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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The quality of the landscape fabric—and sound installation practices (discussed below)—will determine how long it will last, but it’s not a miracle product.
Plastic doesn’t decompose like many landscape fabrics are designed to do after a few years, so it must be physically removed. Still, plastic has its place in the landscape—for projects such as installing paver or cobblestone walkways, using plastic landscape sheeting right above the soil will prevent weeds from growing between the stones and offers a permanent solution. In flowerbeds and other planted beds where plants need air to survive and thrive, permeable landscape fabric is the better option.
Disadvantages Of Landscape Fabric
Landscape fabric is constructed from woven fibers or manufactured as a solid sheet with perforated holes to allow water to soak through. Some brands offer UV protection to maintain the life of the fabric. It comes in rolls (view example on Amazon), typically at least 3 feet wide and anywhere from 50 feet to 200 feet, or more, in length. Cost varies from around $.45 per sq. ft., up to $.80 per sq. ft., depending on the brand and thickness. Thicker fabric typically runs a bit more.
Note that virtually all landscape fabric can be covered with mulch of any type—wood chips, gravel, recycled rubber nuggets, etc.
Whether you’re new to gardening or have been at it so long your thumb is a deep shade of green, you may have seen rolls of landscape fabric at DIY stores and gardening centers—and become intrigued. Take our crash course in this material designed to inhibit weeds and keep soil from drying out. We’ll clue you in on the pros versus cons, explain how to pick the best product, and share tips on using it most effectively.