How To Use Burlap In Your Garden

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Burlap is commonly associated with flour sacks and coffee bags. This versatile fabric, made from a combination of plant and vegetable fibers, has more uses than just as a packaging material. Because burlap is made from natural fibers, it is safe to use in vegetable gardens and in areas where pets and children play.

Preventing Weeds & Germinating Seeds

In gardens with a problem weed area, burlap may be an effective and organic way to get rid of those pesky weeds for good. Burlap can be used in the same way as mulch to inhibit weed growth. The burlap fabric smothers weed growth while allowing water to soak through to the soil and plant roots.

Burlap helps prevent soil erosion in newly cleared areas and on steep slopes. In areas where there are bare patches of soil (such as pathways and places that have been recently tilled), cover with burlap until the area can be planted. The burlap will hold firmly to the ground and prevent the rain from washing the soil away.

Summer can be a difficult time to germinate seeds. The sun’s heat can quickly dry up the ground and the summer rains can wash the soil away from newly planted seeds. After planting seeds, cover with a layer of burlap and water. The burlap will keep the ground moist and will keep the wind and rains from washing away the newly planted seeds. When the seedlings begin to emerge from the soil, remove the burlap.

When you need help moving a shrub or tree, grab a piece of burlap. Burlap can be wrapped around the root ball to protect the roots and hold the soil in place. If plants can not be transplanted right away, the root ball can be kept wrapped in burlap until planting time to protect the roots from the elements and to retain moisture.

Protecting Plants from the Elements

Burlap makes an excellent cover when plants need protection from harsh weather or nibbling pests. When the winter months prove too cold for tender plants, build a burlap wall. Place stakes around the plants, wrap the burlap around the stakes and tie the burlap to the stakes. Make sure to leave a little space between the plant and the burlap. This burlap box will keep out the freezing winds that damage tender plants. In freezing weather, any plant parts that are touching the burlap may freeze.

Here are some other ways to use burlap to protect plants:

  • Before winter, perennials are cut to the ground and covered with mulch as a protection against freeze and snow. Burlap can be used instead of mulch and is just as effective. Burlap will also help keep the soil warm.
  • When deer, rabbits and other nibbling pests are a problem, build a burlap fence around their favored plants.
  • Trees and shrubs that are at risk of damage from the weight of heavy snow can be wrapped in burlap. This keeps the snow from accumulating on the branches and causing the branches to break.
  • Store harvested root crops in a burlap bag. Vegetables, such as potatoes and onions, can be hung in a burlap bag in a cool and dark space. Burlap is breathable and does not develop condensation. Vegetables will stay dry and ventilated.

Crafty Outdoor Uses for Burlap

Burlap’s uses in the garden go beyond the functional. There are many fun and creative ways to add flourishes of burlap to an outdoor décor. Burlap’s durability makes this fabric perfect for outdoor furniture and decorations.

Here are some ideas for using burlap in decorative ways:

  • Decorate a picnic table. Use burlap to make tablecloths and placemats. Cut burlap to the desired size and stitch a brightly colored yarn around the fabric edges to prevent the burlap from fraying.
  • Make sturdy pillows and covers for outdoor furniture. Burlap is durable and can handle rough conditions.
  • Create outdoor banners and tapestries. For a tapestry, stretch a piece of burlap over a frame. For a banner, attach a piece of burlap to a pole or round hanger. Burlap can be painted with fabric paint, stitched with bold yarn or finished with other weather-resistant fabrics.
  • Weave a burlap wreath. Cover a wreath form with burlap, add a few burlap flowers and finish with ribbons and bows.
  • Build a container garden. Decide where to put the container and fill a burlap sack with soil at that location. These burlap plant containers are very heavy and difficult to move.
  • Organize a garden shed or potting table. Use burlap to make a wall hanging with pockets to store garden tools, seed packets, plant labels and other small items.
  • Design a garden bag. Burlap makes a durable carrying bag for garden tools or freshly harvested herbs and vegetables.

Burlap can be found in most fabric stores and is inexpensive. This durable fabric can handle a variety of weather conditions, is breathable, will not mildew and will naturally compost when used around soil.

Last Updated: August 23, 2012
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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