One of the most popular products utilized when people are making new flower beds or landscaping is that black, fibrous landscape fabric. It is very common in yards all across America, and while it is effective for several months, it ultimately is detrimental to your flower beds! Overall landscape fabric is a bad idea for weed control. In this guide I will list the reasons as to why you should use cardboard or newspaper instead of landscape fabric.
Reasons why you shouldn’t use Landscape Fabric in Gardens and Flower Beds
1 – Landscape Fabric is only effective for a short time
What’s that you ask? Isn’t landscape fabric permanent? Why yes! It will last for decades under your mulch. But here is the thing – when you first construct a flower bed you may have some perennial, deep-rooted weeds that will grow up through your mulch layer. There may be a few other weed seeds that get stirred up during construction and will germinate. Dandelions, Burdock, and thistle all have the ability to punch through several layers of mulch. Using some kind of barrier (like landscape fabric) will smother them effectively.
But after that first few weeks, no more deep-rooted weeds will be alive. Weed seeds will blow in on top of your mulch and germinate. Bird droppings also will contain some weed seeds. Your landscape fabric will not stop them from germinating.
Let me repeat that – you will still get weeds in your flower beds even if you use landscape fabric. They will blow in from the surrounding environment and from bird droppings.
2 – Landscape Fabric prevents organic matter from getting down to the soil
Overtime your mulch will degrade and compost itself. This decomposition is basically improving your soil by adding organic matter. By using landscape fabric, you will be creating a barrier that will prevent any of the organic matter from getting deeper into the soil. You are effectively creating a nice, but thin layer of good soil on top of the landscape fabric.
3 – Landscape Fabric prevents worms from aerating/fertilizing your soil
Worms are excellent for improving soils. As they move up and down through the soil they are constantly eating and them expelling worm castings / vermicompost (aka – really good fertilizer). Additionally their movement aerates the soil and reduces compaction. Worms cannot pass through landscape fabric. And worms need to reach the soil surface to survive. So, having landscape fabric will reduce the health of the soil in your flowerbed.
4 – Landscape Fabric is Expensive
Landscape fabric costs about $0.50 / square foot when you factor in the edging pins you need to hold them down. It generally comes in a rectangular shape, rolled up. If you will have contoured or round beds (which many do) you will have to trim/waste some of the fabric. This cost is completely unnecessary for the function landscape fabric performs.
5 – Landscape Fabric makes it difficult to modify the garden layout
If you want to move, add, or divide plants after a year or two, landscape fabric will make it difficult. You need to scrape away mulch down to the fabric, then cut a hole in the fabric where you want your new plant. It is much easier to just not have barriers between your mulch and soil!
If you want to divide a plant that is getting large, then it becomes much harder. The rootmass of a mature perennial will likely be much larger than the original hole or “X” you cut into the fabric. Landscape fabric makes this a more complicated chore than it needs to be.
An environmentally friendly alternative to Landscape Fabric
So, what if I told you that there is something that will perform the same function of landscape fabric, just as well and is often free? You can use newspaper or cardboard in place of landscape fabric! We’ve written a guide for how to use cardboard or newspaper to stop weeds and smother grass. But if you want to know the reasoning, see the list below!
Reasons to use newspaper or cardboard instead of landscape fabric
1 – It will stop weeds that have deep roots/prevent seeds from germinating for several months
Good corrugated cardboard, or thick layers of newspaper will be tough enough to stop dandelions and other deep-rooted weeds from coming up through your mulch. Studies have found cardboard mulch to be excellent in preventing weed growth. It will take several months before the cardboard/newspaper degrades enough, but by that time the weeds will all be dead.
2 – It will allow earthworms to reach the soil surface
After several months the cardboard will degrade to where earth worms can pass through. Think of it as passive composting. It will take about the same amount of time for the newspaper to break down. Once this occurs, they can aerate your flowerbed soil naturally, and allow for the transfer of organic matter deep into the soil. By improving the health of your soil, the flowers and landscape plants you grow will be bigger, fuller, and more beautiful.
3 – When newspaper and cardboard degrade, you are getting free fertilizer!
Newspaper and cardboard are able to be composted. And this natural process will occur between your soil and mulch, creating a thin layer of compost. This will provide nutrients to your flowers, making them healthier!
4 – Newspaper and Cardboard are generally free
Even if you don’t subscribe to the local paper, you can usually get enough for free. You can often get free newspaper in mail advertisements. I just save our local grocery store ads each week until I’ve accumulated enough to make my layer ( I use about 10 sheets thick).
