If you hate weeds (and weeding), learning how to use landscape fabric may be the solution to all your problems.
Landscape fabric, which is made from perforated plastic, can be laid on the ground around shrubs and plants or on pathways to prevent errant growth, thereby both beautifying your yard and cutting down lawn maintenance all in one fell swoop.
Ready to roll out this magic carpet? Here’s the skinny on laying landscape fabric in your yard.
Benefits of landscape fabric
You can lay it down—and forget about it, say the experts. After it is installed, landscape fabric often lasts for years. In addition to its weed-fighting abilities, it can also help retain soil on slopes exposed to washouts from rain.
“It’s very useful as a backing to prevent erosion,” explains Chris Lambton, a professional landscaper and host of DIY Network’s “Yard Crashers.”
This material can also help a green gardener avoid the use of pesticides to control weeds, and it can keep moisture in the soil by slowing evaporation. The upshot: Less watering is required.
How to use landscape fabric
Most landscape fabric is placed around trees and shrubs for long-term benefit, rather than in annual flower and vegetable beds that you dig up every season. Lambton uses this product under rock walkways to prevent materials like pea stone from sinking into the soil. “I’ll also lay it down in some perennial flowerbeds to keep weeds away and reduce the need to spray herbicides,” he says.
When laying landscape fabric, make sure that the fabric touches the soil, to allow for good drainage. “If there are air pockets between the layers, weeds will enjoy the perfect conditions in which to germinate and negate the main purpose of this material,” says Lambton.
Use landscape fabric pins to hold the material down (get enough of these, say the experts, and pin every few inches around the perimeter to prevent slippage). Simply putting mulch on top of the fabric isn’t enough to secure it, and could weaken its effectiveness, Kemp notes.
Cut holes, if necessary, for any new shrubs you’ll be planting, and then top fabric with a layer of mulch (about 2 to 3 inches deep). Mulch will beautify the look and help the pins keep the fabric in place. Any type of mulch (or rocks or pebbles) can be layered on, including bark chips, shredded mulch, or even recycled glass. To keep airborne seeds from taking root in your mulch, you might spray a pretreatment weed preventer each season.
What’s the best landscape fabric to use?
You should pay more for better fabric. Cheap plastic that doesn’t breathe won’t allow enough water and air to penetrate. Instead, shop for professional-grade, thickly woven, perforated material, says Lambton. Purchase extra sheets, as you’ll need to overlap them in each area by several inches to prevent weeds from peeking through the cracks.
Landscape fabric drawbacks
There are a few drawbacks to using landscape fabric, according to Pamela Berstler, CEO of G3, an earth-friendly gardening organization in Los Angeles. For one, this less-than-chic plastic fabric can look as if you’ve lined your lawn in garbage bags. The solution to this eyesore is to cover the fabric in mulch, although bald patches of fabric may eventually show through and have to be recovered.
Another downside? Your soil may not end up as rich as it could be, since the mulch you’ll layer on top of it won’t break down and feed the dirt below. To combat the fact that fewer nutrients will get to your soil once you spread out landscape fabric, be sure to place a layer of compost, peat moss, manure, or other nutritional enhancement underneath. If you’re not sure what to add, you can take a soil sample to an agricultural extension office for testing.