Weed control is one of the benefits associated with the use of plastic mulches used for vegetable production. The mulches decrease light transmission and prevent development of most weed species. Plastics chemistry has developed films varying in their ability to reflect, absorb, and transmit light. Laboratory and field experiments were conducted to 1) measure light transmitted through colored mulches, 2) evaluate weed populations under each mulch type, and 3) determine if light transmission could be used as an indicator for weed populations in the field. The polyethylene mulches were black, gray, infrared transmitting brown (IRT-brown), IRT-green, white, and white-on-black (co-extruded white/black). On average, 1%, 2%, 17%, 26%, 42%, and 45% light in the 400 to 1100 nm range was transmitted through the black, white/black, gray, IRT-brown, IRT-green, and white mulches, respectively. In field experiments, density and dry biomass of weeds growing under the mulches were evaluated. The white mulch had the highest weed density with an average of 39.6 and 155.9 plants/m2 in 2001 and 2002, respectively. This was followed by the gray mulch, with 10.4 and 44.1 weed seedlings/m2 in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Weed density was <25 plants/m2 with the other mulches in both years. Weed infestation was correlated with average light transmission for white, black, white/black, and gray mulches. However, both light quantity and quality were necessary to predict weed infestations with the IRT mulches. Weed infestation under the IRT mulches was better estimated when only wave lengths in the photosynthetically active radiation range (PAR; 400 to 700 nm) were considered. Low weed pressure and high light transmission with the IRT mulches would make them appropriate for use in areas where both weed control and soil warming are important factors.
In temperate regions, the vegetable growing season is short and plastic mulches are usually left in the field for an entire year when used for double cropping. This work was conducted to study the effect of weathering on the physical, optical, and thermal properties of plastic mulches during double cropping. The design was a randomized complete block with four replications. The mulches were black, grey, infrared transmitting brown (IRT-brown), IRT-green, white, and white-on-black (co-extruded white/black). Tomato was grown the first year and cucumber the following year. The grey mulch degraded substantially during double cropping (only 40% of bed was covered the second year) and showed an increase in light transmission and a decrease in heat accumulation (degree-days). The black, whiteon-black, white, IRT-brown, and IRT green mulches showed less degradation with 93%, 91%, 85%, 75%, and 61% soil cover, respectively. However, their soil warming ability was significantly reduced. These mulches could be used for double cropping to suppress weeds and to reduce inputs associated with plastic purchase, laying, and disposal. However, they may not provide adequate soil warming early in the season for the second crop.