For cardboard, save boxes and talk to your neighbors. If a few neighbors know you are looking for some cardboard, then they may save some for you to use. All of this can be free.
I hope you have found this article useful as to why you should not use landscape fabric when making flower beds. I also hope that I’ve convinced you to use the biodegradable alternatives in cardboard and newspaper. If you enjoyed this article, or want to learn about how the newspaper and cardboard breakdown – check out our post on how to compost. I give you all the details on the bacteria and microbes that can turn our waste into wonderful fertilizer – and all for free!
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Be sure to also check out our post on WHY TO SAY NO TO RAISED BEDS IN YOUR GARDEN:
Reasons You Shouldn’t Make Raised Bed Garden
Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!
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Why do you need landscape fabric? ›
The idea behind using landscape fabric is that it will permanently eliminate the need to weed the garden by forming a barrier that blocks weed seeds from germinating, while still being porous enough to allow water to reach the roots of shrubs and perennials.Should I use landscape fabric around trees? ›
Yes – Gardeners who use landscape fabric use it to stop rock mulch from sinking or disappearing into the soil, prevent soil erosion, and dramatically reduce weeds.What are the cons of landscape fabric? ›
The cons of landscape fabric
Landscape fabric requires regular maintenance and replacement. Many of landscape fabric's benefits, such as allowing air and water into the soil, will worsen over time. Soil and weed seeds from neighboring lawns and gardens can accumulate above the landscape fabric.
Permeability - At the store, landscape fabric usually can be found in two forms: 1) a woven fabric created by weaving thin strips of plastic and 2) a spun fabric created using polyester fibers. These landscape fabrics are somewhat porous in both cases, meaning they allow water and air to move through.Do professional landscapers use fabric? ›
Landscape fabric, otherwise endearingly known as weed fabric is one of those things that get us landscape professionals up in arms. Yes, it does prevent weeds (but only for a time).Is landscape fabric worth using? ›
Landscaping fabric generally works as a weed barrier for a year or less before its usefulness starts declining. In fact, and according to the University of Florida, its long-term use can negatively affect soil and plant health and is best used where ornamental plants aren't growing like pathways or around mailboxes.Why are weeds growing through landscape fabric? ›
Weeds will poke through any openings you left or created in the fabric, though. Organic matter will build up over time above the landscape fabric — as the mulch decomposes — and weeds will start to grow above the fabric. These weeds will be easy to pull but you still will need to weed the bed.What are the disadvantages of fabric? ›
Washing fabrics also causes pilling. Pilling is generally seen in man made fabrics like polyester and jute. A slower agitation and shorter cycle should be used along with detergents. Shrinking is the process where a fabric becomes smaller than its original size through the process of laundry.Does landscape fabric grow mold? ›
Even companies that sell landscaping fabric caution against using plastic because it doesn't allow plants to breathe, inhibits proper drainage and creates an environment for fungus, mold, bacteria and rot.Does landscape fabric hurt soil? ›
One of the major drawbacks cited about landscape fabric is that it prevents nutrients from reaching the soil, which can cause it to become unhealthy in turn. Yet, Kemper says Jobe's fabrics allow the air, water and nutrients still reach the plants while keeping weed seeds from germinating.
Do you put soil on top of landscape fabric? ›
It is very important to complete this task first as the landscape fabric will go above the soil. In most cases, it is very beneficial to the garden to dig down about two or three inches and surround the perimeter of the garden with a 2X4. This will keep the area in which the fertilizer is laid down in place.Can you leave weeds under landscape fabric? ›
Yes, you can. Synthetic landscape fabrics provide a physical barrier to weeds yet allow air, water and nutrients through to plant roots. Spread the fabric over bare soil around trees and shrubs; overlap several inches of fabric at the seams. Anchor the material with U-shaped metal pins, then conceal it with 1 to 2 in.Does rain go through landscape fabric? ›
Landscape Fabric Stops Rain
This is mostly a gardening myth. The reality is that some rain will go through the holes, but much of it flows over top of the cloth and away from your plants, which remain dry.
- Wood chips.
- Bark mulches.
- Pine needles.
- Shredded leaves.
- Grass clippings.
