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Why Landscape Weed Barrier Fabric is Ugly & Wasteful

September 26, 2012
Landscape Fabric and Weeds

Weeds readily pop through & germinate in a path that was installed with a layer of landscape fabric between the gravel and the soil

Weed barrier (aka landscape fabric) sounds like the perfect solution for reducing garden maintenance. Unfortunately, it isn’t. And, it can even end up causing more headaches and ugliness than you might imagine.

Once you’ve draped weed barrier all over your exposed beds, do you cut holes in the barrier and stick plants into the holes you make? If so, your plantings may not thrive, but odds are the weeds still will.

Perennials and ground covers will try to spread as they mature. Either the weed barrier will strangle them or they’ll pop new holes in the barrier or they’ll spread under the barrier, heaving it skyward for all to see.

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Trees and shrubs may send up suckers that pop holes in the barrier or, as their trunks widen, the weed barrier may strangle them.

Plus, every hole you make in the barrier is an opportunity for those sneaky weeds to gather sunlight and thrive. 

And all of this assumes that the barrier doesn’t keep water from getting to your plant roots. Yep, any material — even permeable materials — can deter water from seeping downward. So, weed barrier may stop or limit rainfall and irrigation water from making it to your plants’ roots. And, in some situations, it might even lead to runoff and erosion issues as well.

Landscape Fabric lined Path Full of Weeds

Landscape Fabric lined Path Full of Weeds

So, if those reasons still aren’t enough for you, consider what happens after you’ve put in your weed barrier, installed your plantings and then you start top-dressing your plantings with a healthy layer of composted mulch. You know that the mulch material will provide a finished look to your beds. It will help protect roots, feed the soil and help hold moisture. That’s all great.

But what happens later when the weeds pop up through the barrier or a shrub dies and you need to remove it?  Once roots have grown through weed barrier and a layer of soil or mulch has built up over the cloth, it becomes very difficult to clear up an area without breaking through the barrier.

Once you begin removing dead plants or trying to do planting divisions in an area filled with weed cloth, odds are digging and dividing will be really hard to do. A sheet of material, weighted by layers of mulch or soil, in-grown with roots isn’t easy to dig through. And, once you begin breaking through the fabric, it is unlikely you’ll get all of it out as you divide or remove plantings. And replacing a swath of fabric in an established bed is near impossible without removing everything and starting over. So, after a few years of working in your cloth-lined beds, you’ll likely have several raggedy bits of ugly fabric waving about above the soil line. Yes, you can cut those bits out, but you’ll be finding them for years.

Several years ago, I helped a client renovate her entry bed before putting her home up for sale. When we dug our shovels into the ground to install a few decorative plants, we immediately came upon a sheet of old landscape fabric someone had installed years ago. Uh-oh!

It appeared that someone had laid down landscape fabric and then covered it with several inches of topsoil. Then, they’d dug through the topsoil, fabric and into the clay below to plant. There was no wonder all of the plants were stunted or dead, and water seemed to never saturate the soil. It ended up taking hours of back-breaking labor to dig out the root and weed-filled topsoil layer in order to get to the fabric to remove it. Then, it cost quite a bit in labor and materials to renovate the dead soil below that fabric line before we replanted the area. Oh, and all of that fabric was filled with plastics, so she had to carefully remove the roots and soil from it so that the plastic garbage could be sorted for the landfill and the soil and weeds for the topsoil recyclers.

Clearing the weedy path brings ratty bits of plastic fabric to the surface of the garden bed

Clearing the weedy path brings ratty bits of plastic fabric to the surface of the garden bed

And, before you decide that weed barrier might still be a good idea to lay under a new permeable pathway, think again.

One of my first DIY projects involved installing a pea gravel pathway around some raised beds. We took the advice of the box store salespeople and purchased a roll of miraculous weed barrier to install under the gravel. And, we’ve regretted it ever since.

The pea gravel itself was a mistake, but that’s a post for another day.

Over the years, weeds readily seeded into the pathway. Every time we pulled a weed from the path, soil came up with it, and the barrier below ripped. So, as more soil mixed into the gravel path, more weeds germinated in it despite compaction, which makes pulling weeds hard. As we made more rips in the fabric, its raggedy edges began waving in the wind looking like an exposed landfill under our garden paths and beds. Oh, and some bits even became tripping hazards as an extra bonus.

Yep, we’d all love to find those magic wands to keep weeds at bay. Sadly, in my experience, weed barrier is more of a burden than a helping hand. Try installing without it and spend your leftover dough on good tools, a bit more mulch or a weeding partner to help you keep your garden healthy and looking great.

99 Comments

  1. Jon says:

    Very true. When the inevitable time comes to dispose of it, you will never be able to separate the roots from the cloth, as they morph into one mass. I ended up taking a 1.5 ton load to the dump. The prior owner of our house loved it, and I am still dealing with it to this day.

  2. Jon, I feel your pain. Good for you for continuing to do the good work of cleaning up your garden!

  3. Carol says:

    It’s very tempting to use the stuff under paths and other stuff, but it’s easy to see from your photos and other people’s yards, that it’s bad news.

