Why I Hate Landscape Fabric: An Unfair and Unbalanced Look at Weed Cloth

Why I Hate Landscape Fabric: An Unfair and Unbalanced Look at Weed Cloth

landscaping fabric

The other day I wrote up a post about how to use landscape fabric without screwing it up. Previously I’d written about when using landscape fabric is a good idea and when it’s notSometimes I try to be fair and balanced on an issue so I don’t sound like some kind of gardening zealot. Today isn’t one of those times.

I think landscape fabric sucks.

There, I said it. I regret using it in nearly every case that I have, and I try my hardest to show my clients why they shouldn’t use it, either. I’m not judging you if you want to try using the stuff – I understand why people want to, and if you’re going to use it, I want to share with you how to use it right. But after 14 years of designing and maintaining gardens professionally, it’s a rare garden where I go – oh yeah, that landscape fabric really worked out well! Here’s why I hate it so:

1. Because it sucks the life out of your soil.

Your soil is the happy home of billions and trillions of micro-organisms which work to break down organic and mineral matter into usable nutrients for your plants to use for growth. What’s that mean in normal language? Your established shrubs and trees don’t have to depend on you to fertilize them, because you’ve got this crazy army of micro-beasties making fertilizer out of your existing soil. How’s that for a money saver?

I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know the stats on it, but I can tell you what I have seen over and over again with my own eyes. After ten years, you pull up the landscape fabric, and that soil is dead. Like – dead, dead. Soil that started out cool, crumbly, loose – a soil that plants could stretch, wiggle their toes, and relax into – becomes hard, dusty, impossible to dig with your hands. There’s no organic matter left, water runs off the surface, and it’s hard to dig new planting holes. I don’t know what’s going on under a microscope, but what you can see with your bare eyes is a big soil FAIL.

2. It kills the earthworms.

Or at least it makes them go away. Earthworms like to do two things that are incompatible with landscape fabric: they like to eat compost, and they like to poke their heads out of the soil periodically to breathe and wriggle and do their earthwormy thing. Earthworms rock because they keep your soil aerated with all their tunneling and wiggling, and their castings have all kinds of nutrients that help your plants grow. A soil without earthworms quickly becomes hard and sad.

3. The compost disappears surprisingly fast.

In like three years, a substantial dose of compost or manure can break down and be used up by plants. The natural way is to have a slow, steady dose of compost making its way into the soil from the surface – either leaf litter or a layer of composty goodness, or your wood chips slowly breaking down and adding organic matter to the soil. This keeps the earthworms and soil microbes happily chomping away and creating free fertilizer for you, keeps the soil aerated and crumbly from all that happy earthworm wriggling, and keeps the soil cool and able to hold moisture.

4. Plant roots grow on top of the landscape fabric, which isn’t doing them any favors.

Plants like to grow in happy mulchy stuff. You put happy mulchy stuff on top of your landscape fabric to hide it and keep it from degrading in the sunshine. Your plants send out roots on top of the fabric into the mulch, and then can’t find their way into the soil because there’s this crazy barrier blocking them.

This makes your plants less able to tolerate drought and stress, makes them more dependent on you to water because their feeder roots aren’t plugged into the damp depths of the soil, and makes it harder for them to extract nutrients from the soil, because so many of their roots aren’t actually in the soil. This is made even sadder when you rip up your landscape fabric in ten years, which you will because by that time it will no longer be functioning as a weed barrier (stuff only lasts so long). You’ll be inadvertently ripping out all kinds of plant roots that have grown entangled with the fabric.

5. The fabric is butt-ugly, and you will know this because it is so slick that a stiff wind will blow the mulch off of it.

The landscape fabric will become exposed anyplace where you didn’t smooth the soil below thoroughly enough, or where you have too steep a slope, or if there are whooshing ornamental grasses that brush back and forth against the ground in the wind. Sprinting dogs, kids, digging cats, and heavy rains will all expose your landscape fabric at times. And if you get too low on mulch, you’ll find it impossible to adequately rake the mulch back over the black expanse. And a black plasticky moonscape is exactly what we dream of when envisioning our ideal garden, riiight?

6. If you get behind on your weeding, it’s a nightmare to get the weeds out.

So, it’s supposed to cut down on your weeding time, right? And it sort of does, for the first year or so when the weeds in the top of your soil would have all been sprouting. Beyond that, you’re weeding the same amount you would otherwise have been, and if you get behind on it, watch out! Once the weeds’ roots get entangled in the fabric, it’s very hard to remove them effectively. You can end up with a more difficult weeding problem than you had in the first place, with the weeds’ roots firmly gripping the threads in the landscape fabric so that all you can do is rip their tops off. Fun times.

In addition, you need to put wood mulch on top of the fabric to prevent the sun from degrading it, but wood mulch does break down into compost in time. That means in five years, you essentially have a layer of delicious growing medium on top of your fabric for weed roots to sprout in. What was the point of landscape fabric again?

7. It’s a petroleum product. Yuck!

I’m not some kind of “plastics must die” purist. Some of my favorite gardening tools have plastic handles or plastic parts. But if we can avoid supporting the petrochemical industry by saving ourselves labor and doing something great for our gardens, then that’s just another benefit in the “no landscape fabric” checklist. I won’t even get into what chemicals it might be releasing into the soil. They don’t exactly make BPA-free landscaping fabric like they do water bottles!

8. It’s expensive and time-consuming to install.

At about .50 per square foot, plus .12 a pin, it’s not cheap to install. Those square feet add up fast. The installation rates about a 2 on the “damn it” scale – you’ll probably only let fly with a couple of expletives while putting the stuff down, but it will take up your afternoon and make any future planting a “damn it”-worthy task in itself.

9. You better be sure you wanted your plants there.

You know how so much of gardening seems to be planting something and figuring if it doesn’t do great you’ll try it someplace else? Or shifting plants a couple feet to the right when they overgrow your pathway? It’s a process of experimentation, at least for most of us. And it’s not a process that is very smooth with landscape fabric. Dig up, sweep soil off fabric, patch fabric, cut new hole, dig hole, plant new plant, sweep soil off fabric and smooth soil perfectly again, re-pin everything, move mulch back. Whew! I’m ready for a nap. You’ll think twice before airily declaring that you’ll just move it if it’s no good there.

10. Goodbye Love-in-a-Mist, Cerinthe, and surprise volunteers.

Because your reseeding annuals won’t come up where there’s landscape fabric, or if they do, they’ll fail rather suddenly just before bloom because they can’t get their roots into the soil. Like to do annuals or casually tuck in bulbs each fall? No planting decision is casual with landscape fabric down, and if you do cut a hole in the fabric for some bulbs, you better hope the gophers don’t push them around. I’ve seen bulbs pushed a foot or two off the mark and try to come up from under the fabric. Very sad indeed.

So what’s your alternative?

Well, briefly – use a shedload of mulch! Good weed-free wood chip mulch, and a nice thick 3-4″ layer of it, keeps any weed seeds on the soil surface from sprouting. It breaks down slowly, adds a little something to the soil as it goes, and you can always rake it to the side to add additional compost, plant, or allow re-seeders to spread.

Wood chips take away nitrogen in the top inch of soil, which does not affect good plants in the least (except tiny seedlings or groundcovering plants like Creeping Thyme, Blue Star Creeper, or other 3″ tall or smaller plants). This is actually great news because it really helps suppress weed seedlings that are trying to sprout. There are a ton of other ways of controlling weeds simply and organically, but a thick layer of wood chip mulch in beds is the easiest and most effective thing to do, and the effect truly is comparable to using landscape fabric with none of the icky side effects.

Removing landscaping fabric? Here’s a tool that will help

I recently discovered the Bahco P20 Pruning Knife, and the curved blade and easy-to-grip handle has made it an indispensable tool in my crew’s weed-cloth-removal arsenal. I definitely recommend it if you are stuck removing weed cloth, or want to cut clean planting holes within it.

Want to read more about landscape fabric?

When Using Landscape Fabric Can Be The Right Choice

How to Use Landscape Fabric Without Screwing it Up

How about you?

Do you use landscape fabric in your garden beds? Has it turned out well for you or been a big fat bummer? Let me know in the comments below.


179 responses to “Why I Hate Landscape Fabric: An Unfair and Unbalanced Look at Weed Cloth”

  1. you bring up many good points. I have not used it since about two houses ago (many years ago). and I never thought about how it affects worms, microbs…etc. well done. Matti

    • HOORAY!!! I do restoration along waterways and originally I was instructed to lay this stuff down first and then plant our plants. The idea would be that it is less maintenance. HA so long as no leaves land on it making dirt, no floods come leaving sediment, and so long as you can get in there and pull it up fast. (All of these things happen on a regular basis). At any rate, I wondered if I was the only one that hated the stuff. Thank you thank you thank you. The stuff as you said just sucks!

    • I have a border with a little stone wall in front.
      What are your thoughts about putting fabric underneath the soil and up the sides of the walls to stop weeds penetrating through the sides of the wall?

      • I built retaining walls. that way and moles have moved the. 30 lbs. Cement blocks . Trying to fix the wall with that stuff in there is a nightmare every two years or so.