Pine needles, grass clippings, and shredded leaves are free alternatives to landscape fabric. They're also environmentally friendly and easy to spread in your garden and flower beds. Pine needles, mulched leaves, and recycled grass clippings prevent soil erosion, hold onto moisture, and enrich the soil with nitrogen.What should you not do when landscaping? ›
- Failing to Fertilize Properly.
- Using the Wrong-Size Pots. ...
- Forgetting the View From Your Window. ...
- Cutting Grass Too Short. ...
- Planting Too Deeply. ...
- Planting in the Wrong Place. ...
- Forgetting to Recycle. ...
- Excessive Lawn Ornamentation. ...
A free, biodegradable alternative to landscape fabric is to use simple old cardboard. The idea is derived from the concept of sheet mulching. In permaculture, sheet mulching can be done to reclaim an area of land that might have been weedy or even covered with grass.What happens if you put landscape fabric over grass? ›
One downside to installing landscape fabric directly over a lawn is that the surface may become lumpy and uneven as the sod decomposes. Spreading a deep layer of pea gravel and re-grading it with a rake is a simple solution to the problem.Is it better to use landscape fabric or plastic? ›
Plastic is better for killing weeds and retaining moisture in dry soil than landscape fabric. However, landscape fabric is better suited to keeping weeds away from an area while allowing water to flow freely. Landscape fabric is more durable and will last much longer than plastic sheeting.Should landscape fabric go under gravel? ›
Should landscape fabric go under gravel? Yes. Putting landscape fabric under gravel isn't a requirement, but it is recommended. When used under gravel, it provides all the positives of weed control and added stability, without any of the negatives.
Does landscape fabric stop tree roots? ›
Many gardeners use the heavy-duty fabric as a physical barrier around the gardens' borders to deter pests and invasive grass. It's useful underneath rock mulches and behind retaining walls to help prevent soil and roots from reaching the cracks.How long does landscape fabric keep weeds out? ›
The purpose of landscape fabric is to control weeds. It's bound to do its job effectively for the first year or two, but be prepared to pull weeds that may sprout on top of the fabric later.Can I just put landscape fabric over weeds? ›
Can I Put Landscape Fabric Over Weeds? Yes, you can. Synthetic landscape fabrics provide a physical barrier to weeds yet allow air, water and nutrients through to plant roots. Spread the fabric over bare soil around trees and shrubs; overlap several inches of fabric at the seams.What is better for landscaping plastic or fabric? ›
Landscaping fabric is the more durable product between the two. It's more expensive and the overall structure is tougher. Landscape fabric also comes in different types and each of these types serves a specific purpose. Black plastic, on the other hand, is primarily used to eliminate weed growth.Can I use a tarp instead of landscape fabric? ›
A tarp that is completely waterproof is best for water gardens. For traditional gardens, most tarps will work, but you need to cover them with stones or mulch for aesthetics and drainage.Does putting cardboard down stop weeds? ›
Both cardboard and landscaping fabric can keep weeds under control, but often at the cost of other landscaping features. Landscaping fabric lasts longer than cardboard, but it prevents plant roots from properly penetrating the soil. Cardboard breaks down, but it only acts as a temporary base layer for mulch beds.Can plant roots grow through landscape fabric? ›
Can perennials grow through landscape fabric? Yes, they can. But, landscape fabric may constrict the growth of plants. Not all, but many perennial plants will be inhibited from growing larger over time, because they have no room to expand.Can I put rocks on top of landscape fabric? ›
Spread the rock mulch on top of the fabric by hand or with your garden rake. Cover the whole area with rock –– you don't want any landscape fabric playing peek-a-boo! The rock layer should not exceed more than 2 inches thick.Can I put 2 layers of landscape fabric? ›
You can double-layer landscape fabric. However, it's generally not safe, especially in your vegetable garden. The extra layer of fabric could adversely affect the soil. Therefore, double layering landscape fabric would be counterproductive and could destroy your garden.Does it matter which side of landscape fabric goes up? ›
Landscape cloth is like a thin rug. The slightly shiny side is meant to face up; the duller fuzzy side to face down, because that adheres well to the soil.
Does landscape fabric prevent drainage? ›
Non-woven geotextile fabric barriers are great at weed suppression and drainage / filtration applications. These non-woven fabrics allow water and air to pass through easily and can help promote drainage and plant growth.Does landscaping fabric hurt worms? ›
Worms cannot pass through landscape fabric. And worms need to reach the soil surface to survive. So, having landscape fabric will reduce the health of the soil in your flowerbed.