The Black Plastic Mystery

Dearborn Heights, Michigan–

On Friday, I set my gardening ambitions high and decided I would tackle the dandelions on Nick’s front lawn. I was only out there for about an hour and gave up in frustration. The Midwest dandelions are much more aggressive than their California cousins. Instead of being dainty little things, these guys had roots that were more like parsnips in size.

I had been planning on planting some leftover bulbs as well, but when I started digging, with an exceedingly rusty shovel that emerged after the snow melted a month or so ago, I found I could only dig about 6 inches down. The border along the porch, which is about 18 inches of cleared dirt around the perimeter, has a layer of black plastic that prevents any further digging.

I racked my brain to think of why the plastic might be there. My first thought was that maybe it had been put down and then covered with new soil, as the soil underneath was not ideal. But Michigan soil is this dark, beautifully loamy stuff, chock full with earthworms, not like the clay soil I’m used to in Southern California, which requires endless amendments.

The plastic also stops right at the edge of the porch and doesn’t continue along the fence, which is right next to the porch. If it was supposed to be replacing the other soil, traditionally one replaces the soil about 3-6 feet down, in order to let your new plants thrive, as you do for a container garden. Six inches is barely enough to plant seeds.

The other odd thing is that black plastic does not go all the way up to the brick border, so tufts of grass are growing underneath. I’ve seen plastic used to kill grass and whatnot, but usually it’s the final layer, weighted down. I’m thinking about trying to pull all of it up, but I want to know why it’s there first.

I was also all set to start weeding the back garden, where it looks like there was once a vegetable patch. But when I woke up this lovely Monday morning, everything was covered in a layer of snow. Once again, the Midwest has outwitted the California native.


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