    I have a situation where it might be useful, though. I’m not sure. Before I knew better, I bought a bunch of treated lumber to build raised beds. I’m currently redesigning the beds and wondered if stapling a double layer if landscape cloth around the inside of the frames would a) actually keep any chemicals from leaching into the soil from the lumber and b) not turn into a big mess.

    I’m looking for low budget alternatives to replacing the lumber with untreated cedar. Just dropped a lot of green for a new fence. And I’m not talkin’ compost greens!

  4. Carol, Thanks for sharing your challenges. I hope you’re able to find a way to skip the treated lumber for your raised beds, especially if you’re growing edibles in them. Although landscape fabric can reduce was passes through it, it is unlikely to stop any potential leaching (should it occur). Too, not sure what that fabric’s made from, but there’s always a chance it might leach something nasty too. (I’m not saying it will; I’m saying it might).

    I hope your new fence is gorgeous. They really can dip deeply into our pocketbooks!

  5. Annie says:

    What would you recommend instead of weed barrier for paths and beds in a long-neglected yard infested with bindweed? And why was the pea gravel a mistake? What would you use if you had to do it over? Thanks!

  6. Annie, please refer to our article on Bindweed for ideas on dealing with that. Smothering bindweed isn’t likely to work.

    Pea gravel is made up of rounds, which don’t pack well. That means its a roll-y poly layer under foot instead of something firm and supporting.

    Good luck!

  7. diane says:

    we are redoing all the front landscaping at our house. This is a house that was built in 1963 by my parents. The shrubs were over grown and weed block/weeds had taken over. We have now removed all shrubs. We are going to till and totally redo area. I need it to look good and be lawn mower friendly.
    any ideas for weed blocking ideas.
    we are also looking at rubber mulch? pro or con?

  8. Diane, Tilling may stir up more weed seeds, so consider that before you decide to till. As for weed blocking, weeds happen. Adding a thick layer of arborist chips over your finished beds is a great way to help suppress them. As for rubber mulch, we aren’t fans. To us, it’s like adding more man-made garbage to the landscape. It doesn’t add nutrient/food for the soil or soil life (or plant roots). Plus (to us) it’s just plain tacky and ugly.

  9. Niki says:

    I do A LOT of gardening. I have found weed guard useful
    In vegetable gardens to an extent, but it still posses a problem. In most of my beds, I use Preen. No it is not a complete solution, however if you are not planting from seed, it can help. (Administrator edit to remove commercial product pitch within user comment here.) Also, a thick layer of mulch is helpful. I mean like 2 inches thick, I use cypress mulch due to the ever entrusting termites in Louisiana. Pine needles also help on a thick layer. You have to remember that mulch and pine needles decompose, therefore, re mulching yearly is a necessity. I sometimes add new mulch when I can start seeing soil through it. We have problems with nutsedge here (Administrator edit to remove commercial product pitch within user comment here.) As always nothing is a sure fine solution, but they can help.

  10. Niki – thank you for your input. Your comment has been edited to remove commercial pitches for specific products. Keep having fun out there.

  11. Yuma says:

    Garden Mentor, you correctly identify the short comings of garden fabric but fail to imagine its strengths. Weed barriers are awesome if you use them correctly. My wife and I are passionate year round gardeners who grow about 75% if the vegetables we eat and have been so for 20 years. The trick is to use fabric as an annual ground cover in certain parts of the vegetable garden. Lay out the fabric over a well tilled plot. Weight down with rocks or bricks on the edges. Cut an X where you want an annual upright plant to grow (tomatoes, chilies, basil, eggplants, kale, etc.) it is not appropriate for row crops such as carrots. Plant your starts in the X and water using a drip system. The fabric prevents weeds from growing except right around the vegetable and it warms the soil. Tomatoes especially love this method. Leave the fabric down over winter, it will continue to suppress weeds. In spring remove the fabric. Underneath will be the easiest part of the garden to till. Place the fabric on a different patch of the garden the second season as crop rotation is always wise. With the Xs already in place your tomato (or what have you) garden is already plotted out, even the drip line matrix pre-formed from last year. With this method our fabric has been going strong for 12 years without sign of degradation.

  12. Jana says:

    (Sorry if I’m reposting this for a second time, and if I am, please ignore this one. I walked away from my computer and when I came back, couldn’t remember if I’d posted or not. )

    I have used landscaping or “weed barrier” fabric numerous times before. I hate it! I’m not great about weeding, and once weeds get a footing in it, they’re impossible to pull out. I think it should be called “weed protector fabric.”
    We recently rebuilt the support structure for our 15×20? deck, and have a huge pile of pea 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? Or chat? Or is there something rust-proof, with a gauge smaller than gravel but larger than weed roots?

  13. Jana – thanks for writing in. You could try using cardboard or newspaper, but those will break down over time too. Weeds happen!

  14. Seattlejayde says:

    Garden Mentor – thanks for the good advice. I agree completely regarding use of fabric in gardens. It just does not seem sustainable. However – I am laying a patio. Graded earth, compacted clean soil, slate flag stones and pea gravel in between the flag stones. I have about 200 sq. feet to cover. I was going to put a layer of fabric between the ground and the compacted sand to try to prevent weeds from growing up through the pea gravel in between the flag stones. Should I do it? I really do not want to because I know the fabric will likely degrade – any thoughts?