  2. Thanks Matti! I’m glad you’ve moved on from using the stuff. It really isn’t any fun to pull it up and see the destruction to the soil underneath.
    I loved your most recent post on that native garden, by the way! Nice!

    • I also hate the stuff. But now I’m trying to install a dry river bed and all the articles I’ve read say to put it down first. Any suggestions?

  3. GREAT piece on one of the BIGGEST wastes of money in the landscape here in NM. Let me add more on ls fabric:
    1) makes repair of irrigation or plants require more time and labor
    2) in MOST cases I have had, in the windy and dusty SW, weed seeds germinate more readily where ls fabric is used than where it is not (under gravel mulch)
    3) it is symtomatic of laziness and horiticultural disconnection
    I better stop. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Another ROCKING post, Gen! Holy Cow – you’re on a ROLL these days! Such a great topic and so eloquently put. I will, most definitely, be sending some of my clients this post when I get asked for the umpteenth time ‘will you be installing landscape fabric?’…

    • Thanks Rebecca!! I hope it can change a few people’s minds. I’ve been trying to let it be up to the client and just guide them with the pros and cons – and, well, I still do that – it’s their garden! But I think the reason people hire us professionals is so that we can guide them clearly about what we think is the best decision. Sometimes subtlety isn’t our friend.

  5. Thank you for such a thorough and informative post. I was just struggling with putting some down for a client. I didn’t want to–so now I can tell her why and that I’m backed by professional opinion.

    Have a nice weekend and big hugs.

    • Thanks, Anna! I am so glad to provide some solid backup here! I’ve put it down many times myself and I so, so regret it. I still have to occasionally – but I make sure people know what they’re getting into when they do it!

  6. Wow. I have a new hero. Great to hear it from a professional. I do use it when laying a block patio or if I want a mulch or stone path that I know won’t change. Like you said it pretty much kills what is underneath. Question: Will 3-4″ of mulch make it hard for those perennials to get rooted? I usually only use about 2″ of wood or leaf mulch and keep after the weeding.

    • James – If I’m gonna be your hero I better go find some vividly-colored tights!

      I don’t object to it when putting down hardscape. I think a big part of gardening for good soil is designating areas that are walkable so that the rest of the garden doesn’t get trod upon.

      OK, so your question is a bit tricky. What I do is plant each perennial on a small mound. I make sure all the roots are covered completely by soil, but the top 2″ of plant is sticking up out of the ground in a mounded volcano. Again, the roots are totally covered by soil! But by planting high like this, I can bring the mulch up to the plant and not have it covering the plant’s base.

      So I use a tiny bit less mulch right at the base of each individual plant, because I don’t wish to bury them in mulch, and at the same time each plant is sitting a tiny bit higher then the soil level everywhere else, with its roots covered in a sloping mound of soil.

      I should really take photos of this process, because I plant this way, the landscapers I know plant this way, but I’ve never seen a home gardener plant this way.

      If you have existing plants, just use 3-4″ of mulch around the plants and taper down to a 1-2″ layer right around each plants’ base. After all, the plants’ roots will outcompete weeds for the most part, so in the spots where plants are actively growing we really only need mulch for soil health and to keep roots cool and moist. a 2″ layer will certainly do for that! I am not sure that 2″ is quite enough to keep weeds down effectively, though if you keep up with your weeding then maybe that’s not a problem for you!!

      Thanks for asking, James.

  7. Great information about soil health/irrigation/earthworms, etc! I don’t use it with my clients, with one caveat: I will use a contractor’s grade underneath large areas of rock or decomposed granite. There are no plantings in these areas and irrigation heads are capped off. It does deter weeds if you use the proper quality, but I hate hate HATE it in beds for all the above reasons!!

  8. Thanks so much for an article I can send to my clients and contractors that explains why the stuff SUCKS!!! You are sososo right! And sooner or later you will see it.

    My struggle is with whether or not to put it under gravel–I say know, my installers almost always say yes….But all the wonderful self seeders that pop up through gravel are then foiled. Also, I feel that the gravel moves around a lot less if it is contact with the soil, which it can lock into.

    Truly, thank you, and now I shall spread your words far and wide….

    • Hi Laura – Well, I feel like taking up landscape fabric and regenerating the soil might be an easier process than removing gravel from soil once it’s gotten incorporated, but it’s a toss-up, Laura, because you make good points too. I am a big fan of self-seeders and there is no self-seeding happening with landscape cloth!

      • Unless you bark chipped on top 5 years ago – down the middle of my garden has become a week-infested swathe of misery so on a day very soon, I’m ripping all if it up because when the weeds grow from under up and through or from the top through and down, you’re doomed. Weeding becomes nearly impossible. I’ll never use it again on beds or areas covered with ‘soft’ landscaping materials such as bark chippings.

  9. Wow, you’ve convinced me. I did use landscpe cloth in a few areas of my garden, but not much, and sort of felt that I should have used it more in order to do the job right. So true about it not working on slopes—slides right off.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Debra! I’m glad you’re on the no-fabric train with the rest of us! It seems like such a good idea until you live with it a while.

      You can kind of make it work on slopes by using it fuzzy side up and then using a shredded mulch instead of a chipped one – but why do all that when you could use a coir or jute netting for erosion control and then some lovely groundcovering and other plants to hold the soil instead!

  10. I love you for your honesty. Thank you for putting it out there. I cannot agree more. Well said.

  11. I totally agree with everything you wrote. I moved into this house & garden a year ago. The property has well-established plantings from the past 60 years. At some point, the owners used landscape fabric, and as I plant new treasures (or treasures I moved here in containers from my last home), I have been ripping out the fabric for precisely the reasons you stated. I am a novice, so didn’t know if I was doing the right thing, but decided that I hate the stuff. I’ll just keep getting rid of it and make all the plants happy.

    • Go, Rita!!! I ripped the stuff out of one garden that it had been in for 15 years, and suddenly, within about two months – everything greened up and looked startlingly more healthy. I was even surprised at the difference.

  12. When I moved in, my garden had an area with landscape fabric–under 4 inches of dirt, composted mark mulch, and matted, thwarted root masses. It took a lot of time and sweat to lever the stuff up, and if I had not formed a strong opinion before, I will certainly never use it now. I did not use it under my gravel path, and don’t regret it. I did re-use a chunk of the stuff in the bottom of a water trough turned planter, though. I thought it might be useful in keeping the dirt from washing out. I can’t say it’s done any harm there.

    • Amanda, I could not agree more. It can be a very unpleasant task to remove fabric that’s been in a while. One of the most rewarding in the end – the plants do so much better – but yeah – taking it our when there is 4″ of soil and matted roots on top is a mess!!

      • May I ask an off-topic question? Echinacea, can they thrive in Eureka with proper care, or will they always wish for more sun and heat?

  13. One more reason not to use weed fabric: it doesn’t let water through! Soil particles build up on the surface and quickly “clog” the fabric “pores,” preventing water from getting to thirsty plant roots.

  14. Very well put. I’m glad you covered just what weed fabric does to your soil. So many people only think of the short term results. I honestly hate it because as you said, it always makes an appearance. Then it looks ratty for ages because the homeowner is too busy or lazy to fix it.

  15. The only place I “saw” landscape fabric that I liked was under a dry streambed, and it took a second to actually find it: it was well hidden. I’ve stopped some people from using it: and I think they were surprised at how little weeding you really need.

    • Liz, I too think people are surprised when they see how well mulch by itself keeps the weeds down. Landscape Fabric’s really mostly a gimmick. It has a few good uses but it’s not as widely useful as people believe.

  16. So happy I read this article before transplanting my roses. I was going to lay some fabric and then add a couple of inches of mulch. I’ll just do without the fabric.
    BTW, I can transplant anytime because I live in Puerto Rico; average temp. of 70-90 degrees F all year.

  17. […] Why I Hate Landscape Fabric: An Unfair and Unbalanced Look at Weed Cloth–by Genevieve Schmidt is a fun and informative look at all of the things that make landscape fabric unnecessary. Follow @NCoastGardening […]

  18. I use ls fabric to line the bottom of the seasonal pots on my deck – keeps the soil inside the pot & the ants from crawling up the drain holes. Have noticed how the plant roots do entwine themselves in through the material & how soggy the material is even at the end of the season after watering has stopped for a few weeks.

    I used it to line a couple of my veggie beds in the hopes that it would help keep the soil inside the raised bed versus allowing it to disappear & run out during our 6 months of winter rain & have definitely noticed a lack of bug & worm activity. Might have to puncture holes in it to allow the bugs to return… Won’t be doing that with the new beds planned for next year!!

    • Yep! I’ve seen people line veggie beds like that too – in the hopes of keeping gophers out along with the reason you stated! As you’ve found – there are definitely drawbacks. For those wanting to deter gophers some chicken wire works so, so much better.

  19. I wish they could ban it from stores. I think it is evil. I, like others who have commented, am suffering from inheriting landscape fabric laid by the former owner of my house. No doubt, she thought she was caring for her garden by using it. I have been steadily ripping it out every time I want to put in new plants. A novice, even I could tell how destructive the fabric was to the soil underneath. I live in a wooded area, so the poor soil never got to make any contact with all the leaf matter falling on the ground regularly over the years. I don’t know which is worse–the amount of physical labor required to rip it out, seeing how ineffectual it has been in keeping weeds and strong tree roots from growing through it, or discovering the condition of the soil underneath, which almost breaks my heart.

