Do you ever look at your neighbors’ landscaping and wonder how their garden beds stay weed-free?
Chances are, the secret is landscaping fabric.
Landscaping fabric, also called weed cloth, provides a semi-permeable barrier between the soil and the world above.
Landscape fabric is most commonly used to keep weeds from sprouting.
Unfortunately, evidence suggests that using this material can also have a negative effect on plant health, soil quality, and the environment as a whole.
So, should you install landscape fabric in your garden to keep pesky weeds at bay?
Or does this material do more harm to the environment than it’s worth?
What Does Landscaping Fabric Do?
When placed over the soil, landscaping fabric stops weed seeds from germinating and sprouting to the surface.
This is largely because the fabric blocks sunlight from reaching the seeds.
Landscaping fabric can help keep soil in place and prevent erosion, especially if the area lacks mature plant matter.
It also traps moisture in the soil, improving water efficiency in arid climates.
In more specialized applications, landscaping fabric is used to boost groundwater filtration and stabilize the soil under pavers and other hardscaping elements.
Is Landscaping Fabric Waterproof?
No, landscaping fabric is not waterproof.
While a major feature of landscaping fabric is that it holds moisture in the soil, it is still permeable.
Water needs to be able to enter the soil, or else your plants’ roots will dry out and die.
How Permeable Is Landscaping Fabric?
To understand how landscaping fabric lets water through, let’s compare it to a cotton bed sheet.
If you place a cotton bed sheet over a wet surface, it will take longer for the surface to dry.
At the same time, the cotton bed sheet won’t keep the surface underneath dry if it rains or you sprayed the whole thing with a hose.
It’s also important to remember that landscaping fabric is not the same as landscaping plastic.
The latter material is waterproof and is meant for slightly different applications than landscaping fabric.
Is Landscaping Fabric Flammable?
Yes, landscaping fabric is flammable.
You should avoid using landscaping fabric in areas where an open flame will be present, such as a backyard fire pit.
Can You Burn Landscape Fabric?
Yes. Burning is a popular method for creating holes in landscaping fabric.
These holes allow plants to grow through while stopping weeds from sprouting in the areas between.
You can also use a sharp blade to cut holes in the fabric barrier.
Landscaping fabric that has been burned or cut in this way is ideal for vegetable gardening or annual beds.
However, the barrier typically can’t be reused the following year and must be discarded.
Is Landscaping Fabric Necessary?
No, landscaping fabric is not necessary. In many circles, its use is actually quite controversial!
Whether you believe landscaping fabric is beneficial or not is a personal opinion.
The one exception to this rule is when installing a layer of rock or gravel.
Placing landscape fabric or plastic underneath gravel will prevent the stones from sinking into the soil.
Is Landscaping Fabric a Good Idea for Your Project?
Is Landscaping Fabric Good For Gardens?
Landscape fabric is ideal for spaces with trees, shrubbery, and other mature plantings.
It’s far less ideal for vegetable or ornamental gardens where new plants are introduced every year.
Some gardeners do use landscaping fabric with success. For the average person, though, it is far from the best option.
Is Landscaping Fabric Good For Mulch?
Using landscape fabric underneath mulch is a great way to improve its longevity and overall appearance.
Landscape fabric provides a sturdy barrier between mulch and the soil below.
It can help keep mulch in place and stop it from sinking into the soil’s surface.
Landscaping fabric may also prolong the lifespan of organic mulches.
Mulch will naturally decompose when exposed to the moisture and microorganisms in soil.
Installing a fabric barrier separates the two materials, slowing down the decomposition process and helping your mulch last longer.
Is Landscaping Fabric Good For Soil?
When it comes to soil health, landscaping fabric does more harm than good.
While landscape fabric allows moisture to pass through, it blocks quite a bit.
It also disrupts the transference of oxygen to and from the soil (which plants take up through their roots).
These issues can worsen with time as the landscaping fabric becomes caked with mulch or plant matter.
The best gardening soil contains lots of nutritious organic matter, normally in the form of decomposed plant matter.
Landscaping fabric prevents beneficial decomposers like earthworms and fungi from doing their jobs.
