There’s a lot of conflicting advice when it comes to landscape fabric. Check out this guide on when to use landscape fabric and when to avoid it.
Should I use landscape fabric? It’s a common question with a lot of heated debate on both sides. The truth is there are times you should install it, and times where it creates more harm then good.
What Is Landscape Fabric Made of
Landscape fabric, also referred to as weed barrier, can be made from a variety of materials including linen, plastic, and a combination of recycled materials.
Traditionally there are 2 main types: woven, and non woven.
Woven landscape fabric is just as the name suggests. It is a fabric that is made from individual strands that are intertwined and sewn together. It is easy to recognize by simply cutting a section and seeing if the ends fray and appear stringy.
Woven landscape fabric is usually stronger than non woven. It lasts longer since it doesn’t break down as easily.
On the down side, woven landscape fabric has a reputation of providing worse drainage and air flow.
2. Non Woven
Non woven landscape fabrics are made from a single sheet of material that has tiny holes pierced in it. They are usually easier to cut and provide better drainage and air flow but they are not as strong as woven fabric. The edges of non woven fabric are smooth.
So, which is best, woven or non woven fabric?
Companies got smart and have worked to blend both the benefits of woven and non woven into their products. You actually see some fabrics claiming to be both woven and non woven, or woven but needle punched. It can get really confusing.
Luckily, I can help narrow things down for you. After experimenting with a lot of different products I found this fabric from Greenhouse Megastore. It is a woven polypropelene that is needle punched and has unbelievable air flow and drainage. To me this product truly blends the benefits of both woven and non woven fabric (no I don’t get paid to promote their product).
Now, it’s important to point out that there are times when I use landscape fabric, and other times where I believe it does more harm then good.
When to Use Landscape Fabric
Landscape fabric is good to use under sections of your landscape that have crushed stone, gravel, or any other inorganic material. Stone pathways and foundation drip edges for example are great areas to use landscape fabric.
It can also be used as a top layer, for instance in between vegetable rows or raised beds where you do not want weeds to grow. I actually use landscape fabric as a top layer in my backyard nursery.
When You Shouldn’t Use Landscape Fabric
I don’t recommend using landscape fabric under mulched beds, trees, or in vegetable gardens where vegetable plants will be growing.
I used to always use fabric on new planting bed installs but at this point I believe it does more harm then good for the following reasons:
1. As bark mulch breaks down, tiny particles and fines make their way into the fabric and can clog it, preventing the flow of water and air. This will ultimately suffocate plants.
2. As bark mulch breaks down it turns into compost and becomes a desirable place for weed growth. Since most weed seeds enter garden beds from the surface, by the wind, or by animals, weeds are still able to enter your garden bed. The fabric doesn’t help to suppress weeds.
3. Weed pulling becomes harder since the roots of the weeds anchor themselves into the fabric. You’re only real chance to kill weeds at this point is by spraying them.
4. Landscape fabric is unsightly and has a tendency to become exposed due to erosion, frost heaving, and normal break down of mulch.
5. It’s time consuming to install and also costly.
6. Adding a small layer of mulch to your beds every year will do a lot more for weed prevention. As long as you maintain your garden beds regularly and top dress them with mulch on a yearly basis then weeding shouldn’t be an overwhelming chore.
Can I Put Landscape Fabric Over Weeds?
Before installing fabric make sure you remove weeds. Don’t just roll the fabric over a layer of weeds. Some weeds are strong enough to make it through the fabric layer and pulling them once they do so will be near impossible.
Also, weeds that don’t make it through will suffocate and can cause a layer of rotting weeds. Since airflow is limited due to the fabric, rotting weeds won’t be able to properly break down. This can lead to disease and harm nearby plants. It can also give off a foul odor.
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