Professional Tips for Using Landscape Fabric Right

by Genevieve on October 9, 2010

Post image for Professional Tips for Using Landscape Fabric Right

I’m no fan of landscape fabric, but I accept that it can be a useful tool in the garden in a few select circumstances. I go into how to decide whether landscape fabric is a good choice for you in this article, but if you’ve decided to use it, I wanted to provide you with some professional tips and pointers on how to install it professionally.

Add amendments to your soil.

CompostOnce that fabric is down, no compost or organic matter is going to be able to get into your soil  until you take the fabric out again, and organic matter is much of what keeps your soil nutritious and hospitable for plants’ roots. So take this opportunity to add as much compost and composted manure as seems reasonable for the types of plant you’ll be planting and the quality of the soil you have currently. When in doubt, use more!

Smooth the soil surface carefully.

Once you’ve amended your soil or added your compost, break up all clods and use a rake (I like the GroundHog) to get a very smooth soil surface, with no steep cliffs or valleys, and no rough bumps. Mulch will slide right off of landscape fabric if it’s too steep, so unless you want to look at the fabric itself (you don’t!), take the time to smooth your soil before putting it down.

Select a high-quality woven fabric, not a sheet of plastic and not the thin stuff you can see through that so many landscape fabric weavehardware stores should be ashamed to sell.

I use Dewitt brand woven landscape fabric. You want it to be a woven fabric so that water and air  can penetrate. Plastic sheets and non-woven landscape cloth don’t allow your plants to get the water and nutrients they need to thrive as they grow.

You also want to purchase a professional grade of landscape cloth, since the thickness of the fabric and tightness of the weave can affect how long it lasts.

Bring the edges of your soil at least 3” below the finished grade of pathways, edging or lawn.

Soilisgradedloweratedgestoallowroomformulch You’re going to add at least 3” of wood chip mulch on top of your landscape fabric, so you want to have room to add that mulch without it spilling over the sides of your walkways, edging and patios. Create a smooth slope from at least 3” below where your finished grade will be, gradually sloping upwards to the middle of your beds.

This photo shows a bed during installation that is 3″ lower on the bed side than it is on the side that will be lawn.

It goes fuzzy side down.

Yep. Fuzzy side goes against the soil so that it can kind of adhere to the soil surface.

If you’re on a severe slope, I’ve seen people use it fuzzy side up so that mulch adheres to the fabric better. I don’t recommend that unless you really have to, because the weave on the fabric is designed to allow water to flow downward through the fabric. It still lets water through if you put it fuzzy side up, but not quite as effectively.

Sides of the fabric should be folded up 1” along the edging.

landscape fabric folded up along edgingWhen you first start unrolling your fabric, place it so you have an extra inch or so to fold up on  the side of your edging or pathway. Remember, you’ll have the level of your soil at least 3” below the grade of your finished edging and pathways, so if you have an additional inch of landscape fabric folding upwards on your edging or concrete, it will be totally hidden by wood chip mulch when you’re through.

What this does is leave no place where weeds can crop up along the edges, because all the soil is covered thoroughly by fabric. Try to smooth the fabric so the fuzz wants to stick to the sides of your edging or concrete, so the fabric is adhering to a surface and not flipping backwards on itself.

Overlap fabric by one foot.

One of the most common issues I see with landscape fabric is when people have to use multiple sheets of fabric to get full coverage, and they don’t overlap well enough. You get this stripe of weeds in the middle of the bed that is very hard to get rid of.

Any time you are using multiple pieces of fabric, you need to overlap it by one foot so that weeds can’t just squeeze through the gaps and grow.

Use pins every one foot.

Landscape fabric pinsYou’re going to need a big box of landscape fabric pins/ staples. Newbies often buy a few bags of  10 pins to hold the landscape fabric down, but really – you’re going to need a heck of a lot more pins than you think.

You need to pin the fabric down at every single edge, every 1’. So if you’re doing a bed that is 5’ wide and 20’ long, and you’re using 3’ wide landscape fabric, you’ll need 20 pins along one side, 20 pins along the center where you overlap your fabric, and 20 pins along the other side plus three pins on the last two sides, for a total of 66 pins at the very least.

It is smart to use pins on a number of other places as well, like after you cut planting holes, you may like to pin the fabric again in that area if it’s looking baggy. You want the fabric to adhere totally to the soil surface and not be loose or flapping.

Cut holes for plants, not flaps or x’s.