  15. Seattlejayde,

    Robin here. First, I would never use pea gravel between pavers. There are many other materials that work much better. And I wouldn’t use the fabric either. Imagine this: a dandelion seed blows in. It germinates in the space between pavers, shoves that root downward. It’s hard enough to get rid of them, but add in the fabric, and you’ll have that netting trying to come up should you pull on that tap root. Not a pretty picture in my imagination. Best of luck!

  16. Mike says:

    I get the whole weed block issue as I’ve encountered these problems for years. My problem is trying to suppress zoysia grass. It’s run amok in my lawn, and into my beds. I was considering using the fabric to block the grass in a bed, top it with some kind of gravel/rocks and put containers on top. Is there anything else I can use to block the zoysia?

  17. Mike, grass travels (as you already know). If it is already in your beds, its going to continue traveling. Putting something on top of it is likely just to result in it creeping under, around and through those materials. Hand eradication and then staying on top of it is probably your best bet — or try contacting your extension office or a apld.org for help finding a specialist in your area to help. Best of luck!

  18. Amy says:

    We have several areas with large rock (3-8 inch) with landscape fabric that was beneath it. These are surrounding planting beds. Weeds grew between the rocks as the fabric deteriorated and it’s very hard to weed without moving rock. The weeds also grow between the rock and the porch or house. Is there something that should be under the rock to help this? I’m trying to avoid chemicals.

  19. sorry Amy. Weeds happen & there’s no magic bullet to stop them (as you’ve learned with your weed fabric fiasco). It may sound crazy, but sometimes (depending on the type of weed, the location, soil & other factors) watering well the night before you pull helps. Watering can loosen the root-to-soil connection and make hand pulling easier. Good luck!

  20. Cathy says:

    I have a 25,000 sq.ft. rose garden. Yes, you read that correctly…25,000 sq.ft. I keep 4″-6″ of single-ground hardwood mulch (big pieces so I only have to replace every 3 yrs. Weeds were never a big problem until I got some in a batch of mulch, along with Bermuda grass, in 2012 and it spread like wildfire. I’ve used every chemical on earth, but to no avail. I’ve been told by landscapers to add diesel fuel to these chemicals & the problem will be solved. Are they NUTS?
    I spend TONS of $$$ for people to pull weeds constantly, but we never get ahead! The newspaper sounds great, but it would take me YEARS to collect all I’d need. lol The mulch would have to be removed & I’d also have to lift up the watering systems to put newspaper under it. All of which is impossible. 🙁
    If anyone has a solution, I’ll pay you BIG BUCKS to use it successfully in my garden.
    Thanks for listening to my rant. Just having a very bad gardening month.
    Cathy

  21. Jason says:

    I have about 40 two to four foot Colorado Blue Spruce trying to grow on the edge of my acreage. Tall grass and small bushes are trying to take them over. I weed wacked around the trees and am thinking of putting fabric down hoping that I won’t have to cut around them as much (it is an awkward job just by their location). I was thinking of using 4 foot by 4 foot pieces. Is that an ok use of fabric or should I just mulch them? Thanks for your help.

  22. Jason, your call on using the fabric or not. If you read our article, you’ll understand our distaste for it & why we’d skip it.

  23. Cathy, we’d never suggest using diesel fuel on any landscape. Unfortunately, weeds happen, and it may be time for a big renovation project to get yours back under control. Perhaps once you do get the weeds eradicated you could add in groundcovers or other plants to augment the roses and reduce your monoculture plantings.

  24. Hort. Sci. says:

    Landscape fabric impedes beneficial mycorrhizal activity in the soil, (which may directly affect the health of desirable plants). This happens primarily because the fabric creates a membrane barrier or interface that reduces air and water circulation near the soil surface. Any well informed horticulturist should understand the value of growing the soil in a garden by allowing it to process new organic material into friable nutrient rich humus. No healthy garden or plant collection is entirely free of weeds…it generally takes some prep work to turn difficult weed patches around, but it can be done:
    -First, clear the area of weeds as thoroughly as possible, (it may be best to remove soil in some cases). Do a little research and fertilize lightly if necessary to improve soil nutrient values.
    -Second, create planting mounds 7″ to 9″ high and 18″ to 36″ wide.
    -Third, spread a 6″ to 8″ layer of wood chips over the soil, (avoid covering the planting mounds) and start planting, (water plants thoroughly immediately after planting).
    It’s often a good idea to re-grade or remove soil from the perimeter of a bed, (usually a 2′ to 3′ wide band is sufficient) to allow for a 6″ to 8″ layer of mulch as part of step 2. If the above sequence is followed, weeds are usually easy to stay on top of. As the mulch breaks down, soil quality will dramatically improve. It may be advisable to add new mulch every 3 to 5 years, but this will be way better and easier than dealing with the problems that would come up when working in a garden that was covered in landscape fabric.

