Volume XXIXNumber 1Page 8 Could you get those same benefits from use of plastic much inyour garden? Absolutely. But before you run out and start buyingplastic, take a closer look. It isn’t a good option for everyone.Installation. To get the mostbenefits from plastic mulch, you have to install it right.It’s especially important to bury 8 to 10 inches on each side ofthe plastic strip under about 6 inches of soil to hold theplastic in place. Otherwise, the first gusts of wind will blowyour plastic away. That can make your neighbors quite unhappy.For plastic to effectively warm the soil, it must be the righttype, installed on raised beds and “tight,” so it remains inclose, continuous contact with the soil surface.A number of good plastic-laying machines are out there forlarge-scale production. Unfortunately, the equipment forgardeners is very limited and costly.Because of that, gardeners who use plastic may have to install itby hand. That requires muscle and a lot of stamina. Manualplastic installation is definitely not for everyone.Colors. Several colors of plasticare available. Clear is best for warming the soil. But it doesn’tkeep weed seeds from germinating. Use black plastic in thespring. It keeps weed seeds from sprouting and warms the soil,too.Because black plastic may warm the soil too much during thesummer, white plastic is better then.Irrigation. Getting enough waterfrom rainfall or sprinklers to plant roots under the plastic canbe difficult, sometimes impossible. The best solution is toinstall drip irrigation hose or tape under the plastic so you canapply water directly to the soil near the plant rows.Disposal. A few types of”degradable” plastic are supposed to self-destruct at the end ofthe season. However, because they cost more and sometimes breakdown too fast, not many gardeners use them.After the gardening season is over, nondegradable plastic mulchmust be removed and legally disposed of. Burning is not anoption. Most of the time it goes to the landfill. Removing it canbe quite a chore, and disposing of it is a considerableinconvenience.Garden optionsAfter some serious thought, if you feel the benefits of plasticare worth the extra cost, time and effort, try it.If you’d rather avoid plastic costs or feel you’re not up to thehard labor required, don’t feel bad. There’s an excellentalternative: organic mulch, such as aged pine bark, grassclippings, straw or hay.Except for warming the soil, organic much has all the benefits ofplastic film mulch, with a bonus: you don’t need to remove anddispose of it. Just till it into the soil at the end of theseason and it will help build a better soil for next year’sgarden.(Darbie Granberry is an Extension Service horticulturist withthe University of Georgia College of Agricultural andEnvironmental Sciences.) By Darbie GranberryUniversity of GeorgiaYou may have seen fields of vegetables that seem to be growing onstrips of plastic. They’re really growing in the soil, just asthey normally do, through small openings in the plastic.The plastic strips are almost paper thin. They may be as narrowas 12 inches or as wide as 32, depending on the crop. Plasticfilm mulch is very helpful in commercial vegetable production. It: Reduces weed problems, because most weed seeds don’t germinateunder black plastic.Reduces fertilizer leaching by limiting the amount of watermoving through the soil.Reduces the need for irrigation because it helps hold moisturein the soil.Helps protect roots, because there’s no need to hoe orcultivate near plants.Results in more vigorous plant growth and higher yields.Warms the soil and accelerates maturity so vegetables areready to be harvested sooner.