How to Use Black Plastic to Kill Weeds and Grass

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Clearing land for new garden space can be truly back-breaking work. Use these tips for how to use the power of sunlight and black plastic to kill weeds instead. The method uses no chemical sprays, is easy to do, and keeps the soil structure intact. Once the plastic has had time to work and peeled back, you’re left with a clean slate of cleared land that you can begin growing on immediately. It’s an eco-friendly way to clear land without having to use herbicides.

Black plastic can kill weeds to clear land for an organic garden. Temporary sheet-mulching is an eco-friendly way to create a clean patch of soil without having to use herbicides #gardeningtips #organicgarden

Once you decide that you’re going to start a new garden or garden bed, the questions begin. The big one is usually around figuring out the best way to convert a lawn into a productive garden. It’s clear that you can’t plant directly into it since grass will outcompete crops. The soil probably also needs amending with organic matter, and to do that, all the vegetation must be removed. One way or another, you’re going to need to clear the land of everything currently growing on it. Instead of hacking away at turf or double-digging, the way that I recommend doing it is to use black plastic to kill weeds. It’s far easier and more effective than the alternative.

This is exactly how I created parts of my last two vegetable gardens and two large flower borders. Doing it this way saved me an incredible amount of time and energy! Using black plastic is the main way I recommend clearing land without using herbicides since it’s easy and suitable for organic gardening. The before and after photos below show how I covered an entire area and then gradually peeled the plastic back. Bit by bit, I transformed a weedy plot of land into a beautiful and productive veggie patch.

How to clear land for a new garden by using black plastic. Applied as a temporary sheet mulch, black plastic kills weeds and helps prepare the soil without the need for digging or harmful chemicals #gardeningtips #organicgarden
Black plastic sheeting cleared this plot of weeds and grass. It made creating a new vegetable garden easy and eco-friendly.

Traditional Methods for Clearing Land

In the past, most people would go about clearing land by lifting the turf from the soil, double-digging, or tilling it. The first method is labor intensive and involves cutting squares of turf, lifting each piece off, and stacking them somewhere to break down. Unfortunately, that also means that the nutrients that are in that sod are taken off too. Double-digging means digging the soil to around three feet and burying the sod and weeds at the bottom.

A bank that has been cleared of grass and weeds using black plastic. The plastic is partially pulled back.
We covered this bank for almost a year to kill the tough weeds underneath.

Tilling with a cultivator as farmers do, or with a rototiller, is another traditional way to clear land. While it can be quick and effective, it has drawbacks. Weed seeds long buried under the soil surface are brought up where they can grow. The roots of pernicious weeds, like dock and bindweed, can also be chopped up. Each piece has the potential to regrow into a new plant, which could mean a challenging weed problem in the future.

A green and blooming wildflower planting with a blue sky behind. The planting is a long sloped bank with a wooden sleeper wall in front.
After further work, I seeded the bank with wildflower seeds.

I’ve seen this happen to an allotment garden before. It was a bare field, to begin with, and instead of temporarily sheet mulching it with plastic, as I explain further below, they had it plowed. Though the soil was at first bare, it didn’t stay like that for long. Within weeks, the entire area regrew into a solid mass of dock weed, and the problem was so big that the land was later abandoned.

Pulling back black plastic to reveal completely cleared land.
This year, I covered this grassy area with black plastic for three months.

Another drawback of tilling is that it breaks up the soil structure, which can have repercussions on how moisture-retentive and alive the soil is afterward. That’s because plowing destroys soil health and the fungi network that plants need to grow to their full potential. There’s an entire soil microcosm beneath our feet that most people aren’t aware of!

Small pumpkin plants planted into a bare bed on the left. On the right, the same plants much bigger and greener and mulched with compost.
I then planted eight pumpkin plants in it and mulched the bed with compost.

Sheet Mulching to Start a New Garden

When I started my very first garden, I double-dug it. It was extremely hard work, and when I look back, I shake my head at myself. I’d not heard of no-dig gardening back then and was only following advice I’d learned from more experienced gardeners. I now practice no-dig, which means I don’t turn over the soil when I start a new bed or turn the soil at any other time of the year. Instead, I spread compost over the soil and call it a day. My over 200,000 YouTube subscribers can vouch for me that it works!

A jungle-like pumpkin patch made up of hundreds of green leaves.
Two months after mulching the area with compost and planting pumpkins.

