Cover raised beds now with black plastic to reduce weeds?

Hello all. This is my first post, and I am really glad that I have found this forum. My name is Joe, and I am a relatively new vegetable gardener. I really don't bother with flowers, just fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

I live in Margate, NJ, which is on the same island as Atlantic City. Being on the island dictates small yards, so I have two small raised beds, approximately 4x8. I plan to add another bed or two this year, along with about thirty linear feet of gutter gardens for some spinach, lettuce, and strawberries.

Anyway, I was reading something the other day on the web about a person that covers their beds during the winter in order to keep the light away from the weeds. This has led to a much smaller weeding effort needed throughout the growing season. I wanted to read the entire article / blog / posting (I forget what it was), but cannot for the life of me find the website again. I did search around here, but with no luck.

Last year I had a ton of weeds by early spring, and was hoping to avoid that this year.

So, my question to all of you, is it okay to cover the beds now with heavy black plastic material in order to rob the weeds of light? I have not mulched the beds in the past, but will look to do that this year after I get my plants in the ground.

If covering the beds to rob the weeds of light is advised, can I do it right away? Currently the beds are partially covered with a bit of patchy snow, and another inch or two is expected during the week. I am worried that if I can cover the beds, and they are wet, then I will set up an environment where the black plastic will heat up the wet soil, and I could get some diseases in my beds from the humidity. Is it best to wait until they are pretty dry, or somehow set up a small vent to allow the moisture to escape?

I appreciate all insight on this question. I do plan to do some container gardening this year, and use the Larry Hall raingutter method for them. I also plan on getting some wood chips over the spring, and letting them start to break down so that they will be good to spread on the beds in the fall. Lots of ideas spinning in my head, so I see a lot of experimentation over the next year or so.

Thanks all.
I don't know about covering the weeds to block light now, as most weeds are pretty dead in the winter. I haven't used plastic myself, so I can't say. I do no-till, except for new beds, and this keeps weed seeds from being brought to the surface to sprout. I weed the beds while the weeds are small, and put on mulch as I weed each area.I find weeding relaxing and contemplative work.

Abigail, all 9 kids grown and 16 little gardeners: what a harvest!

Zone 7a, Far Rockaway, New York

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What you want to do to slow down the weed cycle is to stop seed germination. I have used both black and clear plastic on beds to solarize the soil. The idea is that the heat will kill off the seeds and stop germination of new weeds. I found plastic to be somewhat effective. But not 100%.

If you are going to solarize with plastic, the outside temps need to be warm enough to create a hot house under the plastic. Be sure all the edges are well sealed with planks of wood or large rocks, bricks, etc. There will be moisture and that shouldn't pose a problem It will look like a green house under the plastic. Eventually, the moisture will dry up from the heat.It's still early for this method to be effective. Probably better to wait a few more weeks.

Try googling *soil solarization with plastic* and *clear vs black plastic for weed control* or something like that. You will find a bunch of sites to go to for specifics.

I also have found hoeing to be effective. You can hoe between the rows while the weeds are newly sprouted and well before they flower and go to seed. It's fast and the hoed weeds can be left on the soil and turned in to add organic matter to the soil. After a couple of growing seasons, the weeds are minimal.

Also, you can mulch your beds- with leaves, grass clippings, newspaper,cardboard, etc. That should suppress weeds.

And I'm with GD- I enjoy hand weeding. It's meditative.

Welcome to the forums! And know that even those of us who have been gardening for decades are continually experimenting and learning new things. It's fun!


Zone 5/6  Northern New Mexico

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Plastic is made from non renewable resources so the use of that by organic growers should be limited. There are numerous "weeds" that do grow in the winter, chickweed, henbit, etc. that can be controlled with renewable materials such as newspaper and cardboard. Not only will those materials help control unwanted plant growth but they will also add some necessary organic matter to your soil.
You need to spend money on the plastic while the newspaper and cardboard can often be gotten for free.

The sign of a good gardener is not a green thumb, it is brown knees.

West central Michigan along the lakeshore.

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Great point Kimm. Thank you for that reminder.

Thank you all for the replies. I think that I will cover the two beds with some newspaper in a few weeks, and see what happens.
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newspapers and card board may me renewable and recyclable but they also have there drawback.
one they may attract other pests and second if they not secured corrctly they will blow all over the place and look like a mess.
for more on the faults of newspaper I suggest you read the book the $64 dollar tomato.
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Newspapers and cardboard are easily secured by covering with leaves, grass clippings, pulled/cut weeds or other mulch. If using only last fall's leaves, give the area a sprinkling of soil after applying the leaves to help hold them in place. Once they've been thoroughly soaked by rain, it takes a pretty hefty wind to blow them away.
I'm not sure what "pests" cob is speaking of but the only thing I've attracted are earthworms. They consume the newspaper and cardboard and leave behind lots of lovely, nutritious poop. Big Grin

“We’re gypsies in the palace, he’s left us here alone The order of sleepless knights will now assume the throne.”


western Kentucky, the land between the rivers

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I am not usually in agreement with cob but this time I am. I read comments on this Forum about how great cardboard and newspaper works and I believe you but it doesn't work for me. Last Fall I covered one bed with a thick layer of newspaper with straw on top. Then I covered the entire garden with cardboard with leaves on top. I poked my tomato cages into the cardboard to hold it down.

