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Me and my dad bought several packs of these at the start of last year, when the weather had been dry for several weeks and it appeared they might be handy for water retention :) Given that I think last year was one of the wettest on record this thought now seems overly optimistic :)
These mats are about a foot square in size and feel like a kind of thin flexible cardboardy material that will rip. They have a hole in the middle for the plant to grow out of, and a slit on one side so that you can carefully put them around your plant. They come in clear plastic, there are 10 to a bag and they have a paper insert around them explaining how to use them and the benefits. It also tells you to use them on strawberries, leafy lettuces and shrubs and roses, a point I missed last year.
So what are the benefits I hear you ask
These are; "preventing weed growth, protecting roots from extremes of temperature, retaining moisture, deterring slugs, keeping lower leaves and fruit clean and dry, preventing grey mould on strawberries, and these are organic and biodegradable."
As said I got these for their water retention properties, I've not yet had a chance to test this , but I'm still hoping :) Strangely last year I wasn't growing strawberries I used them round sprout and cabbage plants, with limited success. I say limited as my garden is extremely windy and despite weighing these down they still ended up blown all over my vegetable patch so I gave up using them last year.
Roll on this year and while clearing out on top of the fridge (a job you can tell I do regularly ;) ) I found amongst my gardening stuff another pack of these mats, so I thought I may as well use them. This time I paid slightly more attention to the instructions (I actually read them :) ), and put them around 10 of my 12 strawberry plants, as there were only 10 in the packet. Before doing this I dutifully weeded around the plants, I didn't water as it had recently rained, but giving last year's experience I did make sure the mats were nice and flat. I also weighed them down with a mixture of small stones and soil. They went round ok and have been there for about 2 weeks and all are still in the same place, but then it has been less windy.
So are they worth buying?
Well if I'm honest I'm not convinced of the need. They do kind of prevent weed growth, but you can't keep a good (or even a bad) weed down and mine just grow under the edges of the mats, meaning when I get round to it I will have to disturb the mat to pull them out. As for temperature and moisture control, I live in Northumberland so I only plant out when I have no frost, and Northumberland doesn't have Europe's largest reservoir for nothing :) I guess if my strawberry plants are to survive to next year then these may help them over the winter. I'm not sure about the slug prevention either, although as readers of my reviews will know when it comes to the war on slugs I'm willing to try anything. The last benefit of preventing mould was one of the reasons I put these around my strawberries, but to be honest my strawberries are still on the ground as the stems on the variety I bought are much longer then these mats meaning they stick out over the mats and onto the ground.
I suppose at the end of the day these are one of those things you buy to help do a job in combination with other things, and from this angle I think they are good. While they won't fight slugs or weeds on their own, in combination with weeding and slug pellets they will help, and should Northumberland get a drought this year I'll be laughing, at least until my other plants die :) At the very least they won't harm my garden or the wildlife, which is always a good thing.
Rrp £2.79, These retail on Amazon for around £5, a search on the web shows them in garden centres from around £2.79 upwards. I paid (or maybe it was my Dad :) ) £2.29 last year in my local garden centre.