Using black plastic to kill weeds is often the first step in creating a new no-dig garden. However, it’s an excellent method for clearing land, no matter what type of garden you plan on building. A traditionally dug garden, raised beds, or a no-dig garden. What it involves is cutting the grass and weeds down as best you can. Then you cover the area with thick, dark plastic sheeting, weigh it down, and allow it to suppress growth and eventually kill everything that was growing underneath it. Even perennial weeds. This technique, a temporary form of sheet mulching, works through light exclusion and soil polarization. The thickness of the plastic makes it dark, and plastic traps heat and creates a kind of greenhouse effect underneath.

A hard-shelled polytunnel behind a sloped bank covered in black plastic.
The plastic here is held down with bricks and large quartz stones.

The Type of Black Plastic to Use

It’s really easy to clear land using black plastic, and I’m going to lay it out for you below. Before you begin, you will need heavy-duty black plastic sheeting large enough to cover the area completely. It can be all one piece or layered in a way so that plants cannot grow through. This polythene plastic is thicker than garbage bags and is sometimes called Visqueen. It’s so thick that light cannot pass through it and won’t rip very easily, either. Typically, the black plastic you use to clear land should be at least a 1000 g gauge, so it’s pretty thick.

A new wildflower planting made up mainly of young green plants. A section in the middle is blooming with toadflax.
The same area once I’d planted and sown it with wildflowers.

Though I say black plastic, I’m referring to the usual color of Visqueen. I’ve seen it in other colors, including light blue, which will work as long as light cannot get through it. That’s because plants need light for photosynthesis; if it’s excluded, they die. That’s what you’re aiming for! If you use plastic sheeting that allows light through, then the plants underneath will not die. That’s the case with using standard blue plastic tarps or clear plastic. If the plastic is too thin, then some plants can push through it, and the plastic can rip and degrade in the elements.

A full allotment garden covered in black plastic with one corner peeled back and work started in preparing a tilth.
I covered a new garden with black plastic and peeled it back, bit by bit.

How to Use Black Plastic to Kill Weeds

Mow the area so that the weeds and plants are low to the ground. You can leave the grass and weeds in place as long as there are no seedheads or flowers, like dandelions. Remove any visible perennial weeds that you can spot by pulling them up or individually digging. Next, apply a 2-3″ layer of organic compost if at all possible. This is optional but will help you grow a catch crop while the plastic is working. It will also create land ready for immediate planting.

A green and neat herb and vegetable garden.
Later that summer, the garden is finished and productive!

On a calm day, lay heavy-duty black polythene plastic flat on the ground where you’d like to kill off weeds and vegetation. If you need to use multiple pieces, overlap them by at least six inches. When you’re happy with the positioning, weigh or peg the plastic down around the edges and in the middle. Wind can blow it up and away if it’s not secured, and I’ve seen it go whipping fifty feet in the sky before! If the area is large, pop fine holes in the plastic to allow air and moisture through. I wouldn’t do this for smaller areas that are less than four feet wide. It helps preserve soil moisture if you cover larger areas, though.

Black plastic can kill weeds to clear land for an organic garden. Temporary sheet-mulching is an eco-friendly way to create a clean patch of soil without having to use herbicides #gardeningtips #organicgarden
Covering the ground with black plastic will kill plants growing underneath.

How Long to Leave the Plastic On For

Once the plastic is down, all you need to do is leave it to do its work. Heavy-duty plastic kills weeds and other plants underneath by excluding light, excluding at least some water, reducing vertical space for plants to grow, and cooking the soil underneath in the hottest months. The time it takes for this to work is different based on the time of year, the types of garden weeds you’re trying to kill off, and the temperature.

Black plastic can kill weeds to clear land for an organic garden. Temporary sheet-mulching is an eco-friendly way to create a clean patch of soil without having to use herbicides #gardeningtips #organicgarden
After a couple of months of being covered, this area is nearly completely free of grass and weeds.

Annual weeds and grass die off relatively quickly, but tougher weeds need more time. As a general rule, leave the black plastic on for two to three months in summer. During that time, the sun’s radiant energy will cook the plants underneath, raising soil temperatures and potentially killing weed seeds on the surface.

How to clear land for a new garden by using black plastic. Applied as a temporary sheet mulch, black plastic kills weeds and helps prepare the soil without the need for digging or harmful chemicals #gardeningtips #organicgarden
Only the hardiest of perennial weeds can survive months under black plastic.

If the weather is mild, wet, or cold, leave the plastic on for six to twelve months. That’s because if plants are dormant or the sun isn’t as hot, then the plastic needs more time to work. You’ll probably also need to leave the plastic on for this long if you’re dealing with stubborn and persistent weeds like many perennials are. They hang on almost admirably but eventually will succumb to the hostile environment under the sheeting.

