What is Plastic Mulch and is it Safe for Gardening?


The use of plastic mulch for vegetable crops has doubled across the U.S. alone in the last ten years. Plastic mulch is useful for all kinds of crops and plants, whether you’re a home gardener or a commercial farmer. But what exactly is plastic mulch?

Plastic mulch is inorganic mulch used for protecting crops from weather and soil erosion. It comes in various colors, all of which have different effects and uses for different crops, such as silver for pest repellant. Plastic mulch is at the center of the plasticulture approach to agriculture.

The following article will explain what plastic mulch is, show you the types, colors, and benefits of plastic mulch, and discuss safety. We will also explore other mulch types and determine whether plastic mulch is better for your plants than other other types.

Photo by Irina27

What is Plastic Mulch?

Made with polyethylene film, plastic mulch helps to protect plants from wind and weather. In the 1950s, plastic mulching became popular for berry farmers and vegetable producers, but only at the commercial level. Plastic mulching is now a popular choice among home gardeners and is used for all sorts of crops.

McCormick Family Farm has an excellent video on laying plastic mulch here:

What is Plasticulture?

The relatively new term for using plastic in agricultural practices is plasticulture. The plastics include plastic mulch and may be referred to as ag plastics. Greenhouses and tunnels also come under the new set of plasticulture techniques for growing and nurturing crops. Plasticulture is used by gardeners and farmers alike.

How Many Types and Colors of Plastic Mulch are There?

Plastic mulch usually comes in black, but other colors are beginning to gain traction on the market. The varying colors of plastic mulch aren’t just for decoration as each color of mulch, from green to yellow to red, reflects the purpose it’s best suited for:

  • Black: the most common type of plastic mulch is black plastic. Black plastic mulch is suitable for all kinds of crops.
  • Yellow or orange: may attract more pests, and so can be useful to create a ‘trap’ row.
  • Green: bigger yields of cantaloupes.
  • Red: better for fruits, such as tomatoes and strawberries, producing higher, sweeter yields. Red plastic mulch is also beneficial in adding fragrance.
  • Blue: bigger yields of cantaloupes, cucumbers, and summer squash.
  • Silver: repels aphids and other pests such as whiteflies and cucumber beetles.
  • White: useful for hotter parts of the country, white plastic mulch will help cool your soil.
  • Brown: warms the earth more than black plastic and helps control weeds.
  • Infrared Transmitting (IRT): IRT plastics, especially in green or brown, warm your soil and reduce weeds.

What is the Purpose of Plastic Mulch?

The purpose of plastic mulch is to insulate the soil, help prevent soil erosion, and reduce moisture evaporation in the ground. Some types of plastic mulch also repel insects and the diseases they carry or help produce bigger yields of specific crops. For example, red plastic mulch helps increase the size, sweetness, and fragrance of crops like tomatoes and strawberries.

What are the Benefits of Using Plastic Mulch?

Plastic mulch comes with many benefits, such as saving you time and labor costs, as it is much easier to use than organic mulch. Using plastic mulch on your crops or garden can help keep weeds and pests at bay and prevent the disease from setting into your plants. The full list of benefits of using plastic mulch includes:

  • Retains moisture for your crops to access water and nutrients
  • Discourages weed growth
  • Improves soil quality
  • Repels pests, depending on the color of the mulch
  • Protects plants from heat and flood
  • Provides habitat for soil organisms, which are crucial for soil health
  • It keeps leafy crops from coming into contact with the ground
  • Has a tidier appearance for your farm or garden
  • Easier to install, so reduces time and labor
Photo by Zlikovec

Is Plastic Mulch Safe?

Plastic mulch raises some environmental concerns as it doesn’t biodegrade, and you can’t recycle many ag plastics. Some plastics release toxins and contaminants when they break down, but most plastics are suitable and safe for use.

Mulch made from plastic could get quite hot during the summer, which may cause safety issues. However, commercial plastic mulch is thoroughly tested and held to strict safety guidelines, so you shouldn’t have any problems using it.

Of course, from an environmental standpoint, organic mulch is a better material to use.

How Do You Use Plastic Mulch?

