Weed Block–Paper or Plastic? And What NOT to Use!

I hate to weed. Some people “don’t do windows” and I don’t weed.  My family and friends ask me why it takes me so long to plant my tomato seedlings when “all you have to do is dig a hole and put it in!”  The time-consuming task is cutting, laying down and securing my best friend–the weed block plastic mulch.  The extra time invested in the beginning prevents much more time spent on repeated weeding sessions during the rest of the summer.

I like to use the black woven ground cloth that has tiny holes in it.  Without those holes that allow water to pass through, the only entryway for the water to reach the roots is located right at the base of the plant stem, where you have cut a single large hole.  Additionally, water puddles in any lower areas of the inpenetrable plastic.

But you have to be careful what you buy.  Last year I bought a big roll of the black woven cloth from an outdoor bin in a Big Box Store.  I guess it had been in the sun too long (?) and exposed to UV rays (?) because it tore as easily as  tissue paper. If I dared to step on it where it covered uneven ground, holes would develop and weeds would grow through the holes.  I laid some down this spring anyway because it was all I had.

In May I visited another Big Box Store and asked the employee where the weed block cover was.  He talked me into buying some nonwoven fabric.  I should have been suspicious when his knowledge seemed to be limited to what he was reading on the label…but that label DID say that the product blocked weeds.  When I opened the roll I noticed that it was so sheer that you could see through it.  How was this supposed to block weeds?  Sure enough, it didn’t.  (See the picture below.)

Weeds growing undernonwoven mulchDotted throughout the community garden were a few other plots covered with this nonwoven fabric, which was “poufed up” like a pillow from the weeds growing underneath.  A more thorough reading of the product label revealed that it was intended to be used under light-blocking material such as shredded mulch or stone.  My fault for not reading the entire instructions before proceeding, as my high school teachers always advised us to do.

So I pulled it off of the garden.  This is a picture of the ground just after I removed one section of the nonwoven fabric, and before I removed the second piece.  All those weeds happily grew right underneath it!

weeds that had grown under nonwoven fabricAnd I had to do what I never want to do—weed!  Once those weeds were pulled, I needed to replace the initial fabric with something that would work!  Since my gardening funds had been greatly diminished by the purchase of the rabbit/vole fencing, the choices were limited to what I had on hand. And they were:

  • Red Plastic – Shown in studies to slightly increase tomato production.  But it didn’t have those holes for watering.  I had ordered some from a gardening website a few years ago but never used it.
  • Brown Paper – It’s actually kraft color (like paper bags) and especially designed for vegetable gardens.  You cut holes in it for the plants, secure it to the ground, and at the end of the season till it in.  I like to use a Martha Stewart circle punch to cut holes every few inches in a grid pattern and plant a bush bean seed in each hole.  But the instructions say that it’s not designed for garden paths, and I will be walking on some areas.
  • Newspaper – Cheap and it works well if laid down several layers thick.  I was discussing the possibility with another community gardener a couple of years ago, however, and he implied that we all see each other’s gardens, and it might look unsightly.  I think his exact word was “cheesy.”  It could be hidden with a covering of shredded mulch, but I have reservations about the shredded mulch…
  • Shredded Mulch – Our community garden provides a pile of mulch that appears to be composed of tiny pieces of wood.  We are supposed to use it in the aisles between the plots, but are permitted to use it right in the gardens if we want to.  Other gardeners have said, however, that nitrogen is taken from the soil during the process of the mulch “breaking down.”  And I read that it can invite slugs under the plants.  Yuck!

I ended up using a patchwork of red plastic, brown paper and that old fragile woven cloth (in areas where I won’t walk).  And last week I returned to the Big Box Store (can you say “charge it?”) and purchased a small roll of name brand (Scott’s) woven cloth with tiny holes.  I unrolled that very sturdy cloth like a red carpet right down the middle of my garden plot and pegged it down.   Now I have more room to plant!

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About Nana's House and Garden

I am a retired baby boomer who was born and raised in New Jersey. Had a lovely, happy childhood in a surburb that was similar to what you would see in "Peanuts." Went with family EVERY YEAR to the Jersey Shore and believe me the people in that TV show..and in the Sopranos...are NOT representative of most NJ residents. Married a widower with three boys and then had two daughters. All are now grown, and I have several step-grandchildren and one biological grandson. I worked out of my home doing medical transcription while my daughters were growing up. Now that my husband is retired, I quit the part time transcription business to stay home and keep him company. One of our daughters is still living with us and we enjoy her company, also. I have started a sideline business with my college classmate. We discovered that we each had once had an elderly relative who was called "Nana" so we decided to name the business "Nana's House and Garden." We sell items on eBay that are related to home, gardening and crafts. This blog and our website "Nanashouseandgarden.com" will be companions to our eBay store. We hope they will be informative and entertaining.
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