Black plastic can kill weeds to clear land for an organic garden. Temporary sheet-mulching is an eco-friendly way to create a clean patch of soil without having to use herbicides #gardeningtips #organicgarden
The beds, after digging up the last perennial weeds

Grow Crops Through the Plastic

While you can cover the land with black plastic and leave it, you can also get a crop while it’s doing its work. This is a common tactic for new no-dig beds, and you can make X-shaped slits in the plastic and plant resilient annual crops like pumpkins, squash, and potatoes through. There may be some weed growth through the slits, but the big leaves of squash and potatoes can help stifle them by blocking sunlight.

View over a Charles Dowding's productive vegetable garden.
Squash and corn growing through black plastic in Charles Dowding’s garden.

Because there will be quite a lot of pests under the plastic, choose types that won’t be as affected by slugs or cutworms. Just make sure that you put a good layer of compost on top of the land before setting the plastic over it. Without compost, any crops you grow in the area will likely be unhappy and unproductive. Crops can also help disguise the look of plastic sheeting in your garden.

Rows of black plastic covered mounds with irrigation hoses visible.
A commercial farm at the end of the season. They grow crops directly through black plastic.

What to do After Lifting the Plastic

Though there are cases when commercial farms use black plastic long-term, the goal in a typical garden is to remove it as soon as possible. However, the time it takes for your land to be cleared by black plastic is going to be different every time. Just have a peek every now and again by lifting up the edge. You can lift the plastic and proceed to the next steps when you can see that the land underneath is bare or the plants are all dead. If you’re only planning on using part of the land to grow on initially, peel back just that section. Leave the plastic on the rest until you’re ready to work it.

How to clear land for a new garden by using black plastic. Applied as a temporary sheet mulch, black plastic kills weeds and helps prepare the soil without the need for digging or harmful chemicals #gardeningtips #organicgarden
Plastic was laid down to clear two different areas.

Take the time now to remove pests like slugs and dig up perennial weeds. Any perennial weeds that are left will look white and spindly since they’ve not seen light in a while. It makes them easy to spot and dig up. You might also spot dead plants on the soil surface – desiccated or slimy plant material. If you’re sure it’s dead, you can leave it there.

A hand pulls back tufts of dead grass to reveal bare soil.
You’ll find mats of dead grass underneath black plastic if it wasn’t cut short at the beginning of the process.

If you cover a large area with plastic sheeting, you may also have very dry soil once you lift it. This can happen, but usually, only the top layers of soil are dry. It will recover once it’s been wetted by rain and flooded with nutrients from compost. It may seem dead, but life is there, just waiting to make a comeback.

After removing the last living weeds, the land is ready to work with. For a no-dig bed, spread a thick (3-6″) layer of compost on the ground and plant seedlings directly into it. Even though you’ve not dug the soil underneath, the plant roots and worms will cultivate it for you. The thick layer of compost also suppresses weed seed germination by excluding light.

A black plastic lined pond being filled.
Use plastic to line a new pond.

Cons of Using Black Plastic to Kill Weeds

Using black plastic to kill weeds is, in my opinion, an easy and organic way to clear land. You can save on physical exertion, avoid using chemical agents, and wait for the power of solar energy and time to do the work for you. In the end, the plastic can also be folded up and used in the same manner many times over. It could also be used for other things if it’s not perforated. For example, you could use it to line a garden pond or cover outdoor furniture in winter. We also reuse black plastic when we get deliveries of compost or wood chips. It protects the surface underneath and makes cleaning up a breeze.

A pile of compost on top of a black plastic sheet. A view of the garden is behind.
Dump compost deliveries on plastic sheets instead of directly on the ground. It helps keep the ground clean.

The only real downside that I can think of is that it isn’t the most attractive. You could disguise the plasticky surface with wood chips, bark, or gravel if you wanted, though. If you want a more permanent weed barrier, don’t use plastic. Use durable landscaping fabric instead since it allows moisture through and isn’t slippery. I nearly broke a bone slipping on black plastic covered in wood chips before! It could also be a hazard if you’re walking on it with snow cover on top.

A black plastic sheet covers a single garden bed about five feet wide and six eight feet long.
Black plastic is used here to keep the bed clear of weeds and to warm the soil in preparation for spring planting.