    My question–I have been adding compost to all the holes I dig, but it sounds to me like I should be amending further since the soil previously covered by landscape fabric has been impoverished of nutrients for so long. How can/should I improve the soil to regenerate it and allow my new plants to thrive in it?

    Oh–by the way–thanks for writing such an impassioned and informative post.

    • Actually, Julie, more and more recent scientific research has been suggesting we not dig soil or compost in, either to planting holes or elsewhere. If added to planting holes, it can encourage plants’ roots to circle around and around in the “good stuff” and never venture out elsewhere. And if you amend soil by digging, it can destroy the micro-organisms and beneficial fungi networks in the soil as well as disrupting the minute air pockets in the soil that earthworms make that aerate things.

      I’d read Teaming With Microbes for more info: http://www.amazon.com/Teaming-Microbes-Organic-Gardeners-Revised/dp/1604691131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1287371633&sr=8-1

      Or this article by Linda Chalker Scott: http://www.puyallup.wsu.edu/~linda%20chalker-scott/Horticultural%20Myths_files/Myths/Amendments.pdf

      I’d recommend a few things to regenerate your soil:

      Add as much good composty stuff as you can to the top of your soil (under wood chip mulch, if you use it). Let the worms mix it in slowly. I’ve noticed composted horse manure seems to really liven things up with the worm populations at the very least!
      Make sure there’s either a thick layer of wood chip mulch or compost on top of every soil surface, unless there is a groundcovering plant growing there.
      Plant! Studies have shown that having plants instead of open space helps keep soil microbes happy.

      Let me know if you have any other questions about it!

      • Hi, I’m in desperate need of an approach to dealing with landscape material 10 years later. I’m going to remove in sections, skim a layer of gray soil, replace with top soil, drop plants and mulch. I have a sprinkler system and some hard scape. Does the soil approach make sense? Are there any references you can recommend to recover from this mess? Gary

        • Gary, don’t remove any soil, and don’t add more topsoil (which is usually as dead as what you’d remove). Instead, remove the fabric, and bring soil to life by amending to a depth of 4 inches with compost or well rotted manure. Then plant, and then mulch thickly with wood chips (3-4″). Follow up with periodic applications of an organic fertilizer with mycorrhizal fungi until your plants/ soil seem like they are in balance.

  20. Thanks, Genevieve, for such a helpful answer to my question. Now that I’ve dug so many holes and put compost into them, I’m wondering, can I remedy my mistake by covering with compost the surfaces of dirt surrounding the planted holes?

    • Julie, I think that would be great. It’s not one of those things that usually does huge damage except with things that are really sensitive to lack of drainage like conifers (since having a hole backfilled with squishy compost can cause water to fill the hole as well), it’s just not helpful the way we want it to be, so I don’t think you need to atone in any way! It will fix itself in time and the compost will get integrated nicely into the soil.

      But adding compost to your soil surfaces is always a great idea and will make your plants think you are the nicest person in the entire universe. So thumbs up there!

  21. I am completely convinced. I don’t have a yard for planting, yet; when I do, I know, I will not be tempted by landscape fabric.
    Thank you! I always learn so much reading here.

    • You are such a sweetie, Airlia! Thanks for stopping by even in your pre-garden state. If I could convince you to move here you’d definitely have room for lots of gardening and I would also take you for long walks in the redwoods to find four-leaf clovers.

  22. Ah, so now that all are convinced of the evils of landscape fabric, and spreading the word, can we talk about that other pet peeve of mine, plastic landscape edging, and discuss alternatives? I’d love to hear what you have to say on that topic, and what alternatives we all are using!

  23. Love the post hate the stuff. For any serious gardener, the stuff just doesn’t make sense. Even in a slow growing perennial border, things need to be divided, and what a planting scheme doesn’t work and you want to try something new? Stiffles creativity and is just so messy to deal w.

    • Awesome point, Lisa. Totally stifles creativity, in just the people who are newly exploring gardening as a creative outlet! (you don’t see veteran gardeners putting the stuff down.)
      Thanks for stopping by!

  24. Great blog Lisa. My husband and I spend the weekend tearing out the weed fabric that was put in to make the garden look ‘pretty’ before we moved in when the house was on the market. My husband was the first to say it out loud, “Look at how the weed fabric has killed the soil!” There were huge dry cracks, no visible soil life and very dry compacted earth. Yuck!

  25. Garden fabric makes a great “potato bag” for growing potatoes. This is much better than using it as a barrier to prevent weeds. A potatoe bag lets you grow potatoes where you normally wouldn’t be able. You can use leaves as mulch to pile on the potatoes instead of dirt.

    • Bill, that’s an awesome idea. I can never find the potatoes in the ground, that’s for sure! Only thing I wonder, since I’m a great big hippie about stuff like this, is whether the landscape fabric releases any harmful substances into the soil that food crops might pick up? The stuff I use is made of woven plastic. I wonder if there’s any way of finding that out.

  26. I share your concern about plastics leaching into the food we eat. I’m not even sure who makes it.

    I tried to find out if raised beds made of composite deck planking (mostly plastic) would be a problem and it took me a long time to get an answer from the manufacturer. I still don’t know if I’m confident that it is safe.

  27. I’m really curious about that, too Bill. If I ever hear of anything I’ll email you about it. Not sure we’ll get a proper answer until it becomes important to the field of agriculture to know, since that’s where most of the horticultural research money comes from. I wonder if Linda Chalker-Scott knows?

  28. About 10 years ago we bought a swingset, put down the black fabric, then wood chips, for a playground area. After 5 years of 3 kids and 2 dogs, the mulch and fabric were worn and weeds were back. I put down ANOTHER layer of fabric and chips. Now that we are removing the swingset, I was just cursing myself today as I was trying to pull up 2 layers of fabric + decomp mulch. Not quite half way through, I stopped to rest and I googled “do I really have to pull up black fabric?” After reading your article, I plan to go back out and continue the cursing until the fabric is up. Hopefully if we till in the decomposed stuff, the area will be ready for grass seed. Thanks for the insight!

  29. My husband and I were researching how to install the landscape fabric so we could plant tulips when we came across your article. We changed our minds and have decided to use the wood mulch instead. Thank you for writing such an informative article so that we didn’t make the same mistake and learn the hard way.

  30. Hello Genevieve
    I had my landscapers put landscaping fabric on the side of my for weed control.
    I am not sure what kind of fabric it is (moisture transfer, etc).
    The location is un-plantable area between my and another building, so assumed that landscape fabric and rocks (in future) is right way to go.

    What I am wondering is, will it cause structural or foundation issues on that side of my house? Will the soil under the fabric may dry out. I read a post on anther site that said this is a possible concern.

    I am Chicago so we get plenty of rain, snow and sun.

    Thanks

    • Hi Aaron, I just can’t answer that without seeing your site. Is there a contractor in your area who offers paid consultations that would be willing to meet with you and discuss? I’ve certainly never seen any structural issue from using landscape fabric in this way (which is done commonly), but then I’m not qualified to give advice on structural issues, so if that’s a concern for you, please do consult a pro. It probably varies a lot depending on drainage and the complexities of your site. Do you trust your landscaper to address your specific questions?

      • Great idea. I will check with them.
        I assume that most landscape fabric will let water through.. otherswise it would be like a plastic bag. I’ll check the brand that they used.

        Thanks

        • Great! There are two types of fabric commonly used by pros – woven fabric which lets water and air flow through, and a sheet of plastic which does not let water through. It should be obvious which you have.

          I have never heard of home or foundation damage from using landscaping fabric, but if you have a concern about the structural integrity of your home I would definitely get the opinion of a qualified pro. Good luck!

  31. A timeless, good read!

    Very few valid reasons for landscaping fabric for HOs – like under stone.

    I think fabric under mulch is just a big no-no as it’s a ticking timebomb once the compost has degraded above the fabric to support weed growth. And then not meticulously weeded thereafter.

    I’ve got 600ft2 to dig this 10+ year old fabric out!

    Once I am done getting the fabric out. I’m bringing in compost/topsoil, some of my own compost I’m cooking, and these rakings (after I solarize the roots I rake together) hopefully have some kind of ecosystem in a couple years. Some of the direct sun area will return to the lawn.

    Truely scorched earth underneath the fabric: compacted georgia clay, almost like scraping a road. No worms or signs of anything but roots. Some of these cut roots still in the clay will die, a little ‘green manure’ hopefully composting and opening up pathways for an earthworm army.

    Fabric is just so… unnatural.

  32. Glad I read your post. Was considering landscape fabric to cover walkways around my gardens. Have used newspaper and mulch but after 2 years it’s broken down and have to do it again. Was looking for something more permanent but, no, don’t want “platicky” and especially if it’s not permanent either.