  25. alexander keenan says:

    If you are looking for a temporary solution than use something that decays like heavy burlap. It will hold down weeds as your plants get established and than decay.

  26. Thanks for the suggestion Alexander. Note on this: be sure to use an untreated burlap to avoid nastiness in the decomp!

  27. debbie says:

    Someone suggested Weed Mat, after reading your posts, not using that either! I have recently sifted through my front yard, trying to take out the trailing roots from Bishop’s Weed; one very nasty ground cover. The previous owner used the landscaping fabric, no help there, still grows fast. Any other ground cover, not so ugly you can recommend?

  28. Debbie, there are loads of groundcover options out there. It’s difficult to suggest one without knowing more about your location, exposure, and more. Try visiting a local nursery or hiring a garden coach or consultant to help you pick the right plant for this part of your garden.

  29. Peggy says:

    We just planted a hot wings maple in a corner of a prepared bed. The size of the area is about 9′ x 11′. The sprinkler system is about 12″ below the surface. The spot where we wanted the maple is about a foot away from the PVC pipe. Will the roots of the maple present a problem for the sprinkler system ? No matter where we put it in the bed, there will be sprinkler system pipe.

  30. Peggy, Thanks for writing in. Not sure if you’ll have a problem or not. The roots are likely to grow around the piping that’s near them. Not sure if that’s a problem for you or not. The uptake roots of the tree are usually within the first 18″ (or so) of the soil. Other roots, which go deeper, will form as well. If you’re concerned, you could try to re-route your PVC away from the tree roots, but given the size of your area, this isn’t likely to be possible. Try contacting your irrigation company &/or local certified arborists for their opinion. There’s nothing like an on-site assessment. It’s really difficult to know without experiencing the space.

  31. Lisa says:

    I just pulled up a bunch of weed barrier that the previous owners put down. There is the black water proof plastic and the more fabric like stuff. None of it keeping out weeds, but I have a ton of it laying in a pile and I don’t want to put it in the garbage unless I have to.

    Are there recycling facilities for weed barriers?

  32. Lisa, Unfortunately we aren’t aware of any recycling programs for these materials. You could try offering on an exchange site for free. One person’s trash might be another person’s treasure. Ya never know!

  33. Greg says:

    OK so I’m getting ready to xeriscape my San Diego front yard. The city provides rebates for turf removal. This is a fairly large area that will be replaced with 3/4 ” gravel and desert plants.

    Your advice sounds good. I’m only putting in 2 to 3″ of gravel and I can imagine over time that fabric moving toward the top.

    Weeds happen you say?

  34. Barbara says:

    Thanks for the advice. Intuitively I wanted to have a “natural” weed barrier. I’ll save some money and just get more bags of mulch! Those rolls are expensive and it bothered me that they’re made of plastic.

  35. Glad we could help Barbara. Mulch should help in more ways than just keeping “weeds” at bay. Bon chance!

  36. […] just become a dense tangle of roots, making inevitable future weeds even more stubborn to remove. Garden Mentors gives this advice and we are inclined to agree: “Try installing without it and spend your […]

  37. WeedWorrier! says:

    We just had our lawn replaced with drought tolerant “low maintenance” landscaping. Unfortunately, the project has unearthed a whole bed of palm seeds that have sprouted up everywhere and it’s hard to keep up with the weeding. . There are a bunch of city owned palm tree along the street, so even after the seed bed is more depleted, we’ll have additional seeds to deal with. Yes, “weeds happen.” Will they happen less once the landscaped plants grow to maturity? Or do I have to come to terms with the fact that we’ve “upgraded” to a very high maintenance garden! I am very tempted by landscaping fabric… Please convince me not to go that rout.

  38. WeedWorrier,

    Sorry to hear about your palm seed problems. They’re a new issue for us, so you might want to contact a Master Gardener or extension program or just go to a nursery in your local area to get more help in this area. Palms are fairly tenacious, so it would be our guess that they’ll easily punch through any fabric you put down making for even more of a headache.

  39. Lee Shipley says:

    Im running soaker hose under the fabric… This should take care of the issue of roots not getting enough water… I’ve dealt with the nightmares mentioned above in the article… But I still think that with proper maintenance the barrier can serve its purpose… I do not intend to v=cover it and forget it… I plan to add mulch yes to help shade it so it doesn’t cook the roots.

    Would there be any other suggestions for properly useing it rather than just avoiding it all together…

    Seems like it could make life easier if used properly.

    BTW… IF weeds are digging their roots into your barrier, then I’d think you are letting them go too long. Pulling them earlier would help maintain the barrier. And the barrier helps protect your desirable plants roots from getting tangled up in weed roots…

  40. Lee, thanks for chiming in. Best of luck with your technique. Check the comments. Others may have suggested uses you’ll find helpful.