Sometimes, plastic sheeting can dry the soil out, as I’ve already mentioned. I’ve only ever found this to be the case when very large sheets of plastic were used, though. There is some criticism of the method because of it, but dry soil is only a temporary repercussion of clearing land using black plastic. Soil life, such as worms and microorganisms, retreats to where the soil is moist and more hospitable. Once the plastic is removed and the soil becomes moist again, they’ll move back, though.

How to clear land for a new garden by using black plastic. Applied as a temporary sheet mulch, black plastic kills weeds and helps prepare the soil without the need for digging or harmful chemicals #gardeningtips #organicgarden

From Weedy Land to Productive Garden

Over the years, I’ve used black plastic to kill weeds perhaps dozens of times now. I’ve covered large areas to create a brand-new allotment garden from scratch and small 4×6′ vegetable beds for temporary weed control to warm the soil early in spring. I’ve even covered two long and steep banks at my home with black plastic to clear it for wildflower borders. The method is easy, and it works, so it’s one that I’ll always return to to clear land in the future.

Clearing weeds the organic way: How to use black plastic sheeting to kill weeds. Polythene is a reusable plastic material that you can lay on the ground to clear it of weeds and grass. It makes converting land into gardening space both easy and eco-friendly. No herbicides needed #lovelygreens #vegetablegardening #gardeningtips

How to kill weeds with black plastic

Tanya Anderson
Using temporary black plastic sheet mulch to kill weeds, clear land, and help create a productive vegetable garden. This is a technique used to create organic, no-dig vegetable gardens.
4.75 from 4 votes
Author Tanya Anderson
Cost $20




  • First, clear the area that you'd like to turn into a vegetable bed or entire vegetable garden. Cut the grass short, and dig up any shrubs or perennial weeds.
  • It's best to next lay two to three inches of organic compost on the ground. You can also spread the grass clippings, leaves, and any other finely chopped organic material. If you don't lay this layer, the ground will be bare soil when the process is finished and will need more work.
  • Spread the black plastic sheeting over the entire area you wish cleared. A second person helping will make this step easier, and avoid laying the plastic on a windy day.
  • Weigh the plastic down at all four corners, along the edges, and throughout the center. Ensure that wind is not going to pick the plastic up and send it sailing to the next county.
  • If you'd like to increase the amount of air and moisture reaching the soil beneath, pop small holes in the plastic with a pitchfork/garden fork. Doing this can help the soil biota beneath.
  • Leave the plastic in place for however long it takes to kill the grass and weeds underneath. In the summer it may only take two to three months, in the winter it can take double that. If you have a lot of tough weeds underneath, it may take up to a year.
  • Peel the plastic back, either all at once or a part at a time, to begin growing in your new growing space. If you've laid compost down first, the ground will be tilled by worms and soil bacteria and ready for planting.
  • Watch the video below to see how to use heavy-duty black plastic to kill weeds, alongside two other types of sheet mulch. Shows further before and after shots.


YouTube video


If you’d like to clear land the organic way, this is the easiest way to go and the first step to how to start a new vegetable garden 
Tried this project?Let us know how it was!

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  1. Hi! Can I use this method after the fall harvest? I just started a vegetable garden this spring and it was back breaking to remove the sod. Some random weeds and previously planted wildflowers are still coming through. Not terrible, but if I can make it easier to manage for next spring, I would definitely make the effort to cover the area for the winter months. Thank you

    1. Absolutely! You can lay black plastic on the ground at any time of year to clear weeds. However, you’ll find that the biggest challenge will be all of the weed seeds already existing in your soil. Each time the soil is dug over, more will be brought to the surface, too. Avoid weed seeds germinating by mulching the soil with a material of your choice and that’s good for your climate. I use garden compost as mulch here but in drier regions straw works a treat too.

  2. 5 stars
    I have read MANY articles about ways to kill large areas of grass since I am completely eliminating my medium-to-large back & side lawns. I’m pretty sure I’m going with the plastic method, but none of the articles discussed one of my big concerns. About a third of the lawn I want to kill is under 3 maple trees. Is it safe to leave black plastic covering the root system of these trees? I’m assuming the roots are deep enough so that the extra heat (doing this in March, April & May) won’t be an issue. If I water heavily before applying, I also assume that the trees won’t die of thirst. I also assume that light isn’t an issue for the underground root system. What do you think? Is it safe to leave black plastic (6 mil) over the roots of maple trees for 3 months in the spring?

    1. Hi Kevin, I probably wouldn’t do this because many tree roots are much shallower than you’d think! Instead of using black plastic, I’d probably cut the grass/weeds as short as possible, cover it with one to two layers of cardboard, and then put a water-permeable weed membrane on top. That way, water still gets through, but there’s still good light exclusion.

