Uses for Burlap in the Garden

Plant and Protect With Fabric

Burlap Flower Pots
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Burlap crafts are a hot trend, yielding rustic projects from lampshades to luminaries. However, because burlap is cheap, permeable, and biodegradable, it has utility in multiple gardening projects as well. Gardeners often 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 from Weather With Burlap

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. These burlap covers will also prevent a light frost from settling on plants, helping you to extend the growing season a bit longer. 

Control Garden Pests With Burlap

Gardeners can protect young trees from sun scald and nibbling rabbits and mice by gently wrapping the trunks with burlap strips. Gardeners can also erect a temporary fence to exclude deer from the vegetable garden. A fence suitable for deer exclusion must be at least 8 feet tall, which is difficult to achieve when good crop rotation practices mean that the garden site might move from one end of the yard to the other each season.

Wrap lengths of burlap around fence posts to create a temporary fence to discourage winter-starved deer from ravaging tender new shoots. To increase the efficacy of the fence, create a second barrier 4 feet out from the inner fence. Deer won't have the agility to jump over both barriers and will move on to easier pickings.