You might not notice a difference in soil quality immediately after installing landscape fabric.
But over time this barrier will drain the soil of essential nutrients.
Does Landscaping Fabric Kill Grass?
Yes, landscaping fabric kills grass.
Many homeowners use landscaping fabric to kill off old turf before seeding their lawn with a new grass species or installing a garden bed.
If your goal is to kill the existing grass in an area as quickly as possible, then landscaping plastic will work even better.
Either way, you should remove the barrier and clear away the layer of thatch underneath before replanting the soil.
Grass will not grow properly over landscaping fabric, even with a layer of soil over the top of it.
Does Landscaping Fabric Kill Weeds?
You can lay landscaping fabric over mature weeds to deprive them of sunlight. Chances are, many will die off within a few days.
Unfortunately, particularly stubborn weeds can easily break through landscaping fabric or even grow around it.
This material is much better at preventing new weeds from sprouting than it is at killing off established ones.
For the best results, it’s recommended that you remove weeds from an area before installing a fabric barrier.
What Is the Best Type of Fabric for Landscaping?
You should use a woven or perforated fabric barrier for your landscaping projects.
Woven landscaping fabric is permeable regardless of what it’s made of.
If you hold woven fabric up to the light, you can see the tiny gaps that allow water and other molecules to pass through.
Perforated landscaping fabric is exactly what it sounds like. This material has small holes punched through for even greater permeability than woven fabric.
Other types of landscape barriers, including non-woven fabric and plastic, should only be used for projects like hardscaping.
These materials aren’t permeable enough to use in a garden bed.
What Is Landscaping Fabric Made From?
Most landscaping fabric is made of plastic, like polyester or polypropylene.
Despite burlap’s sustainability, it’s far less popular than plastic-based barriers in contemporary landscaping.
Is Landscaping Fabric Toxic?
There is no conclusive evidence that plastic landscaping fabric is toxic (at least in the sense that the material leaks harmful chemicals into the soil).
However, there is plenty of reason to limit or completely avoid its use.
The manufacturing process behind many petroleum-based products releases harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.
And once your landscaping fabric has done its job and must be disposed of, there’s a very high chance it will end up in a landfill.
Is Landscaping Fabric Compostable?
Composting is a great way to recycle household waste and produce fertilizer for your garden.
In a perfect world, everything we consume would be compostable. Sadly, the majority of landscaping fabric used today is not.
For a landscaping barrier to be compostable, it must be made entirely of organic materials.
For example, burlap is compostable. However, fabric with any amount of plastic used in the manufacturing process is not.
Is Landscaping Fabric Biodegradable?
For a material to be biodegradable, it must be capable of breaking down through natural means.
Unlike composting, this process can take several years — even decades.
Even with this broader definition, the vast majority of landscaping fabric is not biodegradable.
Are There Eco-Friendly Landscaping Fabrics?
Yes! Many companies have recognized the need for more sustainable barriers and have engineered eco-friendly alternatives to traditional landscape fabric.
These eco-friendly products do much the same job as a fabric barrier and are commonly called paper mulch or weed barriers.
Home gardeners can DIY a similar solution by laying down old newspaper or cardboard in place of fabric.
These paper-based barriers offer protection against weeds without any of the hazards of regular landscaping fabric.
However, because they are built to break down into the soil, eco-friendly alternatives must be replaced every year.
How Long Will Landscape Fabric Last?
On average, landscaping fabric will last about ten years before it must be replaced.
However, it can lose efficacy in as little as one year. The longevity of landscaping fabric varies greatly.
Some factors that will affect your landscape fabric’s lifespan include the installation quality, nearby plants, and material.
Should I Remove Old Landscaping Fabric?
If your landscape features an old fabric or plastic barrier that you no longer want, it can be easier to just let it be rather than remove it all.
But removing old landscaping fabric is the best choice for your plants.
As landscaping fabric ages, it breaks down. This can mean tearing, ripping, and bunching.
Not only does this create gaps for weeds to grow through but it can also leave your garden with an unsightly appearance.
The sooner you remove the old fabric from your yard the happier your landscape plants will be.
