Lining my square foot beds with landscape plastic

mirbysmommy(5)April 30, 2009

Hi everyone! I've been reading all your postings now for quite some time and finally decided to join the party! What a talented group you all are! My question is this... has anyone ever lined their raised beds with heavy guage landscape plastic to extend the life of the wood? I've built four 4x4x8 beds and intend to put them up onto 4x4's (so I don't need to be concerned with weeds) but I am concerned with having to replace the boxes every couple of years. Any and all advise would be appreciated!

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Melissa Houser

Lining the wooden box with non-permeable plastic probably defeats the purpose of having good drainage for your plants. However, I lined my first SFG with weed-barrier cloth because it was up on legs and I didn't want to wash the dirt out when I watered.

I didn't notice any problems with using the weed cloth. My plants received adequate water and the boxes could still drain as needed. I would be cautious using any plastic that wouldn't allow the water to drain.

I'm not sure where zone 5 puts you, but you may want to consider whether you really want your garden on legs if you have snow or frost dangers. Being on risers makes it harder to keep your plants protected from the cold.

BTW, I had my garden at about counter height and loved how easy that made it for me to reach all of my plants... no bending to weed and planting even tiny seeds was so easy! :)

Having it up high also makes the garden wheelchair accessible as long as the ground around the garden will support the chair. I had planned to add pavers or a concrete pad inside of mine.

Here's a picture for your benefit:

    Bookmark   April 30, 2009 at 4:42PM
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Wow! That's awesome, lissa! I'd put mine on stilts too, but bending over in the garden is about the only exercise I ever get. :)


Here is a link that might be useful: LookMaNoWeeds

    Bookmark   April 30, 2009 at 7:38PM
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Melissa Houser

RL, I just checked out your blog and wanted to comment on the corn squares you have planted. :)

My experience and reading about corn says you should plant at least 4 feet by 4 feet of corn (so that the corn will actually pollinate) and avoid putting different varieties of corn near each other because of the dangers of cross-pollination.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2009 at 8:11PM
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Dan Staley

Putting my physics had on, I can see that plastic may make the wood less dry, but it won't dry it out completely as the cooler soil behind boards can create condensation on the plastic and moisten the wood. I suspect it may prolong wood life, but it is not a silver bullet.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 10:10AM
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Lissa: Great pics! I'm looking forward to getting my boxes finished so I can get them planted and start reaping the benefits of my hard work! My original plan was to only use landscape fabric in the bottom of the box's but when trying to explain the benefit of SFG's, my Dad became concerned about the wood rotting so I thought why not ask some folk's who've been doing this for awhile! Sooo, I think I'll skip the plastic and see what happens! I'm not going to worry about the winter issue yet, I just want to see how this goes for me this summer first! Thanks again, Denese

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 4:47PM
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Dan: Condensation is something I would definately not have thought of. As I told Lissa, I'm going to stick with just using landscape fabric in the bottoms of the boxes only and let nature take it's course. Thanks for responding! Denese

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 4:55PM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

Landscape fabric will outlive ALL of us. I would not use landscape fabric in my vegetable garden bc I have seen how it acts in a flower garden. Weeds grow right thru it after a time. Then the roots get all tied up in it. When you try to pull the weeds out, the root just rip the fabric, leaving bit & pieces behind, in the soil. Only to be a problem next time around.

Now I use mulch with cardboard or newspaper bc they will decompose and not be a problem.

I am confused - if you are putting the beds up on 4x4's - what weeds are you worried about coming thru the bottom? To me, placing landscape fabric beneath any plants would inhibit their root growth. Am I just not understanding this?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 6:01PM
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Melissa Houser

gumby, Her original concern was to try to keep the wood from rotting by placing the landscape fabric inside the boxes, if I read it correctly.

And, about weeds, I had more weeds in that raised bed pictured above than I have in my raised beds on the ground. I think it's because the birds and squirrels have easier access.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 12:09AM
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I lined my raised bed with plastic. But I only lined the inside walls, not the bottom. So, I still get drainage and I'm hoping the lined wall will prevent it from drying a bit on our hot dry days. Also, I wanted to keep the chemicals from the treated wood away from the dirt. You can see pics of this at:

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 10:15AM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

Yes Lissa Re:OP, you are right.

First, let me say I love your beds. I've been wanting to build something for a friend who had a stroke and that gives me ideas.

Re: The Weeds - they come from many sources, including the wind, birds, other animals, and us. Weed seeds can live up to 40yrs in the soil, waiting for the right conditions. Yea, wish the seeds we try to nourish would last that long eh?

You haven't said what you filled the beds with but if you used compost, that could also be a source. Esp. if the compost never got hot enuff to kill any weed seeds mixed in. Even in a hot pile, something has got to be on the outside part of the pile.

After I learned this I tried cooking (steaming) my compost in an old gas grill I have. While it did help to eliminate the weed seeds, I am not sure it was worth the time and added expense. It prob kills all the good microbes we are looking for from the compost too.

I am not sure how the manufacturers sterilize their soil mix but just a thought on how you may have gotten some of your weeds.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 9:54PM
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Lissa & Gumby: RE the landscaping fabric to line the bottoms of the above ground beds; I got a little over zealous when drilling my holes for drainage (one about every four inches or so) so the landscape fabric isn't so much for weeds as it is for preventing the soil from draining out when watering. I was debating on using heavy guage plastic to line the insides of the beds to slow down the decay of the wood. It wouldn't do much good to line only the sides because the bottom would probably rot out so I'm going to forget the plastic idea altogether. Hope this cleared up some of the confusion. I do appreciate your input though! Denese

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 7:59PM
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heather38(6a E,Coast)

Great question and answers, as usual I end up with more questions to ask, on the idea of wood rotting away, how long roughly would this be, I know local factors will change this but would it on average be every 2, 4..10 years??
and the beds getting colder when raised! hadn't thought of the cold?, could I use insulating polystyrene (like you use in walls) to slot under and clamp or use false side/hollow sides and then cover the actual plants with a blanket, when frost is forcast? I want raised beds at 3 feet so I don't excasibate a periodical condition I have, and don't feel sorry for me I am completely fine, but gardening I can adapt to suit me, so I don't get problems.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 9:47PM
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gumby_ct(CT it says Z5)

My thoughts about lining wood with plastic have always been that it wood (pun) trap moisture which wood speed up the decay you are trying to prevent. Wonder if anyone who has done this wood care to comment?

I know plastic I have left in the sun just cracks and breaks into a million pieces.

I have made many bed frames from untreated wood which are over 8yrs old now. I have a carrot box (3"x6ft) which is up off the ground that is over 8y/o but that has a 2x4ft bottom with 1x sides.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2009 at 11:16PM
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