I’ve seen a number of landscape plants that never thrived or outright died because people cut out x’s in the fabric instead of cutting away an actual planting hole.

Here’s the deal: those flaps that happen when you cut an x in the fabric? They can end up wedged right along the side of the plant’s rootball and keep its roots from being able to spread in that area. I’ve pulled out dead plants to find that fully half the rootball never made good contact with the soil because one of those flaps got tucked into the soil (gophers can sometimes do this, even if us humans are careful).

Even if the flaps are tucked neatly around the top of the plant’s rootball, the flaps can cause rot by holding moisture against a plant’s woody stem.

I have also seen landscapes where those flaps are waving in the wind, having worked their way out from under the mulch.

Do your plants a favor and cut them out a nice hole.

Be generous in cutting out holes for your plants to grow in, particularly perennials and grasses.

Poor tree - no room to grow!Perennial plants like to spread out a bit, and send new shoots out from their roots. I’ve seen  more than one garden where ornamental grasses or desired perennials were being choked from spreading in a polite and attractive way by the teensy holes cut in the landscape fabric for them to grow in. In ornamental grasses, this leads to a really odd effect where the grass’s base is tiny and the top of the grass is ginormously wide and flopping over.

Perennial roots will choke out weeds once they are mature, so do cut out a generous hole for them when you plant, and check them every year when you cut them back to see if you need to cut more fabric away from their base for them to have room to breathe.

Cover with at least 3” of wood chip mulch, preferably more.

use wood chips, a three inch layerIf light can get through to the soil, then even with a landscape barrier/ fabric, you’ll get a lot of  weeds, and those weeds will be creating holes in the fabric with their roots.

To prevent this, use a minimum of 3” of wood chips to shade out weed seedlings from the soil. New weed seeds will still blow in on top of your mulch, and in order to keep your fabric effective, you must pull them out before their roots get big enough to penetrate the weed cloth.

It is a sad thing indeed to suffer the bad effects of using landscape fabric without getting any real benefit, but that’s what happens if you neglect the weeds to the point where they’re growing through the fabric. Even if you need to hire help, make sure your weeding gets done regularly if you’re using fabric, at least monthly.

You can read more about it in this article, but when you install landscape fabric, remember that it isn’t a permanent solution. Rather, it’s a mindful choice that you’d prefer to do a really very big project in ten years to remove it and refresh your soil with compost, in order to save time on weeding in the first couple of years when the existing weed seeds in your garden’s soil would otherwise have been sprouting.

Photo credit: Compost photo by normanack on Flickr

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

David Askvig June 9, 2011 at 10:46 am

Hello from Salt Lake City, UT. I really appreciate this post. We recently landscaped our whole yard and I was searching everywhere for information on landscape fabric. I also read your posts about why you hate it and when it may be appropriate and they all presented fantastic points. All together, you really helped me plan out the direction I took in our yard. In the end I decided to put down landscape fabric in some areas where there were only a few shrubs and didn’t put down fabric in other areas where there would be more growth and the plants will spread out. I used the high quality woven fabric and it was great to work with and gives me peace of mind. I bought tons of landscape pins –THANK YOU for recommending this– and I almost ran out. I cut holes in the fabric NOT the X’s, I left good space around trees and their roots, I overlapped the fabric a good 12 inches, and I folded up the fabric along the edge. I am very happy with the result and very thankful to you for your insight. It’s nice to have a real person describe the right way to do something, rather than an Ehow post. You’re now in my Google reader feed. Keep up the good work.

Reply

Genevieve June 9, 2011 at 10:58 am

David, thank you so much for your very kind comments! Feedback like that definitely keeps me going. I’m so glad you you were able to really use landscape fabric in a way that was appropriate to your goals. It can be useful if you know what you’re doing and use it right. Go, you!

Reply

Larry LaGattuta November 11, 2011 at 7:36 am

Hi from Michigan -

I have a 200 square foot area of very poor soil and roots along a lakeside shore. My plan was to lay down some landscape fabric and then cover it with six to eight inches of good topsoil and turn it into a lawn. Any comments would be appreciated.

Reply

Genevieve November 11, 2011 at 9:51 am

Larry – do that! Just leave out the landscape fabric, as there is no need for it and it will do a lot of harm and never break down. The roots will go right through it in time and it will be a profound mess. Other than that your plan sounds great! Topdress with a half inch of compost yearly for best results into the future.

