Love it or hate it, weeding your garden is a chore you have to do regularly. You’ve likely spent time and effort to stop weeds if you have a large garden space. Here, we’re myth busting the use of landscape fabric. By definition, it’s permeable and it’s not a permanent product.
And while some of us love the rhythmic, mindless chore of weeding, we know the smart way to garden is to stop weeds however we can.
Stop Weeds With Landscape Fabric: Fact or Fiction
Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., extension horticulturist and associate professor at the Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University, is our expert resource.
Geotextiles, or filter fabrics, are permeable fabrics that when used with soil have the ability to separate, filter, reinforce, protect or drain. Geotextiles for the home gardener are usually called landscape fabric. Yes, landscape fabric can slow down weeds, but it cannot stop weeds completely.
For those of you already putting 2+2 together and not coming up with 4, landscape fabrics are not designed to stop everything from passing through. Landscape plastic is a completely different product and a discussion for another day!
As Dr. Chalker-Scott says, “These [landscape] fabrics ... are woven in such a way that water and gas exchange can occur but light penetration is significantly reduced.” The fabric is effective in reducing weed-seed germination. A problem arises when applied to a permanent home landscape because it’s not a permanent product.
The Impermanence of Landscape Fabric
The landscape fabric is going to degrade when exposed to the elements. Dr. Chalker-Scott explains, “Such fabrics are effective in agricultural situations, in annual planting beds, or where the landscape is regularly disturbed and the fabrics can be replaced when needed.” Any home gardener who lays down landscape fabric thinking their weeding problem is solved will quickly realize their mistake.
•Soil or other organic matter on top of the fabric will host weed seed
•Weeds will eventually grow up through the fabric making their removal difficult
•Plant roots (of the plants you want to keep!) can grow into the fabric and the plant will be damaged when the fabric is removed
•As the fabric deteriorates the beauty of the garden bed is negatively affected
Landscape fabric can be a temporary solution for an area but it's clearly not a long-term or permanent solution to stop weeds.
Patty Craft is content director for Horticulture. She gardens in southwestern Ohio.