For decades, vegetable growers have used black polyethylene mulch to warm the soil in early spring, reduce weeds, and conserve soil moisture. Use of plastic mulch can increase crop yields and improve fruit quality. This article reviews research performed with plastic, aluminum foil, aluminum-painted, and degradable mulches. Most research focused on the effects of plastic mulches on insects and viruses they vector, and on yields. Aluminum foil and aluminum-painted mulches are effective at repelling insect pests, especially aphids (Aphididae) and thrips (Thripidae). Yields are often higher with black plastic compared to bare ground. Clear plastic is rarely used in the U.S. because it can encourage weed growth, unless a herbicide or fumigant is used underneath. Colored mulches can increase yields and control pests, but color may be less important than brightness of the mulch or contrast with bare soil. New forms of photodegradable mulches eliminate the need to remove and dispose of plastic at the end of the growing season, but have not been widely adapted because they tend to degrade prematurely.
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