Is Landscape Fabric EVER Not Horrible?

No holiday post from me – but I bet you’ve seen plenty lately, and anyway, this post has been sitting in draft for ages. Because I watch so many gardening videos, I’ve naturally come across a few about landscape fabric, also called weed cloth. Though we associate its use with landscapers – bad ones – landscaper John Holden in Connecticut asks on video “Should I Have Landscape Fabric?” and answered with a resounding NO (so resounding, I added “NO” to the title when I embedded it). His point is that yes, it will prevent weeds for 3-4 years but he’s against it because:

It’ll form a “nice layer of soil on top, which will grow weeds in it.”

Related Posts: best watering can for indoor plants

Related Posts: how to repot orchids in bark

The use of landscape fabric might seem like a good idea to prevent weeds from taking over your garden, but it can actually create more problems in the long run. According to John Holden, landscape fabric can form a layer of soil on top, which ironically becomes a breeding ground for weeds. The fabric prevents the mixing of the nice soil layer with the soil below, causing weed growth and making it difficult to maintain your garden properly.

The nice soil can’t mix with the soil below because of the fabric barrier (photo above).

The fabric barrier created by landscape fabric can also inhibit the mixing of the nice soil layer with the soil below. This lack of integration between the different layers of soil can cause drainage issues and nutrient imbalances, leading to unhealthy plant growth and a less thriving garden overall. Additionally, the fabric barrier makes it challenging to add new plants or make changes to your garden layout since the roots can get tangled up with the fabric, resulting in a messy and frustrating experience.

It’s a pain to work with – hard to move or add new plants because the roots get mixed up with the fabric. “Just gets messy.”

One of the downsides of landscape fabric is its difficulty to work with. It becomes a hassle to move or add new plants because the roots tend to get tangled up with the fabric. This can make gardening tasks messy and time-consuming, taking away the joy and ease that should come with maintaining your garden.

Rhyzomes from the lawn can creep under the fabric and spread. “Just really nasty.”

Another issue with landscape fabric is that it doesn’t always prevent the spread of rhizomes from your lawn. These creeping underground stems can find their way under the fabric barrier and continue to grow, causing invasive and unwanted plant spread in your garden. Dealing with these pesky intruders can be a nasty and frustrating task.

Oh, and even worse than actual weed cloth? He’s seen people too cheap to buy the stuff putting plastic bags and tarps under their mulch!

Another common mistake made by some gardeners is using plastic bags or tarps as a substitute for proper weed cloth. Not only is this a cheaper alternative, but it can also lead to even more complications in your garden. Plastic bags and tarps are not designed for this purpose and can cause issues such as poor drainage, lack of air circulation, and adverse effects on the health of your plants.

Another landscaper, Jim Putnam of HortTube – judiciously titled his video “Pros and Cons of Using Weed Control Fabric.” He agrees with the short-term help with weed control but notes the problem that “Birds drop seeds, your mulch breaks down, and eventually you’re going to have an environment where weeds are going to come up, anyway.” Though at least “when the weeds first germinate, if you get them right away they’re very easy to pull on top of the fabric.” But just wait: “If they get rooted into the fabric (as it gets old), when you try to pull them out it’ll rip the fabric up.”

Jim Putnam also discusses the pros and cons of using weed control fabric in his video. While it may offer some short-term help with weed control, it’s important to consider the long-term effects. Eventually, weeds will still find a way to grow, especially when birds drop seeds or when the mulch breaks down over time. The fabric can make it easier to pull out weeds when they first germinate, but once they become rooted into the fabric, removing them can result in damage to the fabric itself.

Back to the advantages, this one’s telling: If you put the fabric under gravel and have “gravel regret” – which he’s seen many times, with customers needing to have their gravel removed – “it’s very easy to remove if there’s fabric underneath.” Which may be a case of two wrongs making a right.

However, one advantage of landscape fabric, as pointed out by Jim Putnam, is its ease of removal. If you have gravel regret and need to remove the gravel layer, having landscape fabric underneath can make the process much simpler. The fabric acts as a barrier between the gravel and the soil, making it easier to lift and remove the gravel without disturbing the underlying soil.

But he hasn’t finished with the negatives. It’s an additional expense for a short-term solution, and it prevents soil improvement.

Despite this potential benefit, Jim Putnam also highlights the downsides of using landscape fabric. It can be an added expense for a solution that only provides short-term weed control. Furthermore, the fabric can hinder soil improvement as it prevents the natural mixing and nutrient flow between layers of soil. In the long run, this can lead to less fertile soil and poorer plant health.

Jim also challenges an advantage he’s heard touted for fabric – that it holds moisture – declaring that that’s actually a negative because when he’s pulled it up on landscape jobs the soil smelled terrible underneath it. That’s because the fabric is holding water in place, but not allowing enough air through it for the material underneath to break down properly. “Dead plant parts can’t decay properly and it actually just rots.”

Contrary to popular belief, landscape fabric’s ability to hold moisture isn’t always a positive feature. According to Jim Putnam, he has encountered situations where the soil under the fabric smelled terrible when he removed it on landscaping jobs. This is because the fabric retains water without providing enough air circulation for proper decomposition. As a result, dead plant parts can’t decay effectively, leading to unpleasant odors and the decomposition process turning into rot.