Reply

John February 2, 2012 at 10:00 pm

How does this sound: I have a 45 degree grade about 120 feet wide and 3-4 foot deep that slopes downward from my front lawn to the hard surface county road. It is in grass which is dormant for the next couple of winter months. I want to avoid mowing the slope from here on out, so I am purchasing enough Dewitt fabric and pins to cloak the slope in multiple layers. After a few weeks I plan to cut holes and plant blue rug junipers in diamond patterns along the entire slope. Anything wrong with this picture?

Reply

Genevieve February 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm

John, I see a lot that is wrong with this picture, but I don’t feel comfortable advising on it. Please take the time to schedule a consultation with a local landscape contractor who can advise on the particulars of your situation.

Reply

Patsy March 4, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Thanks so much for the advice on how to install the landscape fabric and recommending a sturdy brand. We have about 100 ft. of garden bed to prepare for planting and being up in age we can’t be out there every other day weeding. So we hope the fabric will cut down on that chore.

Thanks again for the great advice.

Patsy

Reply

Kevin April 4, 2012 at 11:52 am

My wife and I would like to reclaim our planting beds which are overrun with several varieties of agressive groundcover that propogate by underground tubers. We have spent countless hours trying to dig up and otherwise erradicate the stuff only to come up short year after year. Will landscape fabric be able to supress an agressive groundcover? Thanks in advance for the advice.

Reply

Genevieve April 4, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Kevin, I wish I could answer that well, but the answer depends on so many factors that we’d need to get on the phone and do a proper consultation about it to get to the bottom of it, and that’s not a service I offer. Can I recommend that you google “garden coach” and your area and see if you can find a landscape consultant who can come out and see the area and speak with you about it?

My gut is saying that no, landscape fabric will not solve your problem, it will only make it harder to solve in the long run. I think if you have not been tackling this issue thoroughly (removing every new sprout that emerges and digging any bulbs that may have become dislodged) every two weeks for two years then you have not yet exhausted what you can do manually. Once you have taken that course of action then yes, often landscape fabric can keep on top of it in future, but if the plants are still robust, then no, the plants will grow through the fabric. I have not had much success with herbicides for plants with tuberous roots like this. Good luck!

Gen

Reply

Nancy May 25, 2012 at 10:20 am

Thank you so much for such a clear article. I entered “garden fabric which side up” in Google and got your site. Very helpful; I was going to use to few pins, cut an “X” and probably guess wrong on which side up, so you saved me. I look forward to reading more after I finish the project I interupted!

Reply

Jodie June 1, 2012 at 12:35 pm

My husband and I are slowly working on the landscape around our house. We would like to create a path between an area of ground cover and the side of our house. Would this be an area to use landscape fabric? We will be covering it with an inorganic material, but think it best to create a barrier between the soil and the rock. Are we faulty in our thinking? Any advice would be much appreciated. Would you still recommend a professional grade landscape fabric?

Reply

Genevieve June 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Hi Jodie,

That’s a perfect use for landscape fabric, and you’ll absolutely want a professional grade woven fabric and not that awful see-through stuff they sell at most hardware stores. Definitely don’t use a sheet of black plastic, either. In that sort of area (under a pathway with rock) I’d usually use a double-layer of pro-grade Dewitt fabric.

Hope that helps.

Gen

Reply

scott March 6, 2013 at 3:41 pm

what about using fabric in a vegtable garden? I have 1200 ft and is always a big chore to keep weeds controled. And put straw mulch around each plant?

Reply

Stephen July 13, 2013 at 11:53 am

Sounds like a plan Scott!, though I don’t know I’d put straw around the plant stalk…you’ll end up pulling weeds and little things here and there, not over the entire bed but around your cutting holes… id garden hoe the whole 1200 and pull out the junk, cut and felt, over lap and pin…as long as it’s mostly level, your fine to replace the surface with a lot choices…hope it goes well!

Reply

Penelope Jordan April 12, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Hello Gen:

I am getting ready to start planting in my neighborhood garden. Last year was my first time planting and I was extremely successful in growing a variety of vegetables. However, the weeds were choking the life out of my garden. The soil quality is not the best, so I wanted in invest in some landscape fabric. I am going to look into the Dewitt brand, but I wanted to know if it would affect my plants. What do you suggest?

Reply

Heidi May 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I made a garden for veggies this year and laid down landscaping fabric and added planting soil to a 10ftx10ft space. i filled the entire space with the fabric and then put the soil down. i sowed all my seeds and some are starting to sprout. I am now realizing you are supposed to cut holes?! Will the roots grow through the fabric or do i need to try and make slits through the dirt?

