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The new high-tech mulches that keep weeds down.

The new high-tech mulches that keep weeds down

It probably started with somebody mulchingaround a tomato plant with newspapers, but now it's gone further. In addition to factory-made paper mulches, there are woven, nonwoven, and perforated plastics that let air and water in but block light.

You use them all as you would blackplastic--to stop weeds from growing between rows of vegetables or flowers and around shrubs or fruit trees. (Avoid walking or kneeling on uncovered mulches.)

Do they work? We gave several kinds ayear's test on good soil, alternating them with bare earth and using clear plastic as a control. The edges were covered with earth to keep them from blowing away.

After a year, the clear plastic control wasshredded; weeds were growing through it and under it. But all the others lasted the season; some were good enough to reuse when the test was over.

Nonwoven polyester or nonwoven polypropylene.At 6 to 10 cents per square foot, these allow good air and water penetration and can be cut with scissors. Both kinds are sold in UV-resistant and unresistant formulas. Buy the resistant kind if you plan to expose the mulch to sun.

The UV-resistant fabric in our test wasreusable after a year in the garden.

Paper mulch. This thick, dark materialholds weeds down for a season (ours lasted a year with no weed penetration), then can be tilled into the soil, where it rots into nothing. Cost is around 9 cents per square foot.

Perforated plastic. Sheets are 2 or 3 milsthick, with small holes every inch or so. The kind costing 3 to 5 cents per square foot doesn't block ultraviolet rays; it lasts only a season unless you cover it with soil or gravel. In our test, this kind cracked and weeds came through some holes after several months. But other perforated plastics at up to 12 cents per square foot resist UV damage, last several seasons.

The perforations allow some water to passthrough, but most runs off.

Woven plastic. At about 12 cents persquare foot, this product allows better air and water penetration. In our test, it did a pretty good job controlling weeds--some grasses got through--but it raveled when cut with scissors (the solution is pictured at right). After nine months, it still looked like new; at test's end it was reusable.

Where to get them

Nurseries, garden centers, and hardwarestores handle perforated and nonwoven fabrics. Raintree Nursery, 391 Butts Rd., Morton, Wash. 98356 (free catalog), sells woven plastic mulches. W. Atlee Burpee Co., Warminster, Pa. 18974 (free catalog), and Actagrow, 4111 N. Motel Dr., Suite 101, Fresno, Calif. 93722 (information, price list), sell paper mulch.

Photo: Tucking in the edges of woven plastic mulch with asquare-point shovel will keep wind from lifting it later

Photo: In January 1985, we set up the test: clear plastic(the control), three plastics, and a paper mulch

Photo: In January 1986, virtually all the weeds that showare growing in bare earth between the mulches

Photo: Soldering iron seals edges as it cutswoven plastic. Slash (by his hand) leading to circular center cut allows fabric to fit around tree trunk
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:May 1, 1987
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