One video suggesting an exception to the never-use-the-stuff rule is by Laura at Garden Answer, who uses landscape fabric in her video “Planting the North Pole Arborviteas”. From about 3 to 3:50 minutes, she addresses the issue, saying there’s “definitely some room for landscape fabric,” though she doesn’t recommend it “in areas where you’re continually changing things up.” In its defense, she reminds us that it’s “better than chemically controlling weeds.” Well, there’s that.

While the consensus seems to be against the use of landscape fabric, Laura at Garden Answer offers a different perspective. In her video “Planting the North Pole Arborviteas,” she mentions that there are certain situations where landscape fabric can be useful. She doesn’t recommend it for areas where you frequently make changes, but she acknowledges that it can be an alternative to chemical weed control methods.

I’d run out of videos on the subject, so asked Google to weigh in and found that the industry claims that the fabric “stabilizes soil, retains moisture, saves on mulch, aids in filtration, and minimizes weeding.” An alert commenter was quick to suggest: “Please update your research. Landscape fabric girdles trees, makes weeding more difficult, and deprives soil of water and oxygen.”

Curious about the industry’s perspective, I turned to Google for more information. According to the industry’s claims, landscape fabric offers benefits such as soil stabilization, moisture retention, mulch-saving, filtration assistance, and reduced weed growth. However, it’s important to consider alternative viewpoints as well. A commenter quickly pointed out that landscape fabric can have adverse effects on trees by restricting their growth, making weeding more challenging, and hindering water and oxygen circulation in the soil.

In the industry’s defense, they may have come up with a pitch that actually makes sense: “Of course, weed control isn’t just for planting beds. It’s also needed under decks, patios, and other hardscapes.” Okay.

To provide a fair perspective, it’s worth noting that the industry argues for the use of landscape fabric in certain situations. They highlight its effectiveness in controlling weeds not only in planting beds but also under decks, patios, and other hardscape areas. In these instances, landscape fabric can be seen as a viable solution to prevent unwanted weed growth.

More research led me to “6 Reasons why Landscape Fabric is a Bad Idea” from a lawn-care company, including this additional negative I hadn’t heard yet: “The fabric contains petroleum and other chemicals. Most gardening experts advise gardeners to avoid using petroleum products or products with chemicals around plants. This is especially true for those plants that are edible.”

Furthermore, a lawn-care company highlights six reasons why landscape fabric is not recommended. One additional concern is that the fabric contains petroleum and other chemicals. Experts in gardening typically advise against using petroleum-based or chemically treated products around plants, especially those that are edible. This is to ensure the safety and health of both the plants and those consuming them.

And another negative to add to my growing list: “Re-seeding is almost impossible. One of the joys of gardening is to see which plants have re-seeded themselves in your yard year after year. When you use landscape fabric, it’s very difficult for plants to re-seed themselves. In addition, bulbs can get pushed around and may not return.”

Another disadvantage of landscape fabric is that it makes re-seeding almost impossible. One of the pleasures of gardening is witnessing plants re-seeding year after year, adding an element of surprise and natural beauty to your yard. However, using landscape fabric can hinder this process as it prevents seeds from adequately reaching the soil. Additionally, bulbs can be displaced by the fabric, and their ability to return may be compromised.

Friend of Rant Genevieve Schmidt of North Coast Gardening offers lots of reasons to hate the stuff, including the one that would top my own list: “The fabric is butt-ugly.” She’s so right that it eventually gets exposed by wind, digging cats, heavy rains, and so on. “And a black plasticky moonscape is exactly what we dream of when envisioning our ideal garden, riiight?”

Adding to the list of reasons to dislike landscape fabric, Genevieve Schmidt of North Coast Gardening points out a top concern – its unattractive appearance. Over time, landscape fabric can become exposed due to factors such as wind, digging animals, heavy rainfall, and more. These elements reveal an ugly and unnatural black plastic surface, far from the idyllic garden scene we envision.

I’m illustrating that truth with the shot above taken in my town, in a highly visible location.
Is Landscape Fabric EVER Not Horrible?

Finally, an industry publication asks “Landscape fabric: yay or nay?” and makes the claim that “Before groundcover or shrubs can grow into a hillside, landscape fabrics can be used to prevent soil erosion.” I’ve seen it used on hillsides, but isn’t that just asking for the mulch to go downhill and reveal the ugliness underneath? Or does ugly not matter in a short-term situation like that one? Really, does anyone know?

In a landscape fabric debate, an industry publication questions whether it should be embraced or avoided altogether. They state that landscape fabric can be useful in preventing soil erosion on hillsides before groundcovers or shrubs have had a chance to establish themselves. However, it’s worth considering the long-term effects and aesthetic concerns. Using landscape fabric on hillsides may lead to mulch sliding downhill and exposing the unsightly fabric underneath. This raises the question of whether the temporary benefits outweigh the long-term consequences and visual impact on the garden. It’s a matter that invites further discussion and consideration.

In conclusion, while landscape fabric may seem like a convenient solution for weed control, it presents significant drawbacks that can affect the overall health and aesthetics of your garden. The fabric can create a breeding ground for weeds, hinder soil improvement, make gardening tasks more challenging, restrict plant re-seeding, and compromise the natural beauty of your garden. It’s essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully before deciding whether to use landscape fabric in your own garden. Remember, there are alternative methods and tools available that can provide effective weed control without the negative side effects associated with landscape fabric. For more gardening tips and insights, visit Tips Tree Planting.

Related Posts: green manuring for fertility enhancement

Related Posts: crab grass removal tool