No holiday post from me – but I bet you’ve seen plenty lately and anyway, this post has been sitting in draft for ages.
Because I watch so many gardening videos, I’ve naturally come across a few about landscape fabric, also called weed cloth. Though we associate its use with landscapers – bad ones – landscaper John Holden in Connecticut asks on video “Should I Have Landscape Fabric?” and answered with a resounding NO (so resounding, I added “NO” to the title when I embedded it). His point is that yes, it will prevent weeds for 3-4 years but he’s agin it because:
- It’ll form a “nice layer of soil on top, which will grow weeds in it.”
- The nice soil can’t mix with the soil below because of the fabric barrier (photo above).
- It’s a pain to work with – hard to move or add new plants because the roots get mixed up with the fabric. “Just gets messy.”
- Rhyzomes from the lawn can creep under the fabric and spread. “Just really nasty.”
Oh, and even worse than actual weed cloth? He’s seen people too cheap to buy the stuff putting plastic bags and tarps under their mulch!
Another landscaper – Jim Putnam of HortTube – judiciously titled his video “Pros and Cons of Using Weed Control Fabric.” He agrees with the short-term help with weed control but notes the problem that “Birds drop seeds, your mulch breaks down, and eventually you’re going to have an environment where weeds are going to come up, anyway.” Though at least “when the weeds first germinate, if you get them right away they’re very easy to pull on top of the fabric.” But just wait: “If they get rooted into the fabric (as it gets old), when you try to pull them out it’ll rip the fabric up.”
Back to the advantages, this one’s telling: If you put the fabric under gravel and have “gravel regret” – which he’s seen many times, with customers needing to have their gravel removed – “it’s very easy to remove if there’s fabric underneath.” Which may be a case of two wrongs making a right.
But he hasn’t finished with the negatives. It’s an additional expense for a short-term solution, and it prevents soil improvement.
Jim also challenges an advantage he’s heard touted for fabric – that it holds moisture – declaring that that’s actually a negative because when he’s pulled it up on landscape jobs the soil smelled terrible underneath it. That’s because the fabric is holding water in place, but not allowing enough air through it for the material underneath to break down properly. “Dead plant parts can’t decay properly and it actually just rots.”
One video suggesting an exception to the never-use-the-stuff rule is by Laura at Garden Answer, who uses landscape fabric in her video “Planting the North Pole Arborviteas”. From about 3 to 3:50 minutes she addresses the issue, saying there’s “definitely some room for landscape fabric,” though she doesn’t recommend it “in areas where you’re continually changing things up.” In its defense she reminds us that it’s “better than chemically controlling weeds.” Well, there’s that.
I’d run out of videos on the subject, so asked Google to weigh in and found that the industry claims that the fabric “stabilizes soil, retains moisture, saves on mulch, aids in filtration, and minimizes weeding.” An alert commenter was quick to suggest: “Please update your research. Landscape fabric girdles trees, makes weeding more difficult, and deprives soil of water and oxygen.”
In the industry’s defense, they may have come up with a pitch that actually makes sense: “Of course, weed control isn’t just for planting beds. It’s also needed under decks, patios, and other hardscapes.” Okay.
More research led me to “6 Reasons why Landscape Fabric is a Bad Idea” from a lawn-care company, including this additional negative I hadn’t heard yet: “The fabric contains petroleum and other chemicals. Most gardening experts advise gardeners to avoid using petroleum products or products with chemicals around plants. This is especially true for those plants that are edible.”
And another negative to add to my growing list: “Re-seeding is almost impossible. One of the joys of gardening is to see which plants have re-seeded themselves in your yard year after year. When you use landscape fabric, it’s very difficult for plants to re-seed themselves. In addition, bulbs can get pushed around and may not return.”
Friend of Rant Genevieve Schmidt of North Coast Gardening offers lots of reasons to hate the stuff, including the one that would top my own list: “The fabric is butt-ugly.” She’s so right that it eventually gets exposed by wind, digging cats, heavy rains and so on. “And a black plasticky moonscape is exactly what we dream of when envisioning our ideal garden, riiight?”
I’m illustrating that truth with the shot above taken in my town, in a highly visible location.
Finally, an industry publication asks “Landscape fabric: yay or nay?”and makes the claim that “Before groundcover or shrubs can grow into a hillside, landscape fabrics can be used to prevent soil erosion.” I’ve seen it used on hillsides but isn’t that just asking for the mulch to go downhill and reveal the ugliness underneath? Or does ugly not matter in a short-term situation like that one? Really, does anyone know?