Sunday, June 15, 2014

Is Landscape Fabric Or Weed Barrier A Good Idea?

Many people put down a layer of landscape fabric or weed barrier and then cover it with rocks or mulch when they are planting a new garden.  I'm not a fan of this method.  For a year or two, it looks great.  Then weeds start growing on top of it.  Usually the roots of the weeds grow down through the fabric making it impossible to pull them out.  This creates a frustrating nightmare resulting in the necessary removal of the rocks or mulch and the fabric, potentially damaging the desirable plants that have become established.  No, I'm not a fan.

Here are some better ideas:

 - cardboard or newspapers topped with 6 inches of wood chip mulch will smother weeds and break down over time.

 - it is easy to pull weeds out of 6 inches of mulch.

 - you can continue to add more desirable plants to a garden with thick mulch over time without needing to cut holes in landscape fabric (which can be another nightmare).

 - the soil (and the roots of the desirable plants) can receive water, air and light without landscape fabric smothering it.

 - earthworms and other soil creatures can move to the surface of the soil when they need to if there is no landscape fabric.  The Robins will thank you for this!

lancscape fabric with rocks will be difficult to weed in a few years.  rock or woodchip mulch without the fabric is better for the long term.


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  2. Weed barrier fabric is used by institutions as a standard here in the intermountain west and, in fact, a required detail that the organizations often provide and require. As a landscape architect working for the client, especially large universities or religious organizations, I am hired to work within their facilities framework and they have their own maintenance procedures in place. Other than my own home, I am not doing landscape building, and wonder why this is such a standard if it is such a problem. As I look at completed projects, 5 or 10 years after implementation, the plants seem to be doing well though I cannot comment on worms or soil condition. I am all for things being the best they can be down the road. I have used weed barrier in my yard to control bind weed and nightshade and to prevent deep tap root type weeds from getting a hold in our clay soils. Is there any soil condition or situation where you feel it would be appropriate? I have found that using bark mulch as a weed control has, over time, greatly enhanced my soil at home and can see the advantages in that. One thing to note also is in these institutional details, a 12" to 18" layer of amended soil is called out beneath the fabric which sounds like one way they handle the issues you brought up about soil condition. Would love your feedback.