  41. Helen says:

    My husband and I moved into a house with a fairly large garden last November. Where it doesn’t have decking, the garden was covered with pea gravel, with unsightly strips of weed barrier that blow in the wind like pirates flags. We presumed they were laid down some time ago (as they didn’t stop weeds from growing rather comfortably.) Both my husband and I are brand new to gardening and appreciate all the advice we can get. I’ve now removed all the weeds and thought of replacing the weed barriers. However, after spending several hours trying to shovel the gravel into bags to be reused, I noticed that only part of the gravel covered garden had weed barrier underneath. The rest was just packed earth, mixed with gravel. It’ll take me quite a few days to get through the garden, shovelling gravel, and removing and replacing weed barriers. After reading your article, I suspect replacing the weed barrier may be the start of another nightmare in a year or two, if even that. In general, with our situation of a mix of weed barrier under gravel and gravel mixed with packed earth, would it be most efficient to remove the weed barrier and simply spread the gravel on top of the packed earth? Would this create any other maintenance issues?

  42. Helen, sorry to hear of your woes. Without seeing your situation first hand, it’s hard to say exactly what would be an ideal route to take. That being said, if you plan to reuse the gravel you have and install move over it after you take out the barrier, your plan of pulling out the barrier and leaving the gravel in place might just be ideal. In fact, that’s similar to a situation we tackled, and it worked out fairly well. Keep in mind that the soil-gravel mixture you have going now probably has weeds and weed seeds in it, so you may still be fighting them over time. But, at least you won’t have trash flags flying everywhere! Good luck…let us know how it goes for you & thanks for writing in.

  43. Whitney says:

    We have ripped out the entire backyard and started from square one. I am creating a very large playground area in my yard and was planning on putting down landscaping fabric with 4 inches of pea gravel on top of it. Would you say to do away with the fabric altogether and just lay the pea gravel right on top of the dirt? By the way, the “dirt” is actually some pretty serious clay.

  44. Whitney, Thanks for writing in. Not sure that we’d use either the pea gravel or the fabric. Pea gravel rolls and can be an ankle-twister. Angular gravels tend to pack better. That being said, without seeing the site and truly understanding your space, it’s hard to make specific recommendations. It is highly unlikely we would suggest rolling pea gravel over slippery weed fabric in any play area situation. Best of luck!

  45. Robert says:

    I am looking into removing the grass in my front yard, and putting in drought tolerant plants with drip irrigation, along with mulch and gravel (and forget the weed barrier). But I have a very large pine tree in the yard, and am concerned that it may not get enough water that way. If I do a deep drip irrigation around the tree about twice a month, that may help the tree roots, but wouldn’t it defeat the purpose of the grass removal and simply encourage weeds to grow?

  46. Robert, thanks for writing in. If the pine in your garden follows the “right plant/right place” concept, and if the tree is truly mature. And, depending on where your garden is and what’s happening with your climate, supplemental irrigation may not be necessary. Without visiting your space, it is very difficult to answer such a specific situation. Ideally, bring in a local arborist or other horticulture consultant from your area before you dig in and get an on-site assessment. Best of luck!

  47. Scott says:

    we have (had) a decorative flower garden in our back yard left from previous owners. My wife has decided she no longer wanted the annuals and such in there but instead would like a black wood chip mulch covering the entire area and ornamental potted flowers scattered throughout. Our debate now is, now that the existing flowers have been pulled and weeds all sprayed down and or pulled, should I till the area and lay fabric down before mulch? Or (easier) just kill weeds and lay a thick layer of mulch down direct? I’ve read fabric doesn’t help much in the end and will look ugly.

  48. Scott, thanks for writing in. Tilling will probably just stir up more weed seeds. Less soil disturbance is probably ideal. You might try sheet mulching the area with cardboard instead of using fabric, if you think you need more weed suppression than a thick layer of mulch alone will provide. You can read more about sheet mulching here. And, you might consider arborist chips rather than a finished (partially decomposed mulch) as it may help with weeds longer & better. Learn more about arborist chips here.

  49. William Long says:

    We chose to use it in spite of those downfalls. The location was a long neglected area that we were prepping for new plants. We carefully removed all the perennial roots but there was no way to get at generations of seeds. Cloth and mulch with large openings for better water runoff into the roots of the new material. There is no way a small crew could have maintained that much space without it. Sure it will have to come up in a four or five years but that’s not as hard as you make it sound.

  50. Thanks for sharing your experience and opinions William. As time goes by, hopefully, you won’t experience the true and very real (not made up) difficulties we have encountered with this stuff in multiple situations. Good luck!

  51. Garren M. says:

    I find a lot of weeds grow in our front yard when we first moved into our home built in the mid 70’s. I turned to laying grass seed all over and good soil over it, but weeds still tend to come back. Of course, we have two major seasons here in Arizona takes much upkeep to hold green.

  52. Andreas says:

    We have an acre steep slope (25% grdae) in front of our house in Napa CA. with an earlier history of slipping and land slide. The last two years it has been stable with a lot of rework done. Now we want to plant some good evergreens that will keep the soil stable and make it looks nice. The landscaper wants to put a weed barrier with drip, and plant lavender and rosemary. We like the plants since they are deer resistant. but would like your input on what to do with soil stabilization and the weed barrier. We just hoed out large weeds from the whole acre and don’t want to do it again. We can get our own wood mulch from dead oaks that we have a lot of on other parts of the property.