You should remove old landscaping fabric before installing a new layer.
While adding a second layer over the old fabric will stop weeds poking through, it will also suffocate the soil (and the plant roots) underneath.
Where to Buy Landscaping Fabric
Landscaping fabric is widely available for use in both commercial and residential projects.
You can buy landscape fabric at most home improvement stores and garden centers. It is also available for purchase online.
Online retailers are a great resource if you’re looking for specialty landscape fabrics, including eco-friendly alternatives.
Another option is to hire a professional to provide and install landscaping fabric for you.
Most professional landscaping companies offer this service.
How Much Is Landscaping Fabric?
The cost of landscaping fabric varies greatly.
The biggest determining factor of price is quality. Other factors like location or retailer may also affect the cost.
High-quality landscaping fabric averages $1 to $3 per square foot. Lower-quality fabric is available for less than a dollar per square foot.
Measure your project in advance to estimate the total cost of buying fabric.
In the grand scheme of things, landscaping fabric is quite affordable.
Much of the expense associated with landscaping fabric has to do with the installation cost.
While you can install landscape fabric yourself, there are many scenarios where hiring a professional is necessary or a better value.
Again, the cost of hiring someone to install landscape fabric varies greatly.
Depending on the size of your project and labor rates in your area, this service can cost up to $200 on average.
Remember, these costs are just basic estimates. It’s important to research rates in your area!
When You Should Not Use Landscaping Fabric
Whether or not to use landscape fabric ultimately comes down to personal preference.
There are plenty of reasons to avoid this material but also many reasons to give it a try.
If you’re not sure whether landscape fabric is right for your project, here are a few reasons to avoid it:
You Don’t Know if It’s Necessary
Even professional landscapers agree that installing a fabric barrier is often more trouble than it’s worth.
Many homeowners jump straight to using landscaping fabric without waiting to try alternative solutions.
Mulch alone can help keep soil in place and cut down on the presence of weeds.
Hand-weeding is also much easier without a layer of fabric holding things in place.
With the exception of laying down rock or gravel, there are very few cases where landscape fabric is the only answer.
You Care About Native Wildlife
One of the biggest drawbacks to using landscape fabric is that it cuts off the soil from the rest of the world.
We’ve already mentioned how this impacts the nutrient levels in topsoil over time. It can also harm the local wildlife.
Earthworms can’t move through landscape fabric and will die if trapped underneath.
Birds and other surface animals can’t get through the fabric to eat said worms and other insects.
Installing landscape fabric will disrupt the natural cycle of life in your yard or garden.
You Use Compost
Compost is an incredible fertilizer for vegetables and ornamental plants.
But you can say goodbye to using your old household scraps as plant food if you install landscaping fabric.
Landscaping fabric prevents decomposing materials from reaching the soil below — including your hard-earned compost.
Liquid chemical fertilizers are likely the only product that will penetrate the fabric barrier.
You Rely On Reseeding in Your Garden
Reseeding (or self-seeding) plants are those that drop seeds before dying off each year.
Once the next growing season starts, a new generation of plants will grow in the originals’ places.
Reseeding is a completely natural process that many gardeners take advantage of to save money and labor.
It’s also an exciting way to watch plant genetics in real-time, as different parents crossbreed and produce new varieties of fruit and flowers.
Landscaping fabric stops these seeds from entering the soil and germinating.
So rather than getting several generations out of a single plant, you’ll need to purchase new seedlings every year.
Landscaping fabric works well against unsightly weeds. Yet it often does so at the expense of the environment.
If landscaping fabric is the best option for your project, take steps for responsible maintenance and removal:
- Only install landscaping fabric where necessary.
- Select highly permeable fabric whenever possible.
- Remove old or damaged landscape fabric as needed.
- Reach out to recycling centers to find one that will accept used landscaping fabric.
For the most eco-friendly landscaping possible, opt for a biodegradable weed barrier or use old cardboard or newspaper.
Burlap is another compostable option that many gardeners love.
These biodegradable solutions won’t last as long as plastic-based landscaping fabric.
But that’s a small price to pay for improved soil quality and less waste entering the environment!