Some of the benefits of the use of Plastic Mulches in commercial vegetable production are:
- Soiled is warmed in late winter to allow for early spring planting of crops
- Effective weed barrier and water/nutrient conserving properties
- Research proven to significantly strengthen plants and enhance crop yields
- Acts as a barrier inhibiting the release of Methyl bromide fungicide from the soil
- Drip Irrigation compatible
- Able to be responsibly recycled to become part of new products
- Different Colored Films have proven enhanced crop yield properties
Early Spring and Fall Planting
Soil temperature is affected by the use of different colored plastic mulch film. Films that are dark or clear warm the soil and allow one to plant crops earlier in the spring than normal….getting a jump on the hot, buggy part of the year. Plastic Mulch Films that are white or light colored tend to reflect the sun’s rays, helping in summer to cool the soil to enhance, allowing one to plant fall crops earlier than normal for a longer growing season.
Weed management, Soil moisture and fertilizer retention
Less water is needed for irrigation, as Plastic Mulches inhibits the evaporation of water from the soil. Plant stress is reduced under plastic mulch film as moisture is provided more evenly. When drip irrigation is utilized, leaching of fertilizers is minimized…and becomes an economic and resource conserving practice over conventional, resource wasteful ‘flood and furrow’ irrigation methods or broadcast fertilization. The combination of Plastic Mulch and Drip irrigation put the nutrient rich water sparing at the root zone of the plant for optimum utilization of water and fertilizer….a resulting win-win scenario. Additionally, annual and perennial weeds are effectively inhibited due to the fact that Plastic mulches prevent the sunlight from reaching the soil. The hole cut into the mulch for the vegetable to grow is the only spot a weed could take hold and grow.
Improved soil and crop quality and yields
With the use of Plastic Mulch film, the soil stays loose, well aerated with a higher level of microbial activity than found in normal unprotected soil beds. Weeds are held in check so there is no need for mechanical cultivation with a tractor, thus the roots off the plants are allowed to grow in soil that is not compacted or has a hard crusting over from extremes of sun and rain condition. Ripening fruit is kept off the soil with Plastic Mulch resulting in decreased fruit rot, keeping the fruit and vegetable clean for better market appeal. All there beneficial factors lend themselves to realizing an improvement in the vigor of the plant and resulting enhanced crop yield.
Here are some interesting findings for some other colored plastic mulch films….
Black Plastic mulch, the most widely used mulch among gardeners and growers, helps increase soil temperatures, reduce weeds, and retain moisture in the soil. Reduces water loss due to evaporation and aids in the even distribution of moisture, decreasing plant stress. Keeps fruits and vegetables clean and decreases ground rot. Excellent vapor barrier properties Although Black Plastic Mulch is the most prominent mulch, research has shown that other colored mulch films have better yield results for certain vegetables compared to black mulch.
Yellow Plastic mulch - film, having the ability to attract insects and being used to draw insects aware from crops so they can be killed thus minimizing the need to spray rows of the same crop planted in the vicinity.
BLUE Plastic mulch - Watermelon production increases with the use of Blue Plastic Mulch film. Research test results also show a significant increase in yield with zucchini and cucumbers. On average, zucchini and cucumber yields increased 20% over a three year period.
Red Plastic mulch - reflects intensified red light to the developing plants, which increases their photosynthetic capacity. More light is reflected early in the season when plant foliage covers less of the mulch, allowing plants to grow more quickly and yield earlier. Tomato yields have increased as much as 20% higher with SRM-Red as compared with black plastic. SRM-Red is a high quality, durable plastic that is 1.0 Mil thick and lies well over planting beds. It has season-longevity and is easily removed.
Olive Plastic Mulch - offering a hybrid between clear and black mulches. It offers more soil warming than black mulch, while controlling weed growth better than clear mulch. Clear mulch transmits all wavelengths of radiation (light) to the soil. The long wavelengths (infra-red radiation) are converted to heat under the clear film and provide more soil warming than any other mulch color. However, photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) also is transmitted and is responsible for the vigorous weed growth under clear mulch. Black mulch blocks PAR, so weeds do not grow underneath. Soil warming occurs as the black mulch absorbs solar radiation and conducts the heat into the soil, but temperatures are lower than under clear mulch.
Paper ‘Planters’ Mulch - Many growers over the years have asked for an alternative to plastic mulch because of concerns about the environment and the labor requirement for field removal. After several years of development and testing, Planters Paper mulch is now available. It comprises most of the benefits of black plastic film and has other advantages. Although it does not have the elasticity of plastic, it will hug the soil and has strength for mechanical installation.
Planters Paper is degradable. It does not have to be removed from the field at the end of the season. It contains no harmful ingredients and leaves no harmful residues in the soil. However, the paper has a tendency to prematurely degrade along the edges where it is secured with a layer of soil. Due to expansion when wet and shrinkage when dry, the paper tends to tear along the edges at the soil line. Then the paper is subject to lifting by wind. Therefore, additional soil should be added periodically to the edges to secure the paper.
When Planters Paper is used in limited quantities, the premature degradation can be reduced by the weighting the edges of paper with stones, bricks, etc. This method eliminates the soil along the edges.
Here are some additional examples of test results that further strengthen the case for the use of Plastic Mulch Films.
A 20 percent increase in marketable fruit size and yield of Peppers was realized in a 3 year study using silver mulch compared to black. White or light blue mulch produced the lowest in both size and yield of Peppers. In the Sunbelt, a similar marketable fruit yield was realized on green film as that of black.
Eggplant responds to red mulch compared to black with an average increase of marketable fruit yield of 12 percent over a 2 year period. Interestingly, a positive grow response occurred when plants were grown under temperature and water stress conditions.
Under dark blue mulch compared to black, summer squash and cucumbers had a 30 percent increase over a 3 year period.
With specific yield results for different varieties, on average a 24 percent yield increase in marketable tubers or bulbs when silver, red, metalized and black compared to no plastic mulch film.
Metalized Silver mulch showed the highest marketable tuber yields, the coolest soil temperature and the least number of Colorado potato beetle adults in trail tested Potatoes.
In conclusion…the choice is yours to decide….to mulch, or not to mulch?