Thanks!

Reply

Bill Hamilton May 17, 2013 at 10:56 am

My backyard is about 100 foot wide, but at the end where the grass stop, there is a slope down of about 10 ft (45% angle). Weed is growing and no matter what I do to get rid of it, spray, till and remove weed, it keeps coming back. I was thinking of putting Landscape fabric to cover the whole area and wanted to know if it a good idea to plant some ground cover scattered across to help hold the soil from eroding. Would plants be better? Any thought would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

Reply

Charles Morrison June 4, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Hi Genevieve: I have an area approximately 14 feet square with a slight slope (about 2 feet over the 14 feet). It was an old rock garden that someone filled over and planted grass, which has never taken properly. Moreover, the rock garden had lily-of-the-valley at the top — something I’ve been told you can virtually never get rid of. I’ve stripped all of the dead grass, weeks, etc. down to the soil and plan to cover it all with commercial landscape cloth (and your suggests are going to be *very* helpful — thank you!) and then some kind of river rock or limestone. I plan to place 5 circles of lawn edging each about 2 and a half feet in diameter at random places for planting shrubs, grasses, etc., and I will also place decorative stone slabs to create a winding walkway through. The I’ll place the rock around the lawn-edge circles and slabs finally cut the cloth in the circles and plant. Is this even remotely on the right track? Thanks – Charles

Reply

Genevieve June 5, 2013 at 7:51 am

I’d make the circles big enough to fully contain all the foliage from your plants, both for health reasons of the plants (you don’t want their “drip zone” or root area to be under the fabric/ rocks any more than you can help it). Other than that, sounds good from this vantage point. If you actually need pro advice, the APLD website can recommend a designer in your area who could consult with you! :)

Reply

Charles Morrison June 5, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Thank you Genevieve; very helpful! c.

Reply

Bob van der Velden July 27, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Thank you for for your very useful article.
I am planting a large number of seedling trees in prairie grass and
am hoping that landscape fabric covered with wheat straw and
horse manure will discourage the grasses and preserve moisture
until the trees can fend for themselves.
Will the nutrients from continually replenished manure leach through
the fabric?

Reply

Linda Chalfant August 4, 2013 at 5:06 am

Hi Gen,
I have a stone dust pathway and the stone dust needs replenishing. Plants are on one side of the path and grass is on the other. There is no hard edge. I was considering digging down 4 inches adding landscape cloth and replenishing the stone dust. Do I need a hard edge and is this a good use of landscape cloth?
Thanks,

Linda

Reply

Genevieve August 7, 2013 at 7:27 am

I have never built a pathway of stone dust, but yes, landscape fabric can be useful under pathways for sure. Just not in the garden beds where you are trying to grow things!! :)

Reply

Terri August 11, 2013 at 10:10 am

Contractor states it is normal to only put weed barrier down only where weeds were growing and not over the whole area. Have you ever heard of this and is this correct?

Reply

Christine September 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Hi Gen,
Have been building a new garden this summer with large stones and grasses in an alcove area at my church and this weekend we are laying the landscape fabric down and then the RiverRock gravel on top of that. We already have Crusher Rock stone as our base and will ensure this is level before putting the landscape fabric down. Was looking online for insight into what kind of Landscape Fabric to use and your site provided all the information I need as far as type, and how to lay down, overlap, pins etc. I had thought of going to my local HomeDepot but you confirmed I should buy a better grade and I know my local nursery in East Amherst NY carries it. I will repost when complete and tell you how it turned out..thank you so much for providing this invaluable information.

Reply

Genevieve September 5, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Oh, thank you so much, Christine. Comments like yours keep me fired up to continue writing new articles. I’d love to hear about how your project went and any tips you may have to share after doing the work! Warm wishes to you.

Reply

Serena September 7, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Hello~
I am so glad to have have found your site! I am taking over the greenhouse, and planning on having the best winter garden yet. I just finished cleaning everything, down to a good power wash, eliminating cob webs and lots of banana slug poop.
Clover loves to grow in the soil, and this year the nettles were getting out of control. I have decided to use weed mat. Is it a good idea to have the drip line above the mat? That is what I assume, but I have heard of doing it both ways, what do you recommend?
The greenhouse will be full of yummy winter vegetables and herbs, if you have any tips for me, I would greatly appreciate it!
Take care~

Reply

Robert Arnold October 9, 2013 at 9:45 am

Imagine a fully prepared and dug-over veg. plot . What do you think of covering it with fabric for some of the winter months to try to avoid having to do too much weeding in the Spring? I’m an old man and live in 2 countries; the veg plot gets no attention during the winter. I’d appreciate your advice. Thank you.