  53. Andreas, unfortunately we really can’t advise you on your site since we’ve never seen it. That being said, its unlikely we would recommend weed barrier for all the reasons discussed in this post. Since you have access to arborist chips, those might prove very helpful. If you can, consider getting another evaluation by a certified professional in your area before you move forward.

  54. Sherrie says:

    I am trying to landscape or just plain plant something… BUT the previous owner had a landscape type felt laid out over the entire bed. I am trying to avoid the labor intensive removal of the felt… Do you think it would work out if I smothered the weeds with newspaper and had dirt and mulch (about 12″ more or less) dumped on top of it ? It would give me some planting depth and then I will be able to maintain the weeds my way.

  55. Sherrie, Thanks for writing in. Covering the fabric may just create another “interface” that may keep water from passing through various layers even worse. Site unseen, it’s hard to say, but its unlikely we would recommend covering up a problem rather than dealing with it. Good luck & sorry you’ve inherited this issue.

  56. Shawna says:

    So true!!! I have had the same experience also.

  57. Sorry to hear it Shawna. This kind of misery does not love company!

  58. Hope says:

    I like all of the suggestions that I have read. I particularly like the idea of 9 to 10 layers of newspaper. Where can I get such a large amount newspaper though? Surely I won’t have to resort to begging my neighbors until I have collected that much.

  59. Ander says:

    I guess “your mileage may vary” on things like this. We’ve used weed fabric and gravel on the 6×30′ bed along our driveway, and it’s worked perfectly.

  60. jack says:

    This seems to be the best Idea I’ve seen in a long time for my large garlic garden from Hort.Sci. Much appreciated. I will do the raised beds and then put down oak leaves from my property around the beds to keep the weeds at bay.

    (repeat posting of hort.sci comment omitted by Garden Mentors admin. Scroll up for the post in 2014.)

  61. Della says:

    I learned to garden in a much warmer zone and found success, but now live in the inland northwest. We are in the forest and are surrounded by many critters, large and small. But even more than critters, we have WEEDS!!! I’ve cleared and replanted the beds next to our house numerous times–starting fresh every year, in fact. It is disheartening to see, once the snows melt, that my “critter-resistant” plants have been eaten and the weeds are now flourishing. At this point, I’d like to just rock the beds and sparsely add some hearty perennials (such as hostas) without needing a weed machete come next summer. Any ideas?

  62. Brad says:

    If i hear one more time “weeds happen”….. We all know weeds happen, just wanting to know about things thats help.

  63. Della, site unseen it’s hard to say what would be best for your situation. Try hiring an on-site consultant in your area for help with your specific needs. Good luck!

  64. Sorry we’ve repeated that “weeds happen” and that bothers you Brad. It’s a fact that we find bears repeating. Not everyone has heard it before. Keep reading our weeding guide for ideas to manage and take advantage of various weeds. Good luck!

  65. Sheri says:

    We have some beds with river rock and landscape fabric. We want to get the rock out, pull the fabric out, plant to our hearts content, and put the rock back. Can we put river rock down on just dirt? Do we need something to sort of “hold” the rocks up so they don’t sink in the dirt? What would you recommend?

  66. Sheri, kudos for being ready to tackle weed fabric removal. How rock will perform in each garden definitely varies. We’ve seen many situations where river rock is installed directly on the soil and does just fine. Rocks will settle and some may sink over time. How fast or slow that happens varies for many reasons. It’s hard to make a strong recommendation site unseen. You could consider installing a permeable base material layer as you would for a permeable patio, if that’s appropriate in your area. Best bet: get in a qualified professional in your area to help before you do all the hard reworking. Good luck!

  67. jeff says:

    We are restoring an abandoned cemetery. Where there are no graves we want to prevent weeds from growing so our maintenance takes less time. One thought was weed barrier with small stones. While poking around I came across this article and not see that may not be the best idea. Since we are not looking for anything to grow in this area and would like it to be more of a path area, is there something you recommend besides say, pouring concrete? All volunteers, so budget is low and mulch would be too expensive to put down every year. Thanks for any help!

  68. Jeff, thanks for writing in. You might consider arborist chips. It is a mulch, but you may be able to solicit your local arborists to see if they would consider donating chips to your cause. Yes, they will break down over time and need to be replenished, but it usually doesn’t require reapplication every year. Or, a packed gravel pathway or stone might be an option — more expensive to install, but once they’re in place, they don’t need to be refurbished. Weeds will still happen with anything like this. A “no-maintenance” garden space isn’t likely. Good luck!

  69. Amy says:

    I live in southern California, and this season shared an order of hemp mulch mats with my father, who lives in upstate NY. I used them for landscaping, while he used them for mulching his vegetable garden. They worked very well in both applications. While the mats in my landscaping are still going strong, his mats degraded very well, and he plans on turning the remnants into his soil. There are no synthetics in the mats at all. Has anyone else used these? They seem to be a nice alternative to shredded mulch and synthetic weed block.

  70. Thanks for sharing Amy. This product sounds interesting. Given your url, I assume you sell these mats?

  71. Amy says:

    Hi,

    No, I’m a middle school principal. By url, if you mean the ‘website’ field of the ‘Leave a Reply’ form, I filled in the website of the site where I bought the mulch mats. If that was wrong, I apologize.

