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Plastic Mulch

Since its introduction in the 1950s, black plastic (polyethylene plastic) mulch has been the primary tool used to reduce weed competition in both high tunnels and open fields, control water loss, raise soil temperature, increase plant production, and shorten harvest time.

Various biodegradable mulches being laid over drip irrigation tape

Plastic Mulches

Plastic mulch is commonly used to control weeds in the crop row, moderate soil temperature and conserve water in the plant root zone. There are many different colors and qualities of plastic mulch, and use varies depending on the season and crop being grown. There are also degradable mulches made of cornstarch and paper, and plastic mulches that are heat and/or light degradable.

See our Glossary for definitions of terms.

Plastic Mulch Overview of what mulch is and a comparison of common types of mulch. Also, links to further information on mulches. The Pennsylvania State University.

Plastic Mulch & Drip Irrigation. Includes detailed instructions for drip irrigation set-up, rates of irrigation, fertigation methods and quantities, double cropping suggestions, and cost estimates for a plastic mulch system. North Carolina State University Extension.

Use of Plastic Mulch. Outline of advantages and disadvantages of using plastic mulch, and detailed instructions on plastic mulch application, planting, maintenance, and removal. Oklahoma State University Extension.

Effects of Mulch Color. Color of mulch for eight different vegetable crops. The Pennsylvania State University.

Transplanting tomatoes in biodegradable mulch test plots under high tunnel

Biodegradable Mulch Plastic Mulches

Biodegradable mulches are manufactured alternatives to plastic mulch and, ideally, provide the same benefits as plastic mulch (weed control, soil temperature moderation, soil moisture retention, and soil conservation). They also offer the added benefit of being 100% biodegradable, either in the field, soil or in composting, with no formation of toxic residues.

See our Glossary for definitions of terms.

Biodegradable Alternative to Plastic. Vegetable oil coated paper mulch as an alternative to plastic mulch. USDA ARS.

Biodegradable Polymers. Provides classification and chemical structures for biodegradable polymers. University of Strasbourg, France.

Sorting Through Facts and Claims. Narayan, R. 2010. Bioplastics Magazine, Polymedia Publisher GmbH. 10(1):29-31.

Misleading Claims and Misuse of Standards Proliferate in the Nascent Bioplastics Industry Space. Narayan, R. 2010. Bioplastics Magazine, Polymedia Publisher GmbH. 10(1):38-41.

Degradable Mulch. Research study testing various degradable mulch products in vegetable crops. Washington State University Extension.

202o-head-LgNonwoven Fabric: A fabric made directly from a web of fiber, without the yarn preparation necessary for weaving and knitting. In a nonwoven, the assembly of textile fibers is held together (i) by mechanical interlocking in a random web or mat; (ii) by fusing of the fibers, as in the case of thermoplastic fibers; or (iii) by bonding with a cementing medium such as starch, casein, rubber latex, a cellulose derivative or synthetic resin. Initially, the fibers may be oriented in one direction or may be deposited in a random manner. This web or sheet is then bonded together by one of the methods described above. Fiber lengths can range from 0.25 inch to 6 inches for crimped fibers up to continuous filament in spunbonded fabrics. Nonwoven fabrics are currently used as weed mats, and row covers. (INDA Nonwoven Glossary, published by Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, 2002

Biodegradable Mulch: Project Applies Textile Science to Agriculture. Multi-state research project will evaluate various mulch fabrics to determine specific responses to weathering, biodegradation rates, and impact on the health and quality of soil. Washington State University.

Paper mulch, part of the series Weed ‘Em and Reap. Produced by Oregon State University. Carol Miles, Martin Nicholson, and Lydia Garth, Washington State University. Vancouver WA