Weeds. No matter how hard you try to get rid of them, the stronger they seemingly emerge. One idea that many gardeners use to try and rid themselves of the problem is plastic sheeting. But will it actually work as a weed barrier?
Plastic sheeting can work as a weed barrier. By keeping the soil warm and moist, it effectively kills seeds and roots that typically cause weed proliferation. The heat retained by plastic sheeting will also help kill soil pathogens and fungi.
With that said, plastic sheeting is not a cure-all. Whether you choose clear sheeting or black sheeting, each will have its limitations. And the natural resiliency of weeds only makes it all the more difficult. Keep reading for everything there is to know about using plastic sheeting as a weed barrier!
Yes, clear plastic can be a good weed barrier. It will prevent weeds and grass from receiving oxygen and will heart the soil to kill existing weeds and roots.
There are several reasons why it may be a good idea to use clear plastic as a weed barrier:
- It is readily available at lawn and garden centers as well as home improvement stores.
- Clear plastic heats the soil more than black plastic. This kills weed seeds, roots, soil pathogens, and fungi.
- It does not absorb as much heat as black plastic, making it easier to use during the hottest months of summer.
Despite these benefits, there are a couple of drawbacks to clear plastic as a weed barrier. Because it allows light to pass through, some of the most resilient weeds will continue to photosynthesize beneath its surface. They may eventually pierce the plastic and start to take over the garden.
In addition, due to its impermeability, flowing water can quickly run off of clear plastic and cause some erosion to your lawn, garden, or surrounding landscaping.
Here’s a helpful video about plastic barrier:
Much like clear plastic, black plastic can also keep weeds from growing. It smothers weeds and retains soil moisture, causing weeds to rot and die beneath the surface.
There are a couple of benefits to choosing black plastic over clear plastic:
- Because black absorbs the sun’s rays, it can do a better job of warming the ground during colder months. By slowly releasing absorbed heat into the ground, it can allow gardeners to get a head start on planting their crops.
- As black is not transparent, weeds cannot get sunlight necessary for photosynthesis. This makes growing conditions extremely inhospitable for even the most resilient weeds.
Like clear plastic, the impermeable nature of black plastic can create runoff and erosion concerns in areas of heavy precipitation.
Black plastic also has a tendency to degrade rather quickly. The sun’s UV rays take a toll on the thin black plastic layer, causing the plastic to become brittle and crack on impact. This makes walking on black plastic a risky proposition after a few weeks. Once weeds find the light through the cracks, the breakdown will inevitably increase over time.
The best weed barrier really depends on your needs. The name you are likely most familiar with is landscaping fabric.
Landscaping fabric is woven polypropylene. While this is a type of plastic, it is much more durable than basic black plastic sheets. It is a great choice for hardscaping because it is permeable and will not wash away the stone.
As a weed barrier, it will vary depending on the style you choose. The thinner landscaping fabric used for hardscaping will allow some weeds through due to its air and moisture permeability.
However, thicker landscaping fabric operates very similarly to a black plastic sheet and can be highly effective as a weed barrier. The one thing you have to remember is that since it does not break down as readily as basic plastic sheets, it may also stifle your plants in the long run.
As a pure weed barrier, plastic sheets are probably the better choice.
They are impermeable and do not create a hospitable environment for weed growth. Black plastic is particularly strong because it does not allow photosynthesis to take place. (source)
The important point to remember when using plastic sheets is that you have to cut slits for your plants to facilitate their growth. In addition, they are not a long-term solution and must be replaced every few weeks.
There are also some more natural weed barriers for those who want a very eco-friendly solution:
- Burlap – this is described as all-natural landscaping fabric. It is very similar to landscaping fabric because it stifles weeds while being permeable enough to let moisture reach the soil. Just remember that as a biodegradable option, it will break down over time. It is also expensive.
- Straw, mulch, lawn clipping, and other compost – this is a great option for holding topsoil in place and preventing erosion. As it breaks down, it will release nutrients into the soil that facilitate your plant growth. Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time before weeds start to emerge, making this one of the more short-term options for stifling weeds.
- Newspaper and cardboard – this scores high marks for repurposing items that usually go to waste. They are biodegradable and make great food for earthworms. The downsides are that they have to be frequently replaced and some people find it tacky to use these materials from an aesthetic perspective.
All in all, there are a number of different materials you can use as a weed barrier, so it is important to consider your specific landscaping needs to arrive at which is best.
Yes, plastic sheeting is safe for gardening. It has been used for decades and is an effective means of stifling weeds.
Just remember a few important points:
- Always cut slits in the plastic so that your plants can grow
- It will degrade down in a few weeks
- Use clear plastic in the hottest conditions
- It does not completely eliminate the need to pull weeds, and uncontrolled weed growth through the cracks in the plastic can be frustrating
- It is not an option for xeriscaped lawns
Also remember that since plastic is not biodegradable, the used plastic sheets will likely end up in the landfill once they are out of use. This can be a drawback for very eco-friendly gardeners. (source)
Plastic sheeting is effective as a weed barrier. Use clear sheeting in the hottest conditions and black sheeting in all others. By warming the soil and trapping moisture, plastic sheeting effectively stifles seeds and roots necessary for weed growth!