  72. Thanks for clarifying Amy. The url is helpful too!

  73. John Flower says:

    I agree with this article. Weed matting is the Plastic Devil! Especially when combined with a mineral mulch, like pea gravel. I recently removed 80 square metres of it. It had been in place for 10 or more years. On top of the weedmat I found a multitude of worms (good!) and small plants. The mulch was dirty from years of leaves dropping. Under the weedmat there were no worms, and the the soil was heavily compacted. The plants that’d been planted in the border were stunted, and their root systems were no bigger than the hole dug for them (the soil is heavy clay). Where they were growing good roots it was on top of the matting, not below it. Had there been no weedmat, no mineral mulch, then the dropped leaves would have broken down and improved the soil. The soil would have been full of worms. The plants chosen would have thrived.

    The article mentions the labour cost of removing weedmatting. This is matches my experience, too. It took a couple of full working days to clear the mulch, and matting. What really takes the time is scraping the mulch carefully from around the trees without damaging the trunk, or getting poked in the face by low branches.

    Nature prevents weeds by organic mulching and by blocking the sun. Plants drop leaves, and die in place. In doing so they improve the soil for the parent plant and provide a barrier to weeds. As the plants get bigger they block the sun, denying opportunity for weeds to get started. Weed matting & mineral mulching provides an instant effect, but the long term result is higher labour costs and poor plant growth.

  74. Lance says:

    I put a good quality fabric mat in 8 years ago and it stopped the weeds, shrubs and other plants continued to thrive. If a weed did start to grow, the mat prevented it from ever getting a good hold to anything other than mulch. There was no need to remove the mat even after 8 years. if you install the mat properly, it will stop the growth of the shrubs and other plans that you want. I’m in the south and was not planting flowers but shrubs and other drought tolerant plants. I was not concerned with compacting the soil for one major reason, under the soil is limestone. So it is hard for many plants to actually get very far underground.

  75. Gina says:

    I live in coastal Southern California, and I completely agree with this article. Our landscaper put landscape fabric under gravel, and we also used some under mulch about 8 years ago. At first it seems so perfect because it keeps your gravel and mulch neatly separated from the soil, BUT it does not stay that way. Every year I weed (fortunately, if you catch weeds before they seed in our dry climate, this chore diminishes), but the weed barrier really does nothing except make pulling the weeds harder and making your yard look ugly when it gets exposed. Don’t do it!

  76. Gina, so sorry you’re doing battle with this stuff. It’s no fun!

  77. Amy says:

    Hi! We just bought our first house and discovered 3 layers of this evil stuff in every inch of the garden beds. There are several mature trees- including a very sad dogwood, 3 twenty plus year old maples and two large rose bushes covered with some kind of leaf spots. We’ve managed to take out the top layer, most of the second layer and even a heroic amount the the original layer buried under years of mulch. The soil underneath is dead and hard as a rock. The fabric had created large air pockets around the tree roots and most of them housed very happy slugs. I’m sure we damaged many roots ripping it out but I considered it an emergency situation. As I research our various plant and tree diseases, they all seem to involve mold of some kind. Is it possible this will go away now that the soil is free to breathe? We live in Oregon so mold is bound to be an issue. Also- we were thinking of signing up for a free mulch service the city provides supplied by local tree trimmers. What type is best for rehabilitation of the soil? Any tree species to avoid? Thanks so much for this article! Gardening is new to us so validation is important! ?
    – Amy

  78. Amy, Sorry to hear of your ugly discovery. It’s amazing how folks like to layer this stuff up. And, yes, it definitely creates spaces where slugs love to live. It’s hard to know what the mold situation is. Odds are the removal will help the plants quite a bit & arborist chips can really help. Have you read our article on arborist chips? They are great for soil rehab. If you get on a free list, you may not be able to pick and choose. Most arborists won’t drop things like walnut, which can be a problem, on homeowners. But you may still get seeds from things like holly, so keep an eye out. Check with your local extension office, arborists, hire a local garden coach, visit a nursery or try talking with master gardeners for help with your specific issues. Site unseen, its tough to know what’s really happening or could happen in your new garden. Enjoy it!

  79. Amy says:

    Thanks so much for the link to the garden chip article. Your site is super helpful. I’ll look for a garden (edited: coach) in my area.

  80. Good luck Amy. Try searching for a garden coach or garden consultant if you aren’t in the Pacific Northwest. Otherwise, let us know how Garden Mentors® can help!

  81. Joshua Ogundepo says:

    I applied fabric weed control under rock landscaping 12 years ago. It controlled weed for about 8 year but it has been a nuisance in the last 3 to 4 years. Weeds are shooting out. Can I add more rock as it will be hard to remove the rocks and lay a plastic barrier or should I lay a plastic barrier over the rock and lay another layer of rocks over the plastic barrier.

  82. Joshua, Sorry you’re having to do battle with this trashy stuff. We really don’t advocate for keeping the landscape fabric at all. Adding more plastic just kills the earth that much more. Investing in removal, as tough as it may be to do, is how we usually suggest clients proceed. You might read another of our articles on the subject of landscape fabric and gravel, which gets into more on the problem of combining the two.