  3. Hello,
    We have some very invasive plants like oriental bittersweet, burning bush, and japanese knotweed. Do you have any experience use black plastic to combat these invasive plants. Thank you. Great Blog

    1. Hi Dawn, I use this method mainly for grass and typical garden weeds like nettles and dock. I think that the plants you mention would be knocked back some but that the plastic wouldn’t kill them. The knotweed would go right up through the plastic even! You’ll need to investigate other methods for these guys, I think.

  4. Great post. I am in Zone 7b in New Jersey, US – we have an unruly patch of weeds by a creek in our yard. It is now late September and I was planning to mow it down and put down cardboard and a thick layer of mulch in the hopes of inhibiting the weeds for next Spring/Summer – others have suggested waiting until late Winter to do this. Do you have any thoughts on optimal timing? I’d prefer to use cardboard but we could conceivably do black plastic instead.

    1. Hi Cassie, in winter most plants go dormant and would be relatively unaffected by mulching and covering with organic materials such as cardboard. By spring, you’ll find plants growing right through since winter elements will have broken down the cardboard in places. Some gardeners, especially in the far north, cover their plants (such as strawberries) with mulch to protect them from dying over the winter. You might be protecting your weeds, by doing the same :)
      If you wanted to use this method, you should wait until the plants are growing again and keep on top of stacking more mulch and cardboard on top. It’s easier to just mow everything down, leave the plant waste where it lies and cover it with black plastic. You can do this at any time of the year but in winter it takes longer to kill the plants off underneath (because of plant dormancy).

  5. I was wondering if this method will kill wild violets?

  6. Michele Bleichert says:

    We bought our house during the winter. When spring arrived and the snow melted and things started to grow it quickly became evident that the previous owner of the house could/did not properly care for the yard. Most of it we could deal with but Lily of the Valley basically took over the entire front yard and beds. We’ve removed all plants from the front beds except for three. An azalea, a Japanese maple, and a burning bush. We plan to use the black plastic mulch method to kill off the Lily of the Valley that covers the front yard (sorry neighbors!) as well as in the beds. Can we get the plastic in tight around the base of the three remaining plants to kill the lilies or would that harm the roots of those plants? I worry if we don’t get in really tight it’ll be an exercise in futility since the beds have so many lilies.

    1. Black plastic left over the ground kills weeds but it also stops rainwater from penetrating the soil. Keep that in mind when using it around plants that you want to survive since they could die of thirst.

  7. We are going to try this to get rid of a mangy weed ridden lawn and are not willing to spray toxins to get rid of the weeds!
    All you have to do is after all the weeds die off is to reapply the biology to the soil to inoculate it with healthy microbes and bugs to get things going again!

  8. Andrew A Hayes says:

    4 stars
    I used the black visqueen to cover my veg garden for about 4 months to kill weeds but when I planted it with onions beetroot and potatoes nothing grew and I usualy get a bumper harvest, I have read that the black plastic sends the soil sour and judging by last years results I believe it I have just covered the earth with 2″ of well rotted horse manure 25 bags of it, in the hope this will solve my problem, someone said to lime the soil but I am reluctant to do this hoping the manure will suffice.
    What is your opinion on this?

    1. Hi Andrew, I’ve found that the soil can sometimes get dry but no other effect. Certainly not a change in pH. Also, manure will make the soil a bit more acidic and lime makes soil more alkaline (sweetens). If you add them together they’ll have little effect on the pH. Honestly, though, most gardeners (including myself) don’t worry about pH too much. Add compost and manure regularly and the soil will take care of itself. As for clearing land with black plastic, we’ve been using this method at the allotment for over ten years and even prestigious organic gardeners such as Charles Dowding uses it to create new beds. It’s tried and tested.

  9. Susan Smith says:

    Previous owners planted a hypericum hedge which I have trimmed to the ground. If I cover this with black plastic will it eventually kill it?

    1. Hi Susan, and yes, it will eventually kill it. You’ll probably need to leave it on for a full summer though. If you have access to wood chip, you could cover the plastic temporarily with it so that it’s not an eyesore.

  10. How long does it take for the weeds or lawn to dies under the plastic and how warm does it have to be? I live in area where we have snow for several months.
    Besides Amazon, where else can you get this plastic? I don’t like how they treat their employees, or dispose of returns into landfills and feel this goes along with being environmentally responsible.