The best time to use plastic mulch is just before planting. Lay your mulch over the soil to warm it, and then plant seeds in the holes. Plastic mulch allows you to spread plants or seedlings out adequately, so you can rest assured all of your plants have a good amount of space to grow. If you want to treat your soil with fertilizer or pesticide, remember to do this before laying your plastic mulch.

Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4) x
Jalape_o_Pepper_Lines (4)

Is Plastic Mulch Better Than Other Types of Mulch?

Plastic mulch is considered an inorganic mulch, so if you want to grow plants organically, plastic mulch isn’t for you. The use of plastics in agriculture also raises environmental concerns.

However, plastic mulch offers lots of benefits, such as ease of installation, discouragement weeds and pests, and keeping your roots moist. It is well worth trying plastic mulch, as it improves plant health and crop yield.

What Other Types of Mulch Are There?

Mulch falls into two main categories, inorganic and organic. Inorganic mulch consists of human-made products like plastics and solid natural substances like rock and stone. On the other hand, organic mulch is more easily biodegradable and consists of grass, leaves, straw, or even wood chips.

Top Plastic Mulch Picks

If you’re wondering which plastic mulch to get, we’ve got you covered. Check out our handy guide for some of the best products in the plastic mulch industry, including red mulch for tomatoes and a handy kit you’ll need to install your new mulch.

Agfabric Plastic Mulch Weed Block

The Black Plastic Mulch by Agfabric works excellently as a weed block and comes in a wide range of sizes. It’s transported in rolls, which makes laying it down easy, and Agfabric promises a long-lasting material, so there’s bound to be a roll length that suits you.

ZRM&E Mulching Nails

If you’re installing mulch on your plants, you’re going to need some nails, like these ZRM&E Mulching Nails. Sold in packs of 50, these mulching nails come in two different sizes, so you can find the size that best fits your needs. The plastic won’t leach into the soil, and they are entirely safe for use around vegetables.

Gardeneer Red Mulch Film

Something for the tomato growers, Gardeneer’s Red Mulch Film is perfect for sweetening up your tomato plants. Red mulch is proven to sweeten the taste, help improve your crop yields, and even provide a better fragrance. Gardeneer’s red film offers 20 percent bigger crop yields than black plastic mulch.

Roly-Poly Plastic Sheeting

If you’re in the market for something even more protective than plastic mulch, check out this Roly-Poly Plastic Sheeting. It works excellently as a polytunnel and can be easily repurposed as a cover for construction projects.

Closing Thoughts

Plastic mulch offers some helpful benefits for outdoor gardens, such as protecting your crops from wind and soil erosion. It comes in several colors, each with their own specific benefit. Using plastic mulch on your crops or garden is safe and can help keep weeds and pests at bay and prevent the disease from setting into your plants. It’s a convenient and easy-to-use option for your garden, but is not as environmentally sustainable as organic options.

Here are Some of my Favorite Gardening Products and Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful for growing some new plants in your home or garden. Here are some products I like that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, and I am compensated for referring traffic. But in all honesty, these are the exact product that I use or recommend to everyone.

Soil: For high-quality soil, I really like Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I do all my growing in containers and this soil has worked great for me. I like how they use nutrient-rich contents like earthworm castings, bat guano, and composted crab and fish.

Fertilizer: Currently I am using a seaweed-based organic fertilizer call Neptunes Harvest. This is a great milder fertilizer option if you want to use something organic. If you want a more powerful fertilizer, I recommend Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio, lots of people have had great growing success with this product.

Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are one of the most useful gardening tools to have because it’s important to prune your plants to keep them healthy. The pruning shears I recommend are the Gonicc 8’’ pruning shears. I like them because they are built sturdy and work both on bigger and smaller plants, so you don’t need to have multiple pruning shears.

Spicytrio.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Spicytrio.com also participates in affiliate programs with other sites. Spicytrio.com is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.

Supriya

Hi! I'm Supriya. I'm a home cook, bulldog mom, spicy food lover, and founder of The Spicy Trio. I have been a home cook for about 15 years and have been growing plants for the past six years.

Recent Posts