Using Tarpaulins in Gardening and Landscaping

A tarpaulin is a large, durable piece of material used for covering and protecting items from the elements. Tarpaulins are commonly made from plastic or woven fabric such as polyester or vinyl-coated polyester.

Benefits of Using Tarpaulins in Your Garden

There are several key benefits to using tarpaulins in your garden and landscaping projects:

Protect Plants from Weather Elements

Tarpaulins can shield plants, trees, and garden beds from heavy rain, snow, frost, and sun exposure. This allows gardeners to better control the growing conditions and maintain an ideal microclimate.

Control Weeds

Laying a tarpaulin over bare soil is an effective way to smother weeds by blocking their access to light, water, and nutrients. Tarpaulins can be left in place for several months to eliminate existing weeds and prevent new growth.

Conserve Soil Moisture

By covering soil with a tarp, evaporation is reduced and more rainwater is absorbed into the ground. This is ideal for conserving water in dry climates or during droughts. Tarped beds retain moisture for 1-3 weeks longer versus uncovered soil.

Protect Garden Beds During Renovation

Tarpaulins allow gardeners to protect soil structure, nutrients, and microorganisms while restructuring or rebuilding a garden bed. Materials and compost can be safely stockpiled on a tarp as well. Tarpaulins in Landscaping

Extend Growing Season

Placing a Black Tarpaulin over high tunnels or low hoop houses creates a greenhouse effect and mini-microclimate. This allows gardeners to start seeds and protect delicate plants 1-2 months earlier in spring and later into fall.

Tarpaulin Uses in the Garden

Beyond the benefits above, there are many specific uses for tarps in the garden and landscape:

Cover Plants and Beds

Tarps can cover individual plants, shrubs, trees, or entire garden beds to protect them from harsh weather or pests. Hoop houses also provide mini-greenhouses.

Cover Firewood

Limit water absorption in firewood for efficient burning by keeping it under a tarp until ready to use. Prevent rot and debris contamination.

Create Temporary Greenhouses

Tarps stretched over a wood or PVC hoop frame create a portable greenhouse. Use for starting seeds, hardening off transplants, or extending seasons.

Cover Compost Piles

Keeps compost pile moist while allowing airflow. Speeds decomposition time and prevents nutrients from leaching out.

Weight Down Materials

Use tarps as drop cloths when painting, staining decks, or working with potentially messy materials like concrete or mortar. Holds the mess in place.

Protect Patios

Lay down tarps before renovating or power washing patios, walkways, and decking to catch debris and runoff, preventing it from entering planting beds or water features.

Choosing the Right Tarpaulin

When selecting a tarpaulin for your gardening and landscaping needs, it’s important to consider:


What material will hold up best for your intended use? Plastic tarps are inexpensive but degrade more quickly from sunlight. Fabric tarps like polyester and vinyl-coated polyester withstand the weather much better but cost more. Canvas is extremely durable but also more expensive.

Weight and Thickness

Heavier-weight tarps (10+ ounces) provide more durability versus lighter-weight (6-8 ounces) tarps best for short-term projects. Consider the thickness of the tarp material as well – thicker materials last longer. Weight and thickness also impact the cost.


Clear tarps allow the most light transmission, making them ideal for greenhouse topping. Darker solid colors absorb more heat. Colored tarps can provide camouflage.


Reusable tarps last longer when seams are heat-sealed or reinforced with nylon thread rather than basic stitched seams prone to snagging.


The tarp must be large enough to fully cover the intended area, including adequate overhang for stakes or ropes. Measure the space to ensure proper coverage. It’s also important to consider the shape – square or rectangular tarps work best for flat surfaces while round tarps fit curved areas well.


Will metal grommets or eyelets be needed around the tarp edge to securely anchor it with stakes or ropes? Or can sandbags, bricks, or boards suffice to weigh it down without reinforcements? Grommets add to the cost but make for easier, more durable anchoring.

Caring for and Storing Tarpaulins

Taking proper care of tarps can significantly extend their lifespan and save money in the long run. Regular cleaning and proper storage are important.


To remove surface dirt, gently hose tarps with a spray of water or use a broom. For tougher stains, spot clean with mild dish soap. Avoid harsh chemicals which can degrade materials over time.


Thoroughly dry tarps out of direct sunlight, which can cause fading. Hang tarps to dry completely before folding to prevent mold and mildew growth. On hot days, set up a tarp as a clothesline.


For storage, fold tarps so they lay flat without creasing which causes wear lines. Make tight accordion folds for compact storage. Or roll individual tarps tightly from one edge into cylindrical.

Storage Locations

Indoor locations like sheds, garages, or basements protect from UV rays and temperature extremes. Outdoor storage requires a sealed container and protection from rain under an overhang.


Write identifying details like size and uses directly on tarps or storage boxes. This prevents confusion and assists in selecting the proper tarp for future projects.

Inspection and Repair

Check seams, edges, and surfaces regularly for wear, holes, or cracks. Small punctures can be sealed on both sides with adhesive vinyl patches or fabric tape. Reinforce damaged edges with Fray Check to prevent further tearing. Replace tarps that are excessively worn.

Alternatives to Tarpaulins

While tarps are extremely versatile, there are a few alternative coverings gardeners may want to consider:

Plastic Sheeting

Thinner and less durable than tarps but cheaper. Best for short-term uses like season extension or weed suppression. Prone to tearing.

Cloth Row Cover

A lightweight woven fabric that allows some light and air transmission. Useful for season extension and frost protection. More expensive than plastic sheeting.

Cold Frames

Similar to a hoop house but fully enclosed on the sides and topped with a glass or clear plastic lid that can be propped open. Maintains greater internal temperature control. Read More Articles From:

Shade Cloth

A breathable, woven fabric that filters out a percentage of sunlight to protect plants and gardens from intense sun or heat. Good alternative if full shade is desired rather than coverage from rain.

Hoop Houses

A semi-permanent structure made of PVC pipes or wood covered with greenhouse plastic or fabric. More expensive initially but reusable for many years if constructed well. Provides wind and pest protection beyond a simple tarp.

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