After a hot, rainy summer, weeds may be overtaking much of your landscape. As you cool off surfing the internet or cruising the aisles of garden centers and big box stores, you may see all kinds of landscape fabrics promising you a weed-free future. Resist! Although it seems logical that physical barriers are an ideal solution to weeds populating unplanted garden areas, they almost never work.
What are weed-blocking products?
Landscape fabrics are typically sold in rolls of woven plastic fiber material or spun polyester (like row cover materials used for providing shade, insect exclusion, or frost protection). These products are touted as permanent barriers that prevent weeds while remaining permeable to water and nutrients; neither remains true over time.
Typical installation requires several steps:
- Remove all existing weeds and prepare the area for any new planting.
- Measure and cut sheets to cover bare earth in garden areas, overlapping the fabric, when necessary.
- If there are existing plants, you will need to fit the fabric around them or make holes that will
fit over these plants when you install the fabric.
- Secure the fabric with staples.
- After adding any additional plants, top the fabric with mulch to conceal the fabric and help keep it in place.
Why they don’t work as intended:
Although these landscape products may initially work as advertised, they usually quickly fail in many ways!
The fabrics themselves often become problematic:
- Shifting or eroding mulch often exposes the fabric, which is unsightly and becomes more vulnerable to deterioration.
- Eventually the pores that permit exchange of water and nutrients clog with debris—researchers find that this clogging also affects the exchange of carbon dioxide, potentially harming plant roots, microbes, and other critters living in the soil!
- Planting and other activities may create tears or fragment the fabric, making it not only easier for weeds to grow up through it, but also more difficult to remove or replace.
- The mulch and other debris on top of the fabric also provide a place for weed seeds to sprout and prosper. Their roots attempt to grow through the fabric and become so attached that trying to remove them dislodges and/or tears the material.
Alternatives to landscape fabrics
If you want to prevent weeds, organic mulches applied regularly suppress many weeds and help improve your soil. If you are already battling weeds, consider the variety of ways you can reduce these problems in the future including learning to identify which plants are weeds and prioritizing removing those that are most problematic.
Article written by Debbie Green, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer
For more information:
Alternative weed control strategies:
Research on the impact of landscape fabrics:
Removing landscape fabric:
Benefits of organic mulches: