Burlap is cheap, permeable, and biodegradable, giving it utility in multiple flower gardening projects. Gardeners should always choose natural burlap made from jute, a plant fiber that exhibits superior strength, yet decomposes easily in outdoor settings. Synthetic burlap is made from plastic or propylene yarn, and is less suitable for garden use.
Burlap Weed Fabric
Weed fabric made from polypropylene geotextile is a mainstay at hardware stores. However, these landscaping fabrics have some disadvantages. They never break down in the soil, so after a few seasons, weeds can germinate on top of the fabric, anchoring it to the ground. Furthermore, geotextile weed fabric does nothing to enrich the soil.
Natural burlap is an alternative to synthetic weed fabric. It prevents weed seeds from coming into contact with the soil where they can germinate, but its high permeability allows water to penetrate easily. Gardeners can lay yards of burlap across the garden bed, and cut slits through the cloth to place plants in the soil. Cover the burlap with a thin layer of decorative mulch, if desired. Use u-shaped metal pins to anchor the burlap in the soil. The burlap can remain at the end of the growing season, where it will gradually break down in the soil.
Burlap Plant Baskets and Containers
Coco coir basket liners are commonly used in metal hanging baskets and window boxes to prevent soil from washing away. Although these coconut liners are natural and look attractive, they can cost more than $20 for large diameter pots. Burlap is an attractive and affordable substitute.
From a distance, few could discern the difference between burlap and coco coir, especially when tumbling flowers drape over the side of the planting basket. A single layer of burlap is too flimsy to hold the weight of a waterlogged hanging basket, so use several layers to create a sturdy liner.
Burlap is also useful as a liner in terra cotta containers. The burlap helps these highly porous containers retain water in hot, dry gardens.
Balled and Burlapped Trees
Nursery owners often use burlap to contain the root ball of young trees for sale. There is some confusion about how to treat these balled and burlapped trees at planting time. Some gardeners struggle to remove the burlap; others leave it in place to deteriorate in the soil.
The most important factor in the decision to remove the burlap is whether it’s natural or synthetic burlap. If the nursery can’t provide this information, the gardener can snip a small piece of burlap cloth away from the tree and hold a match to it. If the burlap burns, it’s natural jute and can remain in place; if it melts, it is synthetic and must be removed. If you decide to leave the burlap in place, score the burlap with a utility knife in several places to encourage roots to enter the surrounding soil.
Protect Plants with Burlap
Gardeners can protect young trees from sunscald and nibbling rabbits and mice by gently wrapping the trunks with burlap strips. Gardeners can also use burlap as a temporary shade cloth for new flower transplants. Drape the burlap over tomato cages for individual plant protection, or staple it to wooden stakes to protect a larger garden area.