We get a lot of wind here and it blew all of the straw off of the newspaper almost immediately then the newspaper blew all over the place and I had to pick it up out of the yard. The cardboard pretty much stayed in place all winter but the edges dried and curled up. Ocassionally I had to re-stake it.

In the spring I found very little evidence of worms eating the cardboard like I had expected. I felt like my garden looked like a trash pile and I removed the cardboard and residual newspapers and threw them away.

This method must work differently for some people since I hear so many good comments about it but I am happy covering my garden with a thick layer of shredded leaves or straw and then it becomes my mulch in the spring/summer. It really keeps the weeds in check.

Of course now I am worried about persistant herbicides being contained in the straw(killer compost) so after this year I think that I will return to using just a layer of shredded leaves.

 Zone 7b  Southeastern PA

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Obviously, there are alot of natural methods for controlling weeds, and I think all of them are effective to a certain extent, if done right.

Personally, I like the soil solarization method with clear plastic, but you would have to wait until temperatures begin to come up a bit before using this method.

As was suggested above, put the plastic down over the area and seal everything up tight. The hot sun will either heat things up enough to kill the seeds or it will cause them to germinate and sprout and then will kill the plants with the intense heat. Either way, you terminate most of the weeds seeds that would have sprouted up during the growing season.

Just be careful, once you're done, not to do any major soil cultivation. Otherwise, you'll pull up weed seeds from deeper in the soil and those will germinate, putting you right back where you started. If your soil is not well aerated or needs organic matter worked in, do this PRIOR to the solarization.

Add whatever soil amendments you want to add. Till or work them in as necessary. THEN do your solarization and kill off the weeds. The dead weeds and seeds will simply be additional organic matter to the soil. You can then plant your garden following the solarization process.

And, as for the individual who was not so keen on the plastic idea because it's not a renewable resource, I know I'm new here and I'm not trying to step on any toes, but, sometimes this stuff gets carried too far.

Whatever clear plastic you use could easily be cleaned off, rolled up and used many more times for the same or other uses, especially if you buy a heavy mil plastic. It may not be "renewable", but it certainly is reusable and does away with the potential issue of newspaper and cardboard blowing all over the place. And, when it finally does start coming to pieces and can't be used again, it can easily be recycled again.
-- "A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows." - Doug Larson
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I have great results with laying down newspaper and covering with grass clippings during the growing season. Do it when you plant your crop, and you are good to go for the whole season. Or you can use just grass clippings alone when you plant. What ever method you use, do it the same week you plant.

I don't lay newspaper down in the fall to overwinter. I only use newspaper as a spring and summer tactic. I'ved used cardboard too from a refrigerator and covered a 5 by 12 bed and planted tomatos and peppers. I covered it with grass clippings. It fit snug in the raised bed.

Can't seem to find a pic of that masterpiece.

I cut circles in the cardboard. and planted, then covered with grass clippings. No weeding. Gotta water under cardbord though. Newspapers let rain through. Cardboard, well that refridgerator cardboard did not.
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When I'm starting a new bed, it's usually in the fall. I put the leaves, additional soil and dampen it all, lay the cardboard or layer of newsprint, Wet that and top it off with fresh cut grass or leaf mulch. If its moist, I leave it. If its dry I dampen it. It's ready to go in spring. I find that dampening and then the grass cuttings are moist and kind of mat into place in the sun. Winds with rain still work to hold it. But dry winds, and dry materials will blow away.
I do not use plastic either unless I have a heavily weedy problem area. I dampen and then seal it w rocks. Just keep in mind, you can sour your soil if rain and air cannot reach it. Solarizing should only be used(IMO) if you have a problem because that heat that builds up also kills all the good microbes in your soil. Worms like it cool.
I start the season by laying out a blk fabric weighed down by rocks and wood stakes. Again, air and rain go through the fabric. It's the regular landscape stuff 4'wide. It warms the soil, like the plastic will, and the darkness keeps weeds from sprouting until planting starts. Then I roll it back up on the stakes until next year.
This my 4th year with the stuff.
During growing season a bale of straw (not hay-seeds)is what I use for mulch...just because I never have enough leaf mulch. Some other gardens I'll cut out cardboard, dampen it and use cut grass. That's what's under my blue berry and raspberry bushes.
Lots of folks do different things. You'll find what works for you with practice.
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