  33. Have you ever tried paper mulching Gen? This is an effective barrier when used with a 1-2 inch layer of compost on top. The compost available on the North Coast is so black in color too- adds a dramatic background that really makes the plants pop! The paper can be shopping bags, or 4 layers of newspaper. The paper turns brown right away and once wet stays in place (in fact having a hose handy when applying is good) and you don’t see a shred of paper ever again! It breaks down in a year and then the compost takes over. A yearly application is quite effective- and you want to lay down compost every year anyway. I used to do this for my North Coast clients in Arcata and Eureka….funny you say 14 years of professional landscaping- in the Arcata/ Eureka area?? Funny how us gardeners are hiding in someones backyard cause I never heard about you or saw anything from you the whole time I had my business there doing the same thing!! This was about 7 years ago.
    Let’s add that Landscape Fabric is back-breaking and expensive to remove. Having done this for many clients because the fabric had been down for years and weeds were growing in the broken down mulch on top and the ability to play and plant in the garden are lost.

    • Yes, I love paper mulching! Not effective in every scenario, but in people’s home gardens or backyards it is great, and you’re right, the color is so crisp!

      When you left, I actually picked up a few of your clients, I believe! I remember seeing your handi-work in a number of lovely places.

      Your point about how landscape fabric takes away the ability to play in the garden is so true. That is one of the saddest parts of using it, that it seems to make the garden, a living entity, into a stagnant, frozen thing.

  34. I’m going to be the heretic here and say that in certain situations, I do like the weed cloth. I deal not only with landscapes with plants, but also areas that are not paved, yet I know will never be planted due to no available water source. In these cases, if it’s an area I never plan on mowing or weedeating, the fabric saves a ton of work.

  35. I also would like to add one more thing. The assertion that wildflowers don’t flourish above the weed cloth is not true. I have several areas I’m responsible for with no water source that I’ve decided to simply seed with wildflower seeds. I have Indian Blanket thriving in a couple of inches of wood mulch ABOVE the fabric. Not only this, the same parent plants that I established (by seed) in nothing but wood chips above fabric have thrived as if they’re perennials now for almost four years. The weed cloth kept the old established weeds that were rooted deep in the underlying soil from coming back up and choking the wildflowers out. Now, thanks to the weed cloth, the wildflowers dominate the landscape…NOT the dandelions, fennel, mallow and other nasty buggers that I’d have otherwise had to cut out with a pick ax.

  36. Thanks so much for your helpful information! I hope to use landscaping cloth to smother some whitetop (a noxious weed) instead of using herbicide. You gave me a lot of good information on how to do it and what to consider!

  37. I have heard that you can use landscape cloth to make fabric pots. I am having trouble finding info about each is made of, whether landscape cloth leaches undesirables and whether is it the same material they use for fabric pots.

  38. I am glad I finally found your post. I garden on 2 acres and in the process of establishing a native perennial garden. I am preparing an area that has had crab grass and some buffalo grass for years. I have put down a single layer of news print under an area for wild flowers with a 1.5-2″ layer of fine mulch-compost from a local recycler on top plus shredded leaves. The soil is a 4-6″clay loam on top of caliche rock. The grass has emerged immediately on this area. On the rest after digging one smaller bed where I found an amazing amount of earthworms and the soil was surprisingly loose, I decided to rent a sod cutter to eliminate the top growth and I have put down craft paper with mulch and in other ares, lawn leaf bags after taking them apart to one layer then add mulch. I have taken a fork and poked holes through the craft paper and bags to allow the water to drain into the soil. I had put down some of the thinner landscape fabric in a couple of spots but you have me thinking that it needs to be pulled up. My main goal is to get the perennials up before the grass comes back.

    • I have also put this fabric down between a row of 40 holly’s and Belinda’s Rose. Are you telling me it would be better to rake off the mulch and put down kraft paper and then mulch?

  39. Very interesting post. I was considering using landscape cloth for some new xeriscape beds I’m going to convert my lawn into. I have changed my mind though, as my Colorado clay soil needs all the help it can get from earthworms and organic material. Another thing I plan to try is using cardboard, first to kill the grass and then pile a couple inches of compost, soil etc followed by a nice thick layer of wood mulch. I believe this is referred to as the “lasagna method”. I am thinking the initial cardboard layer might inhibit the rampant bindweed, but then still break down over time into organic material that can improve the soil. Plus I have heard that earthworms love cardboard and I have some fantastic nightcrawlers in my yard. Has anyone had any luck/problems with this method?

  40. I want to put in standing beds (~28″high). Everywhere I look they say to line with landscape fabric. But I don’t want polypropylene in my veggie gardens. I’m considering making the bottoms out of wire mesh covered with layers of cheesecloth or cardboard, to allow drainage without washing away all the soil. But I think this will be pretty messy to replace as it decomposes. Any ideas? Cotton denim with air holes cut in? Maybe I could just nail on new layers from the bottom as the old begins to rot?

    Thank you!

    • I have found some pretty small wire mesh at my local hardware stores – there are lots of different sizes of hardware cloth. That might be your best option. I agree with you on not wanting that stuff in my edible gardens!

  41. Halleluja!
    We have recently moved into a house with a 3000 square foot garden all covered in landscape fabric and red lava rock for the last 10+ years.

    In just one year, all of the trees, shrubs and plants look 1000x better and are disease free. We have beneficials, birds and butterfly’s that were non existant before. I have 4 composters going and will be covering the garden area this fall with homemade compost finally. In order to bring the soil back to life we brought in yards of compost and ammended it with bone meal, blood meal and kelp meal.

    I cannot tell you how happy I am that someone finally told the truth about landscape fabric – IT SUCKS and SUCKS BIG. lol!

    If you are unable or unwilling to pick a weed, don’t have a garden or find an alternative you can manage – but landscape fabric is solely for removing money from people who don’t know better.

    • This is great. I could not figure out why my 2 silver sheen plants died. We had the cloth covered by blue rocks and then the 2 plants. I kept telling my husband that I felt the soil was suffocating. I am removing it today and will soil test and then fix my soil!!!

  42. We made the mistake of landscape fabric 2 years ago. It worked great the first year with no weeds, the 2nd year it was ok but too many weed seeds germinated on top and pulling them up created a mess of fabric being seen. We just finished ripping it all up and the plants underneath that we had planted well not so healthy. All the roots were growing between the fabric and the soil. And to top it off we got artillary fungus. Not sure if it was caused by the fabric or not. A master gardner told us to get rid of the fabric and the mulch so now we are starting over. I am so glad we ripped it up and tell everyone not to use it! It creat more havoc than it was worth.

    What are your thoughts on using newspaper since ot breaks down? I have read mixed things. You mentioned in a comment above in certain situations it make be good.

    • I think using cardboard or newspaper is an excellent one-time solution to establish new beds over a lawn or weedy area, but since it can stop airflow, scientists don’t recommend using it often. Use the cardboard or paper, but rely more on a very thick layer of woodchips as your real solution.

  43. We are trying to do some planting and discovered landscaping fabric had been put under ALL of our garden areas by the previous owner of our house.

    Do we need to dig it all up, or can we just puncture holes in it everywhere and let the plant roots and microbes work their way through the holes?

  44. Thank you for this posting. I only wish I had seen it years ago when my husband insisted we needed it for our garden beds to control the weeds. HA! But more than the fabric? I HATE the plastic sod / lawn mesh that never biodegrades! We saw a robin in our yard this morning that is entangled in it. VERY sad! We are going to try and rescue it tomorrow and cut away the mesh. Wish us luck!

  45. HELP! I would like to put pretty rocks around my shrubs, trees, to enhance my front landscaping that currently has old mulch. I was told I could leave the old mulch down, put something down to prevent future weeds (I’m not sure what is the most effective product) and lay the landscaping fabric down and then the stones ( white and beige “river pebbles”). Is this the correct procedure for a successful pretty landscape that I won’t regret later in life?

    • Hi Lady T! I apologize, as I said to another commentor, it’s really hard for me to answer questions like this online. I’d recommend going to the APLD website and finding a local landscape designer who might be able to come out and consult with you for an hour. They’ll be able to answer your questions, and they will do a better job of it since they will be local to you and will see your site. Good luck!

  46. Hi Genevieve! I was searching the web for info on how to apply landscape fabric around existing plants when I stumbled upon your article. Holy Moly…and I am SO glad I did! Let me begin by explaining a little about what I’m dealing with before I ask my question(s): I live in what’s considered the high desert of SW Colorado and am working to plant and landscape my yard (it’s a new build where nothing except weeds has ever been). Though I look up to see mountains all around, the earth here in the valley is just awful…hard, packed, alkaline clay-type soil…concrete-like and dusty when it’s dry; and slimy and glue-like when it’s wet. In what I’m sure can be a subject all its own…I opted NOT to put in a grass yard. I made this decision because 1) I wanted to save water (not only for conservation, but mainly because of the expense); 2) I don’t have an in-ground sprinkler system; and 3) I don’t want to put all my energy into fighting weeds and bare patches in a lawn, when what I would rather put my efforts into is keeping my flower and vegetable gardens weed free and healthy. Okay, so my plan is to xeriscape on various mounded areas of amended dirt and run gravel and cinder pathways around and through them on the flat areas. My 1st question is whether it would be beneficial to use the landscape fabric in the pathway areas where I will be using the gravel and cinder? I already have a 4′ x 100′ roll of something that looks different than most fabric…it’s silvery-grey and looks like pressed fibers…like fiberglass looks. My second question is what sort of mulch would you recommend on the planted mounds? I already planted in two of them, and one has some pretty steep sides. I tried to use cedar mulch, but we’re quite windy here at times and most of it blew away. I wondered about the use of 1″ to 2″ river rock on the mounds, but was worried the stone would stifle or interfere with the plants. Maybe river rock but with mulch in the plant wells? Any and all of your suggestions will be most appreciated and taken to heart. Thanks SO much!!