    1. It depends on the time of the year and the plants under the plastic. I’m sure you can find the same material elsewhere if you look around.

    2. Andrew A Hayes says:

      Black visqueen from a builders yard is what I used and its much better quality than the stuff from Amazon

  11. We are considering using the black plastic method to clean up parts of our yard that have become overgown with weeds and also make a bigger garden in the back yard. Will the plastic still be effective in killing the weeds/grass if we cover it with mulch? I’m not sure if my neighbors will want to see huge sheets of plastic in our front yard :-D

    1. Yes, it will still work but you should remove the plastic as soon as you can. Leaving it on the ground permanently will starve the soil below of water and air. Also, do not walk on the mulched over plastic since you will slip on it. I’ve done this before when I had plastic covered with a bit of wood chip. Could have really hurt myself with that fall!

  12. Donna K Kreiensieck says:

    5 stars
    Greetings, I am trying to kill quack grass using heavy black tarps. The grass propagates through roots and seeds. I have had the tarp down over the winter, approximately 6 months. My husband built 4’x4′ raised beds that are 18″ tall. I really don’t want any quack grass in my beds and am considering leaving the heavy tarp under the beds. What do you think?
    I could also put down layers of cardboard under the beds, but I really don’t want any quack grass growing up into the beds. Thanks.

    1. Hi Donna, and I’d have a look under the tarp. If you see any quack grass (called couch grass in the UK, Elymus repens) then you should consider leaving the plastic on longer. Also, blue or light-colored tarps can still allow light through and enable the plants to live. That’s why black is always a good idea for both light exclusion and solarizing the ground. As for leaving it in your beds, it’s an option, but a water-permeable membrane would be much better if you opted to go down this route. Five or six layers of cardboard would probably be better though! It will break down over time and allow your plants to tap into the soil and nutrients under your beds. Good luck!

  13. Miranda Wolf says:

    Hello! I am in the process of renovating a home in Los Angeles, and the next big project is the landscaping in the front and back yards. When we purchased the house it was completely overrun with a variety of different mature weeds including crabgrass, dandelions and other invasive weeds. At the recommendation of a landscaper we are using the black plastic technique to get rid of the weeds and start completely from fresh. Another landscaper we consulted with mentioned that the crabgrass is unlikely to be killed off by the sheet mulching, and there does appear to still be weeds growing in some areas underneath the plastic.

    Do you have any advice for how to move forward? We will be replanting with a variety of different things including a native plant garden, sod and fruit trees. Should we be concerned about seeds? Should we still plan on removing a few inches of soil prior to planting?

    Thank you!!

    1. Hi Miranda and thanks for stopping by. Crab grass is not something that I deal with in my climate but it’s common enough in California! It’s a group of grasses that grow, set seed, and then die. The seeds carry on the cycle the next year. To clear it completely means both clearing the mature grasses (for example, by using black plastic to kill weeds) and by making sure that the seeds don’t sprout next year. In areas where you’re planning on grass (if you are), it’s probably best to lay cut turf over the seeds. It will smother them and they won’t grow through. In areas you’re using for borders and edible landscaping I’d advise that you begin using the no dig gardening method. It stifles weeds since you bury them with mulch and never give them the chance to sprout. Here’s a good book to get you started.

    2. Missing the natural beauty says:

      Please think about how terrible black plastic looks for the neighbors when you consider using this method. My husband and I have been looking at a sea of black plastic out our living room picture window for almost a full year. We use to have a lovely view. We have planted cypress trees in hopes they will grow quickly to block the unsightly view!

  14. Elise Balint says:

    Hi – I have a perennial bed that is in a losing a battle with mugwort. I think I have to sacrifice everything and start again. I will try the black plastic method but can you tell me if it definitely works with mugwort – specifically will it kill the rhizomes?

      1. Jacqueline Bennett says:

        I am trying to kill some grass but have used the black fabric which gardeners use to prevent weeds.

        1. It’s not opaque or resilient enough for the job in my opinion. It still allows some light through and any place that it rips or that there’s a seam you’ll find plants growing right through.

  15. Melissa Crittenden says:

    5 stars
    Can you please tell me what type/size wood you have used for your beds?

    1. I have a piece sharing how I built my raised beds in the home garden here but the wood I used in the allotment is different. It’s really whatever I could get on the cheap from our local saw-mill and isn’t consistent in size or shape. It’s all rough-cut and untreated soft-wood though.

  16. Hi. I am tired of digging up weeds so was looking into alternative ways to deal with them and was reading about the black plastic. One of the sites where I read about this said laying plastic down wasn’t the best idea because the chemicals from the plastic leached into the soil. Makes sense but is this really something that happens?

    1. Using polythene sheeting in the garden is perfectly safe. Though polythene could potentially (although very unlikely) leach Bisphenol A in the soil, it has a half-life of less than a day and is not a concern.

  17. When you use clear plastic to kill weeds you’re supposed to soak the area with a hose pipe before covering. Do you do the same with black plastic? Or do you just lay it straight down? Thanks

    1. Weeds will continue to grow under clear plastic so you really need dark plastic to kill weeds. And no, you do not need to soak the ground beforehand.

  18. I’m a novice gardener and learning so much this year. Very expensive education, I might add… I read your blog article and wondered if using billboard vinyl might work? Some companies throw this used vinyl away so I might be able to get some for free. If I put compost down in late fall and covered it with billboard vinyl until spring, do you think that might work? Or would it breed fungus into the soil? Thanks!

    1. I’ve never worked with that material so am unsure about whether it would be suitable or not. For example, the inks used might not be food-safe and the material might break down in strange ways. I’d experiment with a small strip but not cover an entire garden with it at first.

  19. Thanks so much for this post. I’ve just started paying attention to the lawn in front of my rental, and it is absolutely covered in all kinds of weeds, including the incredibly invasive Buckthorn! I think smothering everything is the best bet, but I’m wondering if there is a way to save the beautiful peonies that are managing to flourish in spite of all the weeds. Can I cover the ground around the peonies, or would that defeat the point? There are also a couple of bushes in the space, and I’m wondering if I can cover the ground around them, or they also need to be cut down to stumps and covered. Thanks!

    1. You can of course cover the ground around the peonies. If you’re using this technique in your front garden, I’d advise that you pretty it up so that everyone in the neighborhood is happy. Covering it in wood chips (you can often get it free from tree surgeons) will hold it down and look nicer.

  20. Hiya,

    I wanted to ask about using cardboard (and white cotton-like fabric) instead of black plastic – as well as using dead weeds as the organic layer under cardboard.

    Short version of my situation – I’m laying down sheets over very large areas of what used to be flower beds but ended up being dominated by various weeds and bramble (now all dug up). I accidentally left some weeds in a large plastic bag for weeks and it’s turned into a mess and oozing black liquid. I wondered if I could use this as the organic layer UNDER cardboard (with compost on top). The flower beds are also full of dead wooden bramble shoots and twigs – can I leave this under the cardboard or do I need to clear it? How much is too much?

    1. The white fabric you’re referring to is called fleece. You can use cardboard to suppress weeds but it will degrade very quickly thanks to weather and worms. Fleece won’t do the job because weeds will happily grow under it. It’s best to use heavy-duty plastic. As for the decomposed weeds — I’d dilute the liquid in water use it as a plant feed. Put the rest on the compost pile.

  21. It’s March right now. Is it too late to kill all the weeds and grass by this spring for a garden? Thanks!

    1. It’s probably too late for a spring garden, but you could lay it and have the ground clear for summer plantings.

  22. Thank you so much!! Was looking for information just like this for my gardening project.

  23. Will the plastic need to be one continuous piece (not allowing any water through whatsoever), or can I roll out three or four strips (overlapping one another by a foot or two) of 10’x30’ plastic sheeting to cover my 30’x30’ plot?

    1. Overlapping is fine BUT they have a tendency to get ripped up by the wind a lot easier. Use a lot more weights at all seams and you should be fine though.

      1. In a garden covered with black plastic and compost how to does the water get through to water the plants when they’re planted in the plastic. I see flower beds with compost and plastic peeking through planted with flowers, but I don’t know understand how the water gets to water the plants.

        1. The flower beds you’re referring to are likely planted over landscaping fabric. It’s a fabric or plastic mesh that’s permeable to water. This piece is not about using that type of material but a solid plastic sheet to exclude light and kill all plants underneath.

  24. Tigerlily says:

    Hi, was just wondering how you recommend disposing of the plastic afterwards? I’m a little reluctant to buy new plastic. Thanks!

    1. We don’t dispose of it — it folds up easily and can be used again on new ground. You can use it yourself or pass it on (or sell) to another gardener.

  25. Mike Price says:

    Thanks for the info on killing of weeds with plastic sheeting. Sadly, my backyard has been completely overrun with buttercup. I’d like to try this method, but I’m wondering if there are any issues with the nearly constant winter rains (and sometimes snow) we get here in Seattle. Did you have any problems with water building up on the surface? Also, are there any additional hints for making sure I totally remove any parts of the buttercup that might allow it to get re-established?

