I confess I am not a big fan of landscape fabric. While it can save lots of time on yearly chores, the payback when the stuff needs to be removed is a doozy. But I also understand very clearly that landscape fabric can be a necessity in some modern settings. Let’s take a closer look.
Landscape fabric works by:
• Blocking the sunlight most weed seeds need to germinate.
• Creating a physical barrier preventing existing plants or newly germinated plants from penetrating to the surface.
• Blocking sunlight from reaching existing plants or new sprouts from seeds that do not need sunlight to germinate.
There are three common types of landscape fabric:
• A very thin membrane product that has drainage holes punched into it. This is usually so thin that it tears easily and does not last long.
• Felt products that usually fray quickly and do not allow water through easily.
• Woven fabric products. The most common type is known as “needle point” and has an expected 20 year life when mulched to keep out the sun.
You might have noticed a little bias here, but after working in several situations it became clear that I don’t want to use anything other than needle point given the chance. It has less penetration by weeds and lasts a longer time so I have to replace it less often.
Replacement: Not If, But WhenThat leads to the next point – you will have to replace it. Everything breaks down in the end, and when it comes to landscape fabric a cheap product will break down in only a couple of years. And it is usually a bigger process than just pulling the mulch off, tearing the fabric away, and installing new fabric. Usually folks don’t know the fabric is bad until they are having trouble with too many weeds getting through. By that time the weeds are pinning the fabric down and removal becomes a fight to free the fabric from a weedy mess.
Replacing landscape fabric is quite a job, but there are a few things you can do to cut down on the problems and make it easier:
• Use mulch that does not break down easily. The more a mulch breaks down the more soil is created on top of the fabric and the more likely you are to have weeds growing on top of your fabric.
• Use a blower or other method to remove soil from the top of the fabric. Soil will blow onto the fabric, again making it easier for weeds to root into the fabric.
• Have a good weed removal plan before you install fabric and make sure you stick to it after you have it installed. If you never have big weeds growing through the fabric you never have to remove those weeds.
• Remove all weeds before installing the fabric.
• Always keep the fabric covered with mulch. Most brands are made with polypropylene which breaks down in sunlight. While it is necessary to expose it to light for installation, getting it well covered and covered quickly will prevent premature breakdown and more frequent replacements.
• Use a quality fabric that will handle the job well and last a long time.
I hope that helps you with your next project and saves you a ton of work down the road!