    • Hi Misty! I apologize, but it’s really hard for me to answer questions like this online. I’d recommend going to the APLD website and finding a local landscape designer who might be able to come out and consult with you for an hour. They’ll be able to answer your questions, and they will do a better job of it since they will be local to you and will see your site. Good luck!

  47. Cheers! I totally agree with everything and some new points I picked up for my next rant on landscaping fabric! I used it the first year I bought a new home in 3 different flower beds I made. Holy cow I had to rip up everything and start from scratch within a couple years. It was totally awful and I almost forgot my pain and was planning on buying some more for a new project cause I was hearing a lot of crap from friends and family for “not doing the job right” because I wasn’t using it. HOG WASH! Thanks for reminding me of my headache. I’m going to forward on this web link to my mom to get her off my back!

  48. A landscaper covered my entire front yard with landscape fabric, new soil and lovely cedar mulch…in that order. It definitely takes away the pleasure of planting and moving things around. I’m tempted to undo the work the landscaper did – which wasn’t cheap! I’ve also planted ground cover and have been wondering how it will spread…under or over the landscape fabric?? Thank you for supporting my suspicions. I never felt it was a good idea.

    • There should never be soil OVER landscaping fabric, Sherri. If that is what you have, I am sorry to say I would definitely remove it. It defeats the whole point of landscaping fabric, and I am distressed to hear anyone calling themselves a professional would do such a thing. The groundcover will sink its roots into whatever soil it can find. Above or below fabric. The type of groundcover has an impact on how deep the roots go. Without seeing in person I can’t give much more advice than that. Good luck to you!

  49. ARGH! I just moved into a house with landscape fabric covering the entire front yard (backyard was spared from this monstrosity of a product). This stuff is impossible to garden on top of. I laid down layers of organic green and brown matter, compost, and horse manure…my plants are still leggy…even the weeds. The only thing this stuff is good for is making a warm bed for the stray cats my neighbor collects…and I’m not that happy about it. lol.

    • Yeah, you really can’t just ignore it and grow stuff on top of it – it definitely needs to be removed. You’ve basically created a situation where the soil can’t drain well, plants can’t sink their roots into proper soil, and the organic matter you’re adding isn’t interacting with the native soil. Your plants are basically growing in a shallow dish of compost and manure – a recipe for pest problems. Time to take it out!

  50. OK! OK! OK! I purchased landscape fabric a few days ago for a planting bed under the back window, thinking it would eliminate the need for “weeding” as often. I stand corrected. I’m ripping it out today BEFORE amending the soil, planting new materials, and mulching! Yes, a full 4″. Happy now??

    (smile) Well I am 😉 –THANKS GUYS, ‘appreciate the enlightenment

  51. In my butterfly garden I’ve just planted as a ground cover (on which one can walk) a native plant that grows by rhizomes called Phyla nodiflora (Frog Fruit), a larval food plant for three butterfly species. See http://www.butterflyfunfacts.com/frogfruit.php and http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=PHNO2. P. nodifolia grows 3 to 4 inches high and with time becomes very dense and attractive.

    Question: Currently the section of my garden with the P. nodifolia (a work in progress) is bare topsoil with NO woodchips, kraft paper, or landscape fabric to impede weed growth, which is now occurring. Given that the area in question will ultimately be a ground cover, do you still recommend woodchips covering the topsoil? If so, how thick of a layer of woodchips? Alternatively, should I use a ground covering that is more “broken down” — like smaller-particle mulch / fine woodchips that would be (1) a superior growth medium to the P. nodifolia’s root system while also (2) a strong deterrent to weed growth?

    Great blog. Very smart, with quality responses.

    Thank you.

    • Jock, I’d go the route of planting as much of your groundcover plant as you can, spaced close together, so the issue of weed growth is shortened in terms of how long you have to deal with it. If the goal is full coverage, I wouldn’t use any mulch. Maybe a layer of compost, but that’s more for the gcover’s health than weed suppression. I’d just plant the gcover closer together and know that your handweeding effort will be for a short time until the plant fills in.

  52. I feel like I am burning my bra! I just planted a new flower garden and laid a whole roll of that yard killer down and was getting ready to lay some more tomorrow. Well I feel very liberated and confident about starting my new beds without it and removing what I just put down. I feel so bad for doing this to my earthworms and plants, momma is gonna set you free tomorrow, lol! Thanks for info!

  53. I have some commercial fabric arriving today, I was planning on covering aprox 15 x 4 square metres of ground that the client wants gravelled until they get it concreted! I try to be a green gardener! The problem is the dreaded mares tail, having already used bark chips direct on the soil in another area, the mares tail continues to be a problem. However only a couple of inches of mulch was used, do you think if I use 4″ of bark chips it will stop mares tail ?

  54. Karen, I am so sorry, I am not familiar with mare’s tail as we don’t have that weed in my region. I know in some places you can purchase rolls of brown paper for use as a weed barrier, though – use it like landscape fabric – only it disappears after a few months. Maybe between that and a thick layer of bark you’ll be good? I do believe 6″ will stop almost any type of weed, so if you’re still in doubt, more mulch may be the answer.

  55. AHHH! I just read your other article, if you choose to use weed mat…..
    I am wondering if in my case it will be good for one year. I am not burying the mat, just laying it on top of soil. I found some extra in the garage, and was planning of getting more to finish the project. I am always excited to save money, so if I choose not to go along with the mat, I will succeed. Not sure which route I am going to take….the nettles are off the hook this year, not looking forward to the stinging…..to weed mat or not?!?!?
    ps thanks for all the great information~

  56. what can I use for a very large in door planter? I don’t want to fill the whole planter with potting soil?
    Thank you !

  57. Hi Genevieve, landscaping fabric does indeed have many drawbacks. It remains popular because people hate to weed, either by hand or via chemicals. The tip you suggested with lots of mulch as an alternative is solid advice. Works for us everytime.

  58. hi,

    interesting points there…..I have a different situation though….We have two raised beds 4’x8′ near the woods. We use them mainly for vegetable gardening. Keeping the tree roots from coming up underneath the beds has been a HUGE problem. I’ve tried many different things to keep roots out…..cardboard first (decomposed quickly), plastic and cardboard (roots still pushed through the plastic), and then plywood (worked ok). But just recently I noticed the roots coming in around the base (perimeter) of the beds! Ugh. So, I started shoveling, emptied the beds, and lined each bed with landscape fabric. We’ll see how that works. Hopefully, it keeps the tree roots out!

  59. Help. I have just moved into our new house. Have pulled up some very old weed matting (actually recent layer laid over the top of an older layer!) in an area I want to make into a vegetable garden. The soil is compacted, dead looking and also has quite a bit of bark in it. Apart from adding compost and composted horse manure & straw, what else should I add to improve soil health?

    • Well, my opinion is:

      The bark you mention is likely mulch from failed attempts to control the weeds by the previous owner. Thus he/she resorted to the fabric. This is an important clue because it is highly probable that the land you are trying to cultivate is highly susceptible to weeds that had the previous owners spending lots of time and money but to no avail.

      In any case, if you want to save money i would not bother planting anything on that soil for the first year. instead use the first year to nourish and fortify the land, and monitor how bad the weed problem will be for you.

      What i would do is skip the manure and compost. Instead rent a tiller and dig up all that bad dirt. Then buy (and have delivered) a yard or two of “bedding mix”, instead of mulch or compost. And if you have some big trees, don’t throw their leaves away. Instead use the tiller again to mix in the bedding mix and leaves into the dead soil.

      Afterwards let the weeds and grass grow because whether we like it or not, they will help in doing some of the work. They will help re-vitalize the soil by protecting it from the hot sun, keeping the moisture in, inhibiting erosion and creating a home and root system for all those bugs that need to return to fortify the soil, but will eventually kill if and when you plant a vegetable garden.

      ps: i am not a fan of mulch. it also contributes to many problems, like fungus, mold and spores of other plants that can grow on top of the mulch.

  60. I’m not a landscaper, just a keen gardener. I have twice purchased houses with black matting in the garden, that had been down for years, and I am firmly of the view that loose mulching, possibly assisted with periodic spraying, is a much better long term approach to an easy care garden. I try to rip out as much of the matting as I can, because being such a sterile soil environment it attracts only the most pernicious types of weeds that return because there is no competition and their roots lie below or intricately bound up with the matting. In each case I have done this, I have then let chickens browse the soil under the trees and foliage. The result is all the soft weeds and grasses disappear, the tricky ones like asparagus and lantana, onion weed and ferns can be brought under control and then attractive plants can be reintroduced (well the mature ones that chickens largely leave alone). The only drawback is some chicken breeds are too vigorous in their scratching habits so you may have a walkway sweeping issue rather than a weed issue. Oh and you get true free range eggs. Bear in mind that this approach requires areas of at least partial shade if you live in hot areas as chickens do not like working in full sun. Only mad dogs and Englishmen do that!

