The Disadvantages of Landscape Fabric

Though, there are 3 ways you can use it to your advantage.

If you are a homeowner, you most likely prefer landscape fabric as an alternative means to suppress weeds. That’s because landscape fabric is non-toxic and it acts as a blanket that suffocates weed seedlings, which kills them before they have a chance to sprout. Landscape fabric “is constructed from woven fibers or manufactured as a solid sheet with perforated holes to allow water to soak through. Some brands offer UV protection to maintain the life of the fabric,” (Glenda Taylor and Bob Villa on bobvilla.com).

Landscape fabric is 3-feet-wide and comes in rolls of anywhere between 50 and 200 feet in length. The cost also varies depending on thickness and length of the fabric – the thicker the fabric, the more able it is to suppress those pesky weeds.

On the surface it appears that landscape fabric does the job in keeping the weeds at bay and it certainly does have a couple of benefits.

1. Landscape fabric smothers weed seeds

Weed seeds need light and air to grow but landscape fabric blocks out the sun rays from filtering into the soil, thus smothering weed seeds.

2. Prevents erosion from winds and heavy rains

This is especially true for slopes. Landscape fabric on slopes protects the surface soil from washing away with running water.

But, as much as we’d like to view it as a miracle product, landscape fabric has more disadvantages that outweigh its benefits.

1. It doesn’t just kill off weed seeds

Weed seeds aren’t the only seeds that landscape fabric smothers. Seeds from beneficial plants, carried by birds and wind, and dropped into the soil that has now been covered by fabric, are also smothered as they, too need light and air in order to grow.

Landscape fabric also smothers earthworms and other important micro-organisms that are needed in order for our plants to thrive. Earth worms aerate the soil. They also need air in order to survive; air that they can only receive at the soil surface. Landscape fabric prevents them from doing this.

2. Prevents moisture from penetrating the soil

While landscape fabric prevents evaporation of moisture from soil, the perforated holes in the fabric aren’t large enough to allow a sufficient amount of moisture to penetrate the soil. Over time, the covered soil becomes dry and compact.

3. Landscape fabric heats up the soil

Since landscape fabric is black, it absorbs the heat from the sun’s rays. So, not only does it dry out the soil, it heats it up. This is bad for the oxygen-thriving micro-organisms that need a certain temperature range and moist conditions in order to thrive and carry nutrients to our plants that depend on them to grow.

4. It acts as a barrier to mulch and other organic matter

Mulch and other organic matter, like twigs, needles, and leaves that fall from trees, breaks down over time, adding more nutrients to the soil. Landscape fabric acts as a barrier to this natural organic matter.

5. It doesn’t kill off all weed seeds which makes it even more labor-intensive

Even the thickest of fabric won’t keep a good weed down for long. The hardiest of weed seeds will still manage to germinate and penetrate the fabric. This makes it extremely tedious, labor-intensive, and time consuming when it comes to weeding a garden bed that is covered in landscape fabric. That’s because the landscape fabric prevents you from being able to remove the weeds by their roots.

In order to effectively and permanently remove weeds from your garden bed, you will first have to remove the fabric and that will also entail removing all of the mulch or gravel you’ve decided to lay over the fabric.

Given the above-mentioned disadvantages, landscape fabric is not recommended for garden beds.

So, can you use landscape fabric at all?

The good news for all you homeowners and gardeners who love landscape fabric; there are 3 ways you can use it to your garden’s advantage.

If you live in a windy area, or high above a steep hill, then your garden will benefit from the use of landscape fabric because it will prevent erosion.

If you want a desert garden complete with crushed gravel, sand, or a combination of both, then you will need to lay a thick landscape fabric over the area where you don’t plan on installing plants. After laying and securing the fabric, add a 2-4-inch thick layer of washed crushed gravel on top of the landscape fabric, then tamp it down firmly. The tamping compacts the gravel so that very little to no air filters through. This deprives weed seeds the oxygen they need in order to grow. And when they eventually do, it won’t take you hours of backbreaking work to remove them because they won’t be plentiful.

