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grass barrier between weed seeds and ground

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.

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.

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.

Watch Now: How to Install Landscape Fabric for Weed Control

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.

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.

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.

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You can also use landscape fabrics to control weeds under decks and in pathways (spread over the excavated soil base before you add gravel or sand). A 3×50-ft. roll of landscape fabric, such as the Typar shown below, costs about $10. The fabric is also available in 36-in. die-cut circles (about $3 each) for installing at the base of trees.

The frequency and timing of your fertilizing efforts are also crucial to healthy lawns. Both vary depending on your lawn type and the length of your growing season. Most northern lawns need only one or two applications of fertilizer annually—once in fall and sometimes a second time in spring. Southern grasses might require three feedings—early to mid-spring just after the grass greens up, early summer and again in early fall.

Where to Find It

Frequent, light watering causes shallow roots and helps annual bluegrass, crabgrass, chickweed, sedges and other weed seeds germinate. If you water too little, the lawn suffers while spotted spurge, Bermuda grass, quackgrass and other weeds adapted to drier soil thrive. Instead, provide your lawn with infrequent, deep soakings. Lawns need about 1 inch of water per week. Set an empty tuna can on the lawn to determine when you have applied 1 inch of water.

Any weeds that grow through mulch are easy to pull because the soil remains loose. Photo by Saxon Holt

Preemergence herbicides, such as those containing oryzalin or trifluralin (look on the label for these chemicals), or nontoxic corn gluten meal, kill weeds just as they germinate and will not eradicate established weeds. For a preemergence herbicide to be effective, you must apply it to soil cleared of visible weeds; also, you have to water most of these herbicides into the soil.

(For those of you who already have weeds attacking your yard, read our article on How to Get Rid of Weeds.)