Like all worthwhile endeavors there are aspects to vegetable gardening that are not considered appealing, and weeding has to be on the top of that list. Personally I would rather be sitting on my patio during garden season with a cool drink instead of spending that time up in the garden removing unwanted weeds.

Every gardener soon learns that the best way to control weeds is to prevent them, and that means using mulch. Mulch is simply a protective covering on the ground that serves several purposes. It can be sawdust, ground up wood chips, compost, paper or plastic.

In addition to controlling weed growth, when it is spread on the ground around the base of your plants it will reduce water evaporation, capture the heat from the sunlight and help maintain even soil temperature, prevent erosion, enrich the soil, and keep the area around the plants clean.

I have tried most ways to mulch my garden and have learned that the best mulch is the plastic variety. It has several advantages, not the least of which is that you can roll it up and reuse it over many garden seasons. I have some mulch that has lasted me several years and I am still using it. Another advantage is that it reflects the sunlight back up to the plants, allowing the plants to grow faster and healthier.

There are several choices for plastic mulch – black, red and white - and I use all three depending on where it is in my garden. They all control weed growth but there are other characteristics that you should consider when determining the best one to use. Here is a brief description of each.

Black Plastic

Black plastic mulch prevents light from reaching the soil surface, which in turn prevents most weeds from growing. An added benefit is that black absorbs all the sunlight and therefore is better at keeping the soil warm. This can be helpful at the beginning of the growing season. Black mulch applied to the planting bed prior to planting will warm the soil and promote faster growth in early season, which generally leads to earlier harvest. First harvest acceleration of 7 to 14 days is not uncommon, depending on weather conditions. Note: Clear plastic mulch will actually warm the soil more than black but it is not used because unlike the black plastic it allows the weeds underneath to get light rays and live.

It is good for lettuce, broccoli, eggplant and cucumbers.

Finally, it is the least expensive and the most available. For a little more money you can also buy a recyclable and a biodegradable product.

Red Plastic

Red is a little more expensive but is better for tomatoes because it reflects the particular sunrays that promote the growth of tomato plants and fruit.

White Plastic

White plastic does the opposite of the black in that it reflects all of the light waves instead of absorbing them. It is often used when you do not want the soil to become overheated during the hot days of summer. Later plantings after the soil is already warm, such as summer lettuce, are good examples of this.

Pre-formed Trays

They now manufacture trays that have the holes pre-cut for the exact spacing of plants such as lettuce. They are a little more expensive but you can use them for many years and do not have to worry about measuring. One that I find interesting is the tomato tray. It includes a few cups to collect water and let it irrigate the plant gradually.

Old Fashioned Methods

If you wanted to avoid for plastic there are more natural ways but I must remind you that it will require more of your time for weeding, and you will get to spend less of that time on the deck relaxing. These include using newspaper and good old fashioned straw or hay. They will decompose and become part of your soil mix the following year. You will have to do more weeding, however.

Remember that no matter what you use, you will have the reward of eating your own fresh grown vegetables.
Controlling Weeds
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