  61. Hi, Genevieve. I was excited to find your post re the perils of landscape fabric. We finally decided to get rid of all of the remaining original foundation shrubs in front of our house. I had already cut down one small tree on the corner of the house that had completely died about two years ago, but none of the original foundation shrubs had ever looked healthy in all the years we’ve lived here- our evergreens were mostly ever-brown, scaly and sick-looking. I just hadn’t had time to address it until now. After having all the stumps from the original tree and shrubs ground out, we went to replant the area with six new shrubs, only to find that there was a layer, and in some spots multi-layers, of thick landscape fabric underneath about 3 inches of soil on top of the fabric. I don’t think there were multiple plantings using different layers of the fabric, rather, it appeared as if the fabric had been wrapped tightly around the base of each shrub, creating the multi-layers in isolated spots right around the holes where each original shrub was ground out. Just as you indicated the fabric we pulled up had all kinds of roots tangled up in the fabric. And, just as you indicated, the fabric had not kept out weeds, but had kept water and nutrients from getting to the soil beneath it. The Virginia clay soil underneath the fabric was hard and lifeless as a rock! I was glad to see your comments to the effect that pulling up the cloth can quickly improve things because I was worried that our new shrubs would also fail due to the poor condition of the soil from so many years of deprivation. We had already added some compost in refilling the holes when we planted each shrub before I read your post, but, per your suggestions in response to another post, I will go back and add compost on top of the soil in between the new shrubs in the hopes of improving all of the surrounding soil. Thanks so much!

  62. I have found that landscape fabric, the woven kind works great for walkways that you NEVER intend on planting anything. I used it on a little path that is covered with crusher fine and dont have problems but you really have to decide if you are ever going to want vegetation there.

    The other option that worked well for me with some cactus beds is my pkanting the cacti and covering the surrounding area with crusher fine and laying down boards and walking on the boards to compact the gravel. You have to hose it down and tap tap ….takes for ever but i have gone 4 years amd zero weeds in my cactus beds. The sould is pretty compact though but again i wont be planting anything else there

  63. Thank you for being honest about the weed fabric and how it sucks. I’m looking into mulching my yard and this really helped me make a better decision to not go with the fabric and just mulch 3′ thick to keep weeds out. By the way, I appreciate the genuine and honest post. Sometimes it’s better not to sugar coat things, lol… and you’re a great writer, I enjoy reading your posts. Keep up the great work!

  64. I *loved* my landscape fabric.

    When we put in our 20′ x 20′ deck about 15 years ago (height ranging from 6″ to 2′ off the ground) we put fabric on the grass first.

    Fast forward 15 years… took apart the deck to replace rotten wood. Fabric was all still there, everything underneath had died off well, no weeds tried to come up. Wonderful! 🙂

    Removed it all, put a new layer in, covered with a thin layer of gravel, and we’re good to go again! 🙂

    As for the garden… nah, we never use the stuff. It kill everything! (see above 🙂

  65. I’m really stuck on this…. I have taken on an allotment that on the surface looked ready and well looked after. Turns our all the weeds are down because the neighbour sprayed it heavily to keep the horsetail/marestail from spreading to his site. It has heavily spread to most of my site and although its knocked back its certainly not dead.
    My most recent thought was to membrane the lot and raised bed on that. Its going to cost a fair bit and tonnes of manure to be moved to fill the beds. No from your article I have seen there are cons, I don’t know what to do!

  66. I’m not sure if someone has mentioned this in a previous post or not.
    I share your hatred of evil landscaping fabric . Instead of using landscape fabric we use newspaper underneath the mulch. It’s biodegradable, and it does so in a bout a year depending on how thick you lay it. Earthworms are very tolerant of newspaper, in fact when you start a worm compost bin you start it with newspaper. So lay the newspaper every spring under your fresh spring mulch and your beds will stay weed free for your growing season!

  67. Why not mention it holds water puddles for way to long until they evaporate. Makes mosquitos almost happy. The water puddles are supposed to sink through the fabric, right? Well, it does not. I don’t know why. Any ideas?

  68. I’m so glad I found your site…..just wondering about L.F.in my gardens beacause I wanted to remove it I think it’s such a pain..all I want to put in rhe garden is cedar bark mulch…thank you so much….Jeannine

  69. I am so thrilled I found this site! I was searching on how plants can still get water with the fabric right around the plants. While it didn’t save me money (I take that back because it will in the long run)…it will save the earthworms, my soil, and plants. We just put down the rest of the landscape fabric last night and we were so proud of ourselves in doing what we thought was the proper thing to do. We are getting mulch today and was going to put it on top of the fabric. Thank goodness I still have time to rip it all out before it comes!

  70. I have long-hated that fabric, for your #6 alone. I used it under a path once, and it should be called “weed protector fabric.”

    But I hope you can help me with a question. We recently rebuilt the support structure for our 15×20′ deck, and have a huge pile of gravel we want to spread out under it. What can we put between the soil and the gravel that won’t encourage weeds? We can’t just put the pebbles right on the soil, because with the frost heave we have in Kansas, most of that gravel would get sucked underground in a few years. Would newspaper work here?

    • I presume that newpaper will not work, since it will not last for years. I am trying to figure out how to do something similar. I would like to put in a gravel Zen garden, but the area is very wet in the spring and we need a barrier to prevent mixing of soil and gravel. Weed prevention is also desirable, and landscape fabric has been recommended to solve both. But I am concerned about both drainage through the cloth, given some comments here, and the daunting prospect of replacing it in several years. I was also told that walking on the gravel may be difficult since it will slide readily on the plastic. Is there a better solution?

  71. Many thanks for this Fabulous post! (which I’ve shared on https://www.facebook.com/faeriesrosebay) I’ve never used LF, but was actually considering it for the first time. Here’s my problem: I planted ornamental grasses right in my flower garden. Oops. No one, including the nursery, told me that might not be the best move. I Love them, but I’d like to contain them to a patch about 6 x 8 feet. Any suggestions? Need I say I will Not be using LF?

  72. Hey, Genevieve! You just opened my eyes, I was about to buy some landscape fabric, for a vertical garden little project I’m doing for my orchard, I am doing it with the pallet technique, it’s not a major work, I will be growing there some strawberries and some tea plants, but for doing that I need the fabric for the pockets, though actually they are not pockets, instead I wanted to cover the entire pallet with the fabric and pour the soil inside, just like this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPcXoOuDA-I. My question is that if in this case is really not a big deal using fabric, or if it is, well, then what can I use instead to retain the soil.

    Thanks a lot again for your posts!

    • Hello Jamie,

      I actually came here because I, too, am considering making a vertical garden using a pallet. Although, I haven’t personally tried it for myself, how about using burlap? It’s more natural and has a great color, as well. I saw it on a website but it didn’t say much about it…worth a shot, though. Hope that helped.

  73. How do you feel about Rubber Mulch. You just talked me out of L.F.

    Thank You Diana

  74. Very informative- and I was concerned about the little creatures in soil keeping it healthy. I had had the impression that WM was supposed to b healthy for soil but will not use it now.
    I want to get rid of all grass in my 300M2 garden as I want maintenance free- can u advise?
    Rach

    • Boy am I glad I found u guys, I tell ya I couldnt agree more, Im from cali. and I think that fabric liner s a big hoax, and a joke to say the least !!! Ive never seen benefit anyone ever, and the weeds just keep growing through like a gosh dammed weed parade. and they still keep using it year after year without question like programed robots, and I just dont get it… Which brings me to my current pretty daunting situation. I have a friend with a pretty nice house that Ive done pretty extensive work on, and still at it. Now just to the left of his front walkway between the driveway is a 10 x6 cut out from the rest of the foundation with white rocks, and a neglected dwarf pine in the center. Well one day I decided to show it a little love and pruned it in to a beautiful bonsai. After that I took all the rocks out, cleaned them up, and made them white again. Well of course it was surrounded layers of the inevitable black fabric liner, and hence weeds coming up through the rocks like a banshee! So I decided against pulling weeds all summer, so I pulled the rocks and that hagged fabric liner, and like any Californian I laid a nice plastic liner, tucked the edges strait down for drainage, and cut out a nice 2 to 3ft hole in the middle for the bonsai tree which is about 41/2 to 5ft in diameter. Now Im ready to clean the rocks again, and put back over the liner, he comes out and starts

  75. I really appreciate your comments on weed cloth.
    I’m out in dry as a bone California and decided to let my lawn go to save some water. I have a mature deciduous tree that sheds a ton of leaves every fall and needs to be trimmed back every couple of years. I’m a big believer in mulch but I’m not sure how the leaves on the mulch would be to rake and or blow-the scenario seems challenging. I’m leaning into landscaping under the tree with rocks but am wondering if newspaper/or cardboard would be antiquate to keep weeds out.
    Thank you for any suggestions.
    MK

    • Leave the leaves on top of the mulch. With moisture and time, they’ll break down and add organic matter to the mulch. They will return most of the nutrients to the soil to become available to the tree. They’ll hold water a little longer, and shade the soil to keep it cooler.