Reply

Robin April 6, 2014 at 1:18 pm

I have a fenced garden 80′ x 35′. I garden solo, with an occasional cry for help… “Women Wanted to Weed on Wednesday for Wine” … got me 3 girlfriends for a day of weed eradication and fun. This year, I accept it is out of my capability unless I create some labor-reducing features. I will put in 8 raised beds separated by pathways. The beds are 15″ high, and will be filled with amended soil. Also, I will put wire screen on the bottoms to keep out the gophers and other burrowers.

So, I plan to put down landscape fabric or road fabric on the pathways and cover it with wood chips freshly mined from my surrounding woods. As the chips breakdown over the years, I’ll amend the bed soil with it, and add new chips to the paths. Road fabric comes in bigger sheets, so less waste with overlapping. But, it’s made for roads, not edible gardens.
I have a couple concerns:
1. What is road fabric made from, and will it leach toxins into the soil? Is landscape fabric made from the same material?
2. Should I lay it under my raised boxes? The bed soil will be about 14″ deep and I think adequate for the vegetables I plan to grow.
Please also comment on my plan.
Thanx… your posts have already been hugely valuable.

Reply

Wendi April 17, 2014 at 11:39 am

I have a 10×30 vegtable garden…this is the 3rd season. I’ve already tilled. Last year I had more weeds and grass than I could handle. We had sooooo much rain in VA last year, I didn’t have to water once. ;-) I’ve never used landscape fabric, but want to try it this year. Couple questions….you talk about “cutting the holes”, do you cut the holes the size of what the plants are going to grow to or the size they are when you plant them? Do I only mulch on the fabric, or can I mulch up to the plant itself? Thanks in advance for the advice.

Reply

Genevieve April 23, 2014 at 8:24 pm

I cut the holes to fit the ultimate size of the plant, unless you think you are together enough to come back each year and cut away a little more fabric (you’d be a rare individual if so). You can mulch over soil as well, but don’t cover the trunk or stems of the plant.

Reply

Annette May 11, 2014 at 3:09 pm

How far should you extend the landscaping fabric to the edge if you’re not using an actual “edging material”. We just cut ours out, and in the past, the mulch winds up getting raked back under the fabric. If I cut it too short though, the weeds creep into the edge of the beds. Suggestions?

Reply

Anne May 18, 2014 at 2:11 pm

I am building a new house on a lot with a big hill that needs stabilizing before it washes out. The hill is over 70 feet long, 30 fee high and quite steep. I don’t want to even think about planting grass and mowing! Am looking at ground covers to stabilize the soil, but a friend recommended landscape fabric. I haven’t liked it in the past and read your posts. What do you think about stabilizing a hill?

Reply

Jon Coopersmith May 22, 2014 at 9:40 am

We’re laying landscape fabric down in a playground with wooden structures, then covering with rubber mulch. Plastic beams will enclose the area. You mention raising one-inch of the fabric against the barrier. For the wooden structure, should we staple the fabric to the wood or just leave it loose? I assume we will put pins very close to the beams and structures for stability of the fabric.

Thank you.

Reply

Cindy June 22, 2014 at 3:04 pm

We are getting ready to build a new flower bed about 45′ long and 5′ deep :) I am not a fan of landscape fabric, but feel I need a little extra help controlling any grass/weeds. We are wondering if it is a good idea to till before laying the fabric down? I say yes, but so many others I talk to say don’t waste the time…..

HELLLLLP Please!

Reply

Thomas July 26, 2014 at 5:52 am

I live in central Florida. We have a struggling red maple, Acer rubrum, in our right-of-way area between sidewalk and street. The two other red maples of same age 20 feet left and right of it are prospering. The turf grown right up to the trunk. We want to fertilize the struggling maple but not those pesky weeds and grass! So my idea is: (a) clear turf for a good 6 – 8 foot diameter, (b) fertilize, (c) lay down a layer of newspaper or grocery bags, (d) a layer of black landscaping cloth with good sized hole, (e) mulch 3 inches except next to the trunk. After a month or two, rake away mulch, remove landscaping cloth, then pile mulch back in and continue to keep weeds out.

Side note: Your pages are excellent, even though Florida is WAY opposite climate relative to yours. Gotta get one of those GroundHog rakes! :D

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: