic sheeting helps keep the soil beneath it warm and moist, which benefits your plants, but it also creates a desirable environment for pests such as slugs and snails. You may have to be a bit more vigilant when attempting to control them.

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