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.
Check Out These Posts Next
How to Install Landscape Fabric
Fall Gardening: Tips and Maintenance
Protecting Evergreens from Winter Burn
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Thanks for the tips!
You’re very welcome!
Frances Dickson says
Hello. I am replacing my lawn with a drought tolerant ground cover called Kurapia. I will be planting plugs. The directions from KurapiaDirect where I’ll get the plugs say, “ Landscape fabric is not recommended but is optimal for weed control when planting plugs. If you do choose to use landscape fabric it is very important that you select fabric that is permeable and unwoven in order to allow new roots to penetrate down to the soil.“ I am wondering in this case if you would use the fabric. I would rather not, actually, but I’m not sure as the directions seem to be contradictory.
Hi Frances! I would definitely pass on the landscape fabric if growing Kurapia. You’re gonna get really quick, thick growth and that’s gonna crowd out weeds from growing. You might have a couple of week period after install where you need to manually remove weeds but that should be it. After that the Kurapia should be pretty maintenance free.
Rosalind NEWTON says
Using fabric only for a pathway through a woodland garden we are constructing( 3′ wide llandscape cloth. Should we not do this? We were going to put 3″ of pine bark mulch on top.
I wouldn’t… Eventually your gonna get some weeds popping up whether there’s fabric there or not. Especially as the bark mulch breaks down and becomes more of a compost. If the weeds get to big they could grow into the fabric layer and make them nearly impossible to pull. I pretty much never recommend fabric under bark mulch.
Marsha A Moffitt says
Is it really necessary to remove all the grass before building a landscape bed? Of can you just build on top of it? Or should I just till up the ground, mixing in good dirt with the existing?
Hi Marsha, You should be ok tilling the ground. Personally, I’m not a fan of trying to smother the grass. I know plenty of people that have done it successfully but in my experience as the grass breaks down it gives off a lot of heat and can be rough on new plantings. I’ve also seen it create a little layer of trapped water which becomes mucky.
Dave Bray says
We borrowed a technique from no-dig gardeners. We have been laying down a layer of cardboard. Removing all plastic take, no waxed cardboard. Its free and works great. After a few years, if weeds start coming up, throw down another layer and then more multch on top if that.
Nice, I see a lot of gardeners use cardboard, not a bad strategy at all!