  76. Do not know why anyone would put down fabric under mulch in the first place. Kind of defeats the purpose of the mulch.

  77. Hi i love your blog it’s awesome and straight to the point. I hate the weed mats or landscape fabric it destroys your soil, and leaves your plants no room to breathe and gets in the way when trying to take plants out if u decide u don’t want them there. It’s also just laziness.

  78. Hi. I read fr somewhere that flat carton cardboard can be used as alternative to landscape fabric. Will that have the same weaknesses as fabric?

  79. I like the weed barrier mats. I used them for the first time this year. I cut 3’X3′ squares and placed them around individual tree seedlings. I cut an X in the middle of each mat to go around the foliage. I pinned down the corners and gathered the edges of the X and used one more pin in the middle. Water goes through, and organic matter is still created by fine roots sloughing off and inputs from the surrounding soil. Earthworms can come in and out of the zone under the mat. I plan on using them in my garden next growing season. I am going to pull them up after the growing season, roll them up and store them over the winter. I’ll add mulch (organic matter) as needed as well as fertilizer just like I’ve been doing without the weed barrier fabric. I’m eager to see how it works around watermelons. When watermelons start to extend their vines in the past, I’ve just let the grass go. You can’t mow it. It takes a very long time to weed by hand, and you risk damaging the vine.
    I wanted to post because so many people said they had never seen an instance when the fabric was beneficial. Here you go. I have seen positive results.

  80. Don’t put mulch on top of the fabric. If you don’t like the way it looks, don’t use it. It’s not designed to have mulch put on top of it. In a garden, function is more important. You’re trying to produce big, tasty fruit, not a pretty picture. I appreciate the post about plants not putting their roots down deep enough and roots getting tangled up in the fabric. I’m gonna watch that. Maybe let the plant develop roots for the first couple of weeks, then put the fabric on top. That’s another neat thing about the weed barrier mats. You don’t have to pull weeds first. You can just put this stuff on top. The weed won’t go through it from underneath. It will die, break down, and then contribute to the organic matter int he soil.

  81. Agree wholeheartedly, landscape fabric sucks! I must be doing penance for having it installed at our place years ago as the last two homes we’ve moved to had fabric. One actually had one layer on top of the existing soil, then likely the next owner applied soil on top, plus another layer of fabric with mulch on top of that. Arrgggh! Our current home we’ve found fabric under a layer of gravel that is on top of a layer of gravel! 3-4″ more gravel! What were they thinking? It’s been a nightmare to remove and we’re just getting started. It’s been a chore trying to free the plantings of their confinement and allow the water to actually get to the plants instead of pooling and running off. It’s just not a good idea to use it unless you have a specific, easily managed…’small area’ to which you can control the outcome.

  82. I have a personal love/hate relationship with landscaping fabric.

    I love that I can kill an area for a couple of years, put something on top of the fabric, and later remove everything and start over. Regenerating soil is not that bad with fabric if one knows they will be doing it and don’t leave it too long. I have removed fabric kill zones after two years and had thriving soil by the next year, no big deal.

    I love that I can plant annuals in holes in the fabric during spring, ripping the whole kit out at the end of the season. It makes a nice way to roll up all the dead plants and clean up.

    I hate when people put perennials in fabric. The two don’t mix. One is cheap stuff bought on a roll that you have to remove, the other lives and grows year after year. The pulling it all out and starting over part doesn’t work so well when there is stuff growing in the fabric. I realize putting mulch on top of the fabric slows the breakdown, but then _what is the point_? Just use mulch, then.

    Oh well. I am only reading this because I have to rip out a bunch of landscape fabric over perennials the former owners of my house put in. I was hoping someone agreed that this sucks. Thank you.

  83. you have made many good points….but you forgot 1.
    There are some, I stress some, that happen to like the “Butt Ugly” stuff.

    I am one who likes it & will continue to use it.

    Now keep in mind, I’m not even going to try & change your mind, pull some scientific evidence out of thin air to prove you right or wrong, nor will I argue with you or anyone on this matter….this is your yard/garden/etc, & it is your decision to use/not use any material related to landscape fabric.

    I’m just simply saying that while you are dead set against it, I am all for it. Granted I do not use it everywhere, nor do I use it 100% of the time; but I DO use it when the mood strikes me to use it.
    Currently, I am using it in my container garden that I have in my house…it gives, in my opinion, a “finished” look to the pots & the 5 gallon buckets that I have herbs & veggies growing in…it also keeps the soil in the pot from getting compacted when I water my “babies”.

    So I not only accept the fact that you have an axe to grind against landscape fabric, but I support it as well. Weather I agree with your decision or not, makes no difference. Variety is the spice of life.

    After all, how boring would life be, if everyone were the same, did the same things the same way, & never ever wandered off the beaten social path?

    I commend you for having enough guts & character to openly speak your mind when so many others are all too willing to just “go with the flow”.

  84. Actually, I know an urban farmer who borrows land lots of land to garden and to germinate the seeds in cold weather, being here in the freezing midwest, he uses this cloth (but a white one) over the seeds loosely and the plants flourish beautifully.

  85. We have a huge tree peony garden (almost 200 mature plants) that is completely infiltrated with bindweed. We never use herbicides on the property, and ESPECIALLY never in the peony bed, as they are very sensitive to such products. Instead, our gardeners hula hoe the bindweed twice a month, then it quickly grows back. What a chore! I’ve been considering landscape cloth to smother the bindweed. Your article was very useful to help me understand why this wouldn’t be a good idea long-term. I guess I’ll try a 5-inch thick coat of arbor mulch, but fear that the bindweed will just come up through it. Do you have any experience with a case such as ours?

    • Bindweed comes up through everything, but mulch helps greatly, and continuing to hoe will reduce the bindweed. My yard was full of bindweed and with consistency, it’s reduced by 90%. Nothing stops the stuff, but every little bit helps!

  86. I have used fabric for years in a vegetable garden. Mostly for tomatoes and vine crops and think it does a great job. With a drip irrigation system under the fabric you can’t beat it.

  87. The only exception I have found to NOT EVER USING FABRIC OR PLASTIC is under the pea gravel border around the foundation of my house. It is about 18″ wide, and this has proven to be valuable for keeping clear access for servicing the siding, windows, etc. Other than that I have never used it and never will. This comes from the personal experience toiling to rip out what other people left behind and trying to restore the soil. It’s exactly as you described.

  88. I so so agree with you! We put down landscape fabric throughout our gardens believing it would cut down on weeding. I had never cared for a garden and my husband had only been one place no more than a couple of years. The first year we were so smug but each succeeding year (9) the smugness was wiped away by the anger and frustration dealing with what we had done to our poor gardens. I HATE the fabric and nothing could induce me to ever use it again. We have been pulling it up where we can and are already seeing the plants improving.

  89. I agree 100% with your article. I have always thought it didn’t seem right or good for the plants. Personally I have never used in beds and have always had
    a beautiful garden. So many people use it in hopes they will never have to do
    any work. Well I’m sorry but gardening takes some TLC and some hard work,
    and then like anything else in life it has it’s rewards. I will pass this article on
    to anyone to dissuade the use of landscape fabric.

  90. I agree 100% with your article, it truly confirms my sense that it can’t
    be good for the plants or the soil. I think people really feel that if they use landscape fabric, they never will have to do any weeding etc. Well, all plants require some TLC, and some work. But like anything else in life, your efforts bring rewards. I have never used landscape fabric and have always had a beautiful garden. and I don’t spend hours weeding. The dirt looks nice.
    My neighbor the other day removed their rocks and fabric around their bed cause they liked the way my beds looked. I will certainly share this article with friends and family to discourage the use of landcape fabric.

  91. Great information; I agree 100% when we are talking about wood mulch. However, with California’s epic drought conditions more and more landscapes are being renovated using sparsely placed plants/boulders and then topped with mineral mulch such as pebbles or decomposed granite. While these areas are not really walkways, they will be used in maintaining the plants. If there is no separation between mulch and gravel, won’t the gravel just get ground into the soil eventually? On the flip side, would that be a completely bad thing? Could the extra granular mineral bits in soil be considered a plus in a clay soil area? Or, what about laying strips of it in areas that might get trodden, and not bringing it close to plants? What’s been your experience?

