Plastic Mulch & Vegetable Gardening

Question: Is plastic mulch good for tomatoes and other vegetables?

Yes, it is. There are various kinds of mulch (including plastic and many biodegradable alternatives) and each has different benefits and drawbacks. Mulch, in general, can suppress weeds, conserve water, increase vegetable yields, encourage earlier crop maturing, help with insect management, enhance irrigation, and decrease fertilizer leaching. Plastic mulch is beneficial because it is very effective at maintaining moisture levels, but it can be difficult to recycle when the time comes to replace it.

There are many colors of plastic mulch (black, white, clear, red, brown, etc). The best color depends on what crop you are growing and the particular effect you desire. The most common plastic mulch color in use today is black. Black plastic mulch is great for weed control and increases the temperature of the soil by 3-8 °F. It absorbs and radiates solar energy – in really hot weather, it can absorb so much energy that it can actually damage roots. Black plastic will degrade over time and typically needs to be replaced every couple years.

To learn more about advantages and disadvantages of different colored plastic mulches, click here.

There are more environmentally-friendly mulches. Check out the references below for biodegradable options.

References:

Mulches for the Home Vegetable Garden,” McDaniel, Alan & Relf, Diane. Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Biodegradable Mulch Demonstrations,” Dupont, Tianna et al. Penn State Extension.

Mulches,” Starbuck, Christopher J. University of Missouri Extension.

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