You can also use landscape fabric over a fallow garden bed just for the purpose of killing weed seeds. If you’re building a garden bed in summer or in early fall, instead of planting right away, remove all weeds from the new garden bed, cover it with a thick landscape fabric – some gardeners use carpet or black plastic – and secure it firmly with pegs so that it doesn’t blow away in the event of strong winds, and leave it until the following spring.

After the threat of frost, remove the landscape fabric and then till the soil while adding in plenty of organic matter within the top 6-12 inches. Remove any and all surviving weed seeds. Finally, plant your selected plants and then add a 2–3-inch layer of mulch on top of the soil.

A Takeaway

While landscape fabric does have its disadvantages, it does come in handy for some situations. It all depends on where you live and what you plan on using it for.

Sources Used:

Taylor, Glenda and Bob Villa. “All You Need to Know About Landscape Fabric”, bobvilla.com, 25 October 2021 https://www.bobvilla.com/articles/landscape-fabric/

Getting to Know Your Soil

Designing a garden may look easy, but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. Not to mention, the choices in the garden center are overwhelming, especially if you’re a plant lover like me and want to buy every plant you see.

A large and very important part of garden design is plant planning. While the idea of having your front and/or back yard full of plants makes you tingle all over with joy and excitement, knowing the ins and outs of your own landscape helps immensely when it comes to knowing where in your yard to plant flowers, shrubs, and ornamental trees.

The first step in your planting plan is to get to know the soil conditions in your yard. This is tricky because soil tests can be quite complicated, however there are simple tests you can take to determine which plants to plant and how much soil amendment you will need when you decide to build your new garden bed.

The Ribbon Test

Take a handful of soil and moisten it until it is putty-like consistency. Then, gently knead the soil between your fingers or your palms. If the soil crumbles before it forms a ribbon, it is sand or mostly sand. If the soil forms a ribbon up to 2 inches long before it breaks, it is loamy, or composed of equal parts of sand, silt, and clay (the ideal planting medium). If the soil forms a ribbon longer than 2 inches, it is clay or mostly clay. This information will determine which plants will thrive in your yard and how much amendment you will need.

The Soil Drainage Test

Another test that is simple, yet important, is a soil drainage test. Dig a hole to about 12 inches deep and then slowly pour a bucket (between 1 and 2 liters) of water into the hole. If the soil drains quickly while you are pouring the water, your soil is sand, or composted mostly of sand. If the soil drains not too quickly, but at a steady pace (it drains within approximately 10 minutes), it is likely loam or a combination of clay, sand, and silt. If the soil takes longer than an hour to drain, it is clay.

Checking For Earthworms

This is not an actual soil test; rather it is a test of soil fertility. In spring after the first frost, dig a hole up to 12 inches deep and place the dug-up soil onto a piece of cardboard. Break apart the soil and examine it for earthworms. If you see 10 or more earthworms, your soil is fertile because the presence of worms indicates microbial activity. Microbial activity within the topsoil is beneficial to plant health and vitality because of the sufficient amounts of nutrients worms excrete. These nutrients, particularly nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium, then become readily available to plant roots.

Amendment For Different Soil Types

This is as recommended by the editors of The Old Farmers Almanac.

Sandy soils: Add in humus (or topsoil from your local garden center will do), a handful or two of peat moss, aged manure and/or sawdust to improve the soil’s fertility and water-holding capacity.

Silty soils: Add course sand (not beach sand) or crushed gravel, compost, well-rotted horse manure, and straw; that is if you have access to the latter two. If not, then the course sand, crushed gravel, and compost should be well enough if mixed into the soil in equal amounts.

Clay soils: Add in peat moss, compost, and a pinch of course sand or crushed gravel (not beach sand). For heavy clay soils, or soils that are compacted, you can do either of the following:

· Build a raised garden bed

· Place an arrangement of potted plants, patio lanterns or LED garden lights, and garden ornaments to prettify the space and give it a warm, welcoming look.

· Build a patio with a seating area

Sources Used

‘3 Simple DIY Soil Tests’ by the editors of The Old Farmers Market. March 27th, 2019 https://www.almanac.com/content/3-simple-diy-soil-tests# Accessed October 25th, 2021.

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