Notes from Andy Hopwood, Native Plant Salvage volunteer & board member

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Burlap is an all-purpose material in the garden. If there is something you need to do to with a plant, burlap can likely help.

Sowing seeds: Loose weave burlap will allow germinating seeds to grow through while protecting the seeds from animals, wind, excessive sun, and heavy rain. This won’t stop weeds.

Growing plants: Burlap can be used as a grow-bag for root vegetables and tubers. It can also be used to make “layering pots” for runners and canes. Simply find a grounded branch or cane, loosely tie on a solid-filled burlap “pot” to cover possible rooting nodes, and wait. When the branch or cane has rooted sufficiently, snip it off and plant or pot it up.

Moving plants: Burlap can be used as a wrap to protect roots and hold soils for transplants. It can be “planted” and will decompose quickly.

Weed control: Burlap can be used to help control weeds around plantings and in row gardens. Cut holes in the burlap for small plants, lay full pieces around large plants, and lay row-sheets in gardens. Multiple layers will largely discourage weeds and the addition of arborists’ wood chips will mostly control them, provide moisture retention, and help build soils.

Sheet mulching: Heavy, overlapping layering of multiple burlap sheets, covered in deep wood chips, will mostly control any plants that once held that space. There are always exceptions, mostly from plants that can run or sucker out of the cover, but heavy sheet mulching helps to get the upper hand. Weed seeds that find a hold in the wood chips are only loosely rooted and can be removed fairly easily.  When sheet mulching on a hill, burlap is the only material we have found that stays in place and allows covering with heavy wood chips.

No-till gardens: An extension of the sheet mulching idea, no-till gardens use heavy, overlapping layering of multiple sheets, covered in a deep garden soil layer, to quickly turn a space into an instant garden. First year plantings should avoid root vegetables or tubers to allow decomposition of the burlap and underlying plants or grasses that were sheet mulched under.

Temperature and moisture control: If you use industrial landscape fabric in a garden to control weeds around beds or boxes, a layer of burlap on the fabric will help keep summer temperatures down and near-ground humidity higher. Pots sitting on the burlap will retain their moisture longer and generally not remain over-saturated. During winter months, pots can be wrapped or nestled in burlap to help retain heat, and light cover layers can help protect plants from frost.

Animal control: Barriers of burlap can be used to fence out deer and rabbits as an inexpensive alternative to wire.

It’s hard to find a material more adapted to your gardening needs than the simple burlap bag.  Native Plant Salvage can help supply you with burlap in practically any quantity. Contact Andy at andy@nativeplantsalvage.org to discuss your project needs.