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How to Install Landscape Fabric for Weed Control

The Spruce / Michele Lee

Laying down landscape fabric is the easiest and often the most effective method for fighting weeds. It prevents weed seeds from germinating in the soil or from landing and taking root from above the soil. And because landscape fabric is “breathable,” it lets water, air, and some nutrients to flow down to the soil to feed desirable plants.

Landscape fabric works fine on its own, but it’s usually best to cover it with a decorative mulch, rock, or other ground cover. The fabric separates the cover material from the soil, keeping stone and gravel clean and slowing the inevitable breakdown of organic mulch. Black plastic (another type of weed barrier) performs a similar function, but plastic is prone to tearing, and it forms an impervious barrier that prevents water and air from reaching desirable plants.

Installing landscape fabric isn’t much harder than spreading out a bed sheet, but it’s important to prepare the ground properly to ensure a flat surface and prevent damage to the fabric. It’s also important to overlap and secure the edges of the fabric to prevent weeds and cover material from getting through the seams.

Working With Landscape Fabrics

Landscape fabric is a weed barrier, but not all weed barriers are landscape fabric. Cheap, thin plastic barriers are far inferior to quality fabric and can tear very easily. It never pays to use the cheap stuff because you’ll most likely need to replace it sooner or later. By contrast, quality landscape fabric is long-lasting and is resistant to sun damage and tears. Some products are guaranteed for up to 20 years.

Another benefit of quality fabric is that it’s reusable. If you decide to change an area that is covered with fabric and mulch, simply remove the mulch, unpin the fabric, shake off the soil and other material, and roll up the fabric to keep it for future use. While it may be a little dirty, reused fabric works just as well as new material.

Most quality landscape fabric is made of spun synthetic-fiber material that blocks sunlight but permits the passage of some water and air. The material is tough, but it can be damaged by sharp rocks, tools, and roots. For this reason, it’s a good idea to rake and smooth the ground before laying the fabric. Many fabrics are UV-protected but will last longer if they are not directly exposed to sunlight. A layer of mulch or other ground material provides this coverage.

Landscape fabric is one of the most effective and versatile weed barriers. Learn how to choose the right fabric and install and maintain it to conquer weeds.

Landscape Fabric Vs. Plastic

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Homeowners have many decisions to make when it comes to mulching garden beds. Annual gardens have different needs than perennial gardens, and different types of mulch each contribute something different to the equation. Inorganic mulches such as landscape fabrics, also known as geotextiles, and landscape plastics each offer their own benefits.

Permeability

Landscape plastic tends to be less permeable than landscape fabrics, preventing the loss of moisture and exchange of gasses with the environment. In an annual vegetable or flower garden, this is often an admirable trait — plastic mulches smother weeds and warm the soil much faster than landscape fabric. On the other hand, areas with soil that is already problematically wet will have a difficult time drying out and fungal pathogens may become problematic.

Lifespan

Landscape fabric is often treated to resist degradation and has a long lifespan, especially when coupled with an organic or stone mulch. Black plastic mulch tends to break down when exposed to heat or direct sunlight. Expect properly installed landscape fabric to last many years, but black plastics should only be applied to annual beds or used for very short-term weed eradication.

Visual Appeal

Depending on the location of your garden, the visual impact of the mulch you choose may be significant. Landscape fabric breathes readily and lasts long enough that adding a layer of decorative mulch makes sense. Black plastic mulches break down rapidly, making a layer of decorative mulch a significant hassle and serious mess once a growing season has passed; they are best relegated to temporary plantings in hidden-away spots.

Weed Suppression

Black plastic is the end all when it comes to weed suppression, but its ability to smother plants can also be a severe disadvantage. Little can survive under a properly installed layer of black plastic due to its ability to limit both photosynthesis and gas exchange. Landscape fabric is less effective at weed control when used alone. However, when paired with a thick layer of organic mulch, it creates a dark, but root-friendly environment that destroys weeds and allows wanted plants to thrive. Watch other mulches placed on top of landscape fabric, though — as it breaks down, this layer often grows weeds of its own.

Landscape Fabric Vs. Plastic. Homeowners have many decisions to make when it comes to mulching garden beds. Annual gardens have different needs than perennial gardens, and different types of mulch each contribute something different to the equation. Inorganic mulches such as landscape fabrics, also known as …