    1. The ground underneath tends to stay dry and unless there’s dips in the surface, I don’t see water build up being an issues. As for re-establishment, make sure you cover all the buttercups and you’ll be good. If they’re invading from a neighbor’s land, then you might want to consider some sort of barrier.

  26. Lene Skovsted says:

    Using several layers (6+) of newspaper with some mulch over them is a more environmentally acceptable solution. They break down and the earthworms love newspaper.

  27. I have heard that black plastic is bad for the environment and that it can seep lead and bromine into the earth. Does anyone know anything about this?


    1. The plastic that this thought refers to is the type used to make bin liners (garbage bags) and black plastic for electronics. Polythene sheeting is safe for the garden.

  28. Wow. Your garden looks stunning!
    I´ve been thinking about going for the black plastic for a while but couldn´t decide because of course petrol is used in the making of it. However, comparing the life of the heavy duty black plastic versus the tractor that plows the field, or even the energy of your own back relentlessly digging out weeds, the plastic is a nice solution.
    It should hopefully last for years to come, too.

  29. If I cover it now (I bought 0.40 acres in Arkansas), will I be able to catch a growing season next year? Maybe I’ll cover half the fields, farm the other half (and weed out with tools), then in late summer/fall farm the other covered parcel?

    1. Yes. Get it covered now and better yet, mow, cover with manure, then cover. If you do that, you’ll have ready made beds in time for late spring planting.

  30. Here in the US, we are in the last month of summer. The soil is moist. If I cover the soil now with thick black plastic and leave it the entire winter, do you think the weeds will die?


    1. Absolutely. It takes longer for plants to die under plastic in the winter but a good few months will do it.

  31. Where can I get the black plastic from to kill weeds

    1. There are some links in the piece that will direct you to where you can purchase it on Amazon.

  32. Joie Parris says:

    Hi, I have bindweed in one of the beds I’m doing this with. We haven’t lived here long so we didn’t know we had bindweed in there before we filled the bed with strawberries and soft fruit bushes :( We’re now moving all the fruit into pots so we can deal with the weeds, but is bindweed one of the things that will survive black plastic? Will we still need to dig it out as well? Thanks

      1. When you say all plants, do you also mean it could keep nandena from growing back?! We usually just run over it with the lawn mower to keep it down. Poison only works on fresh cut branches. Nothing kills the roots, they just keep spreading.

        1. Heavy duty black plastic will kill most shallow-rooted weeds — both annuals and perennials. Nandena is an evergreen with a deep taproot so will probably need digging up.

    1. I’m in Northern California – Hot Mediterranean, Zone 9B (actually just below the Carr Fire going on right now). We did some earth moving and cover cropped the area we are looking to occulate. All of the cover crop has died back and its basically the dried oats that are still standing – which we plan to weed-eat down before occulation. We will likely have no rain until October. Do you recommend wetting the area down before applying plastic (after we chop the dry grass down)? Thanks! ~Heather

      1. Hi Heather, if you’re not planning on growing anything in the soil until spring then I’d wait until the soil is moist before covering it. The reason being that covering dry land and dry vegetation will most likely leave you with dry soil and mummified weeds when you lift it back up. In warmer climates it only takes about three weeks for everything under the plastic to die off and be pulled back under the soil by worms. Without that moisture, worms won’t find the soil underneath very hospitable.

  33. What mil do you purchase to kill weeds 1 mil, 2 mil, 3 mil

  34. This is great information thanks for sharing! Have a couple of weedy areas in my garden that I’ve just covered over so hopefully in a few weeks I’ll have gotten them all.

  35. An excellent post. You’ve explained the technique and your use of it very clearly. I live in NZ and have seen a variety of endemic flatworms (there are thought to be more than 100 species) but didn’t know what they were and have let them be. The one you describe is probably Arthurdendyus triangulatus (Artioposthia triangulata). Judging by the number of earthworms in my garden it’s not living in this area. If you destroy them, make sure you don’t leave any bits behind because they can regenerate any parts they lose. Nasty pests, not to be taken lightly, it seems.

    1. It’s actually the Arthurdendyus triangularus that we suffer from — horrible things. Glad you don’t suffer from any earthworm loss even in NZ. I often wonder if it’s a different species of worm(s) you have down there and if that’s why they’re not affected.

      1. Dennis Scouler says:

        The black plastic, I’ve tried all over to get some but being quoted stupid prices can you point me in the right