  92. Ok…I have always agreed with these points….the problem I’m having now is clients who want their Bermuda lawns gone….I just tilled up and removed a bunch of grass from a clients yard, and much to my own chagrine I proposed that we cover his yard with this stuff, as I don’t see any other viable option except maybe sheet composting, which I proposed for a section of his yard….he just wants all drought tolerant , super low maintenance plants, so, for his puposes it seemed like the fabric was the best option to keep the grass that is still in the soil back….I proposed laying down the fabric with a 4 inch layer of wood mulch on top, after a thorough raking and cleanup…..his yard was nothing but weeds and half dead grass prior to my initial clean up and tilling, and further cleaning….the other option was a Solari zing campaign. And I just can’t imagine covering the guys yard in plastic all summer, then to removing it to mulch and still having to deal with errant grass, it’s just not viable….and the reason he hired me is because I refuse to use synthetic herbicides, he wants an organic approach, but wants something that will deal with the grass for 10 years….so that’s why I came to the fabric conclusion….sorry for the rant…

  93. I have a nightmare yard we are trying to fix. The idiots who built the house leveled the yard with gravel, layed landscape fabric down (3-4 layers), then dumped about 2 inches of dirt on it and then placed sod. It’s a mess. After mowing you see pieces of fabric standing up all over the yard, and you can’t dig to plant anywhere!

  94. Amen to your post! I recently moved into a house with many flower beds that have not been taken care of but that do have lots and lots of potential. The biggest problem with all of them is they are covered in one and sometimes two layers of landscape fabric. Every one of your points against the stuff rings true with my situation. I am not sure how long ago this godforsaken weed cloth was put into the beds but I believe it was at least 20 years ago. I have declared war and am determined to get rid of it all. I know it’s going to take some time but any special methods, secrets, advice, etc. you may have for tackling this chore would be most welcome. Thank you!

  95. Hi. i have landscaping fabric in all my plant areas (been there about 10 years). the weeds are growing faster than i can pull them. Is there anything i can put down to prevent the weeds from taking over? I don’t have mulch, i have gravel in these areas. I live in Florida so most of the ground is sand

  96. The only thing I use landscape fabric for is lining drainage ditches. I wish I had known how important it is many years ago. We have heavy clay soil and the clay will work its way into the gravel, even from the bottom, if it’s not completely surrounded with good quality landscape fabric. It’s amazing how well the fabric works at keeping the gravel clean and draining well. I cover the fabric with a sand/compost mix that allows water through but gives grass enough soil to take root.

  97. I hate it too; I have a lot of flower beds with rock in which the former owners used this stuff, and I’m constantly pulling it out; with or without it, I still get weeds maybe a bit more without it, but it’s easier to pull them out without that black crap. The black paper/plastic always shows somewhat and looks horrible, and it’s a pain in the butt if you want to plant something new or take something out. You’re right the dirt looks dead, and we have a very low amount of earthworms. I’m going to try your alternative in an area I have cleared.

  98. Preach it! I just moved to a new home, and much to my dismay, there is landscape fabric EVERYWHERE. I’ve begun the arduous task of removing it, but in many places it looks like most of the feeder roots from the shrubs and trees are on top of and intertwined through the fabric. Am I going to harm them when I rip the devil fabric up? I’m sure this has been addressed in a previous comment, but I haven’t had time to hunt for it. Thanks!

  99. I NEVER allow landscape fabric for my clients unless it’s temporarily used to get rid of unwanted plants. Preferred method there is non-shiny corrugated cardboard boxes covered with mulch. Since I don’t use gravel around plants, I don’t need it there. Where I use gravel for walkways, patios and driveways, I tell contractors to excavate 4″ down then backfill with 3″ of compacted limestone roadbase and 1″ of compacted gravel. The gravel will sink into the roadbase to give a good grip and the roadbase is so alkaline that most plants don’t even try to grow. Excavating removes most seeds.

  100. Thank you so much! I’m a new gardener and trying to put in an organic vegetable garden in the whole of my backyard. I had wondered if I should put landscaper paper down underneath mulch (in the pathways), had wondered about how in balance it would be with my goal. Yours was the very first post I read… and I will look no further. Many, many heartfelt thanks.

  101. Hi I have planted a greenhouse on top of weed mat in raised planter beds I was thinking once it got established and went onto nutrient it would be more relying on water .
    But I’m already having overwatering issues
    Would you suggest I cut Squre holes in weed mat say 300 square where the dripper goes into the ground ?
    And will the roots follow it down ?

  102. ” You put happy mulchy stuff on top of your landscape fabric to hide it and keep it from degrading in the sunshine. ”

    No, you don’t. That makes soil. Weeds grow in soil.

    You buy high quality weed control barrier and take it up at the end of the growing season.

  103. what about using it for front lawn where I’ll be mulching it (drought has killed the grass)?

  104. Thanks for the info – we have a very big piece of land where we want to plant grass – but there is a huge amount of builders rubble in the earth. I was thinking about using landscape fabric below the top soil and grass, in the hopes it would stop all the rubble from coming up and hurting our kids feet when they run around. After reading your info, it definitely doesn’t sound good to use – any ideas / solutions would be greatly appreciated!

  105. We took up the sod in our front yard last year and are working at turning it into a garden full of edibles, other plants and flowers. We’ve been having a tough time with crab grass coming through some fabric we put down. This past week, we started pulling up the fabric, weeding, and putting a good layer (maybe 3″) of leaf compost/mulch down. You think this will help with the weeds? Any other suggestions? Thanks!

  106. Genevieve

    Thanks for your advice to avoid landscape fabric.

    I have daylily beds that I no longer have time to keep properly weeded. Weeds have taken over. Paper mulch was not helpful. I was researching landscape fabric when I found your article advising against it.

    You just saved me more trouble!

    Regards,
    Stephen

  107. Hello!
    I am new to gardening, and was pricing landscape fabric for my garden. Now however after 2 blog posts regarding the uselessness and utter destruction of what it does, I will not be using it.

    However, have you used it on pathways? Is it worth it? Or can you lay down just the pebbles and not have to worry?

    Thanks for your advice! It really does help me!

  108. Hi Genevieve,

    I spent yesterday afternoon pulling up my landscape fabric, and yes! It was a major PITA, but I am so happy with the results, and I’m so happy I found your post! Many sites suggest that the fabric helps with erosion control, but what I found, was that my Northern New Mexican rocky sandy soil was eroding UNDER the fabric, where I couldn’t see it. This way, I feel as though I’m living near the earth again, and not some strange plasticky covering, and I can keep tabs on the erosion and place rocks in the area, etc. Also, you’re right, many of the plants that had come up as a result of the fabric were growing IN the straw, and had no roots connected to actual earth. I managed to save the established grasses and stray chamisa by cutting around them with a box cutter. Thank you for encouraging me to go through with what I thought was a good idea. I’ll be back to check out your blog and to get gardening tips, now that I have real earth to dig into.

  109. We just pull up the weed fabric from our flower that the owners had down and you were right the ground was dead and hard. Now we are putting mulch down which is going too look good

  110. 4 oz. A.M. Leonard fabric has saved our market crop. Lighter weight fabrics do very little, but we’ve tried green mulches, cover crops, and other remedies for wire grass and other pernicious Southern invasives. One must be careful that weeds do not root OVER the fabric, but the methods I describe below work really well.

    For the home gardener or landscaper, I can see why one would not use fabric. But we roll it up when we are done harvesting and plant a fall cover crop in the soil. I’ve been able to avoid hundreds of hours of weeding (and lost $$ for our LLC) with using the right fabric. We do not have to spray herbicide, something we avoid anyway as we want pesticide and herbicide free food.

    We cover the fabric with a bit of straw for aesthetics and to keep the soil from overheating in summer. I tack it to the sides of our raised beds to keep the weeds from growing around the edges.

    Earthworms have not been harmed and soil retains moisture well. So count me as a contrarian: in the right place and used properly, the right fabric is a life-saver for a market gardener

  111. Gardening in Indiana here: I just spent three days pulling up two layers of fabric from under about a foot and a half of pebbles. I thought it was annoying at first (am at year 4 in a house from 1976) but decided to tackle it when the big rusty broken pins started pushing up. Whoah!! Tetanus heaven here! With two little toddlers all over the place I said nope…taking that stuff out.

    Underneath was indeed dead. The ground was kind of like a wet slip pottery clay, which I’m hoping the rocks will kind of sink into and break up. The fabric was strangling every bush and tree trunk, and had actually become twisted into the roots. Got about 90% out but some I just couldn’t.

    With the fabric, the rain flooded the front porch area and the juniper was almost completely brown underneath. Crossing fingers with tonight’s rain the water will sink into the ground instead of pooling around the door!

    I was thinking about moving the rock, but it’s rediculously deep. I have never seen a foot of pebbles in a front garden! And when I walked across the street to view my front, you couldn’t even see them. So silly. I’d rather have mint, strawberries and roses thanks.

  112. Hi Genevieve,

    Thanks for this article. I remember using this fabric years ago at another house and remember being very disappointed. I am now in Florida were weed grow on steroids. I have a 30 inch x 20 foot area where I do not want weeds to grow. My intention was to lay the fabric, put an ornamental rock on top and then put a several large cement planter boxes on top of the rock to hold various flowers. I was hoping that setup would be about as weed free as I could get it, but I am now not so sure this to be true after reading your article.

    Since this area 30 inch by 20 feet is not too large, what do you think about putting cement slabs or pavers down instead of the fabric. Then the crushed rock and planters over the cement slabs. That is a lot more work and cost upfront but the best ideal I can come up with for a long term solution to weeds growing up through the rock bed. Any thoughts or suggestions?