For centuries horticulturists have attempted to modify the environment in which vegetable crops are grown. A wide variety of techniques, such as glass cloches, hotcaps, cold frames, hotbeds, and various types of glass greenhouses, have been used to extend the production season. The discovery and development of the polyethylene polymer in the late 1930s, and its subsequent introduction in the early 1950s in the form of plastic films, mulches, and drip-irrigation tubing and tape, revolutionized the commercial production of selected vegetable crops and gave rise to a system of production known as plasticulture. Simply defined, plasticulture is a system of growing vegetable crops where significant benefit is derived from using products derived from polyethylene (plastic) polymers. The later discovery of other polymers, such as polyvinyl chloride, polypropylene, and polyesters, and their use in microirrigation systems, pipes, fertigation equipment, filters, fittings and connectors, containers for growing transplants, picking and packaging containers, and row covers further extended the use of plastic components in this production system. The complete plasticulture system consists of plastic and non-plastic components: plastic mulches, drip-irrigation, fertigation/chemigation, soil sanitation (fumigation and solarization), windbreaks, stand establishment technology, season-extension technology, integrated pest management, cropping strategies, and postharvest handling and marketing. In the plasticulture system, plastic-covered greenhouses, plastic mulches, row covers, high tunnels, and windbreaks both permanent and annual are the major contributors to modifying the cropping environment of vegetable crops, thus enhancing crop growth, yield, and quality. In addition to modifying the soil and air temperatures, there are also the benefits of protection from the wind and in some instances rain, insects, diseases, and vertebrate pests.
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