  83. shay habel says:

    I want to clear an old dry flower bed, next to a crazy paving path. (Its about 4 foot by 10 foot) Then strip out the soil, level the area. possibly with sand and then cover it with big pebbles and place very large tubs of agapanthus on top.
    I was thinking of a fabric barrier to stop weeds. There will be no soil above and no plants in the ground. Will a fabric barrier still be a problem.I don’t mind using weed killer as well, so would not be pulling weeds out. So in other words no need to cut or disturb the barrier.

  84. Shay, you might want to read this piece on using fabric under gravel before you begin. And, we really hope you won’t join the chemical warfare program to manage your garden. Please love the Earth and yourself more than that.

  85. Gretchen Waters says:

    I have a lot of trouble with septoria leaf spot on my tomatoes and it was suggested that I put down weed barrier mats to keep fungi in the soil from splashing onto the leaves when it rains. After reading all your comments I am hesitant to do so. Do you have any other suggestions other than weed barrier mats for my situation?

  86. Gretchen, thanks for the question. Since we aren’t entirely sure what your gardening situation is, it’s hard to say for certain. First, stop overhead watering or spray watering. Try using drip irrigation instead. This helps keep leaves drier. If rainwater is an issue, you might try growing your tomatoes in a greenhouse situation. That doesn’t mean you need to build an entire greenhouse though! You could build a simple hoop (aka tunnel) house to help keep splashing water minimized. If you’re gardening somewhere that’s really hot, be sure to cover your hoop with something other than plastic &/or be sure to vent the tunnel in summer. You can learn more about tunnel/hoop houses & see photos here: http://gardenmentors.com/garden-help/gardening-guidelines/greenhouse-gardening-resources/ and you might find this post helpful as well: http://gardenmentors.com/garden-help/grow-your-own-food/how-to-grow-front-yard-tomatoes-that-ripen-even-in-a-record-cold-summer/.

    Good luck!

  87. Violet says:

    Weeds, when I get those chased out of the garden, the yard grass takes it’s place! So our solution is double place the rows and then leave a space wide enough for the tractor to cultivate between the rows. We are headed to our senior years and physical tasks are getting eliminated if possible. We still have ti weed the rows but it takes less time!!

  88. Thanks for sharing Violet!

  89. Joan says:

    I was just told by the people where I buy my plants to not forget to put down weed guard. I have a few small plants laid out a few feet apart from each other because I don’t like them all growing together, and I am going to put Cedar Bark Stone around them. I did it around to palm trees and never saw a weed. Why are they pushing this? Just to get more work?

  90. Joan, We can’t speak for why others give the advice they give. Best way to find out is to ask them directly. Good luck!

  91. Toni says:

    I read one of your feed-backs from 2014. She said to use pine needles under your mulch for weed control. That’s such a great idea for me because the reason we are taking out our lawn is due to the pine needles. We are not planting ground cover so we don’t need to worry about suppressing the spreading and we have plenty of pine needles. Great tip.

  92. Chuck says:

    Interesting information on this site. We just had our whole yard landscaped and our contract says “9 Yards of crushed shell with fabric block” the problem we have is after 7 days (we live in the Clearwater FL area) there is all sorts of grass and weeds growing out of the shell everywhere. I looked and found that the landscaper did not use any fabric block at all, they just poured the shell over the raked soil (well really sand where we are). To say the least we are not happy campers. The ONE THING I told the landscaper as he sold us on using crushed (white) shell for the mulch was that it would not have any grass or weeds growing thru it. Now of course we are reasonable people and common sense tells is that there will always be “some” weeding we will need to do over time, but after 7 days we did not expect this. So the landscaper said he will take responsibility and asked to give him until July (was installed beginning of April) to get under control. He said they did not use the weed block fabric because it doesn’t work (even though its recorded on our contract). He said he put in sufficient depth of shell that he thought would prevent it. I am wondering if he is new to this as we thought he knew what he was doing. Anyway, we are about 7 weeks in and ugly grass and weeds everywhere (maybe 30-40% of coverage has weeds) and he has a crew over the past 2 days pulling the weeds out and says he is gong to spray roundup on it. My question is, will this be successful or will the weeds just keep growing back? we need to make a decision to take more adverse action, or trust him and we don’t know as we are not experts in this. Do you have any experience with crushed shell and should we be doing anything different? I just measured the shell and is about 2″ average depth. Thank you in advance for your reply.

  93. Chuck,

    Sorry to hear of your weedy woes. As you’ve probably seen on our site, we always caution that weeds happen. Even a thick (and 2″ isn’t very thick) layer of gravel or shell or mulch won’t keep the most tenacious weeds away. And, a one-off weed spray application (of any kind of spraying) probably won’t stop weeds from coming back later. If there are roots traveling nearby, they’ll just come back in later. If weed seeds blow in later, they will quite likely root into the shell material. Over time, decomposing leaves or dropped soil or such things get into path gravels and then weeds happily sprout up. So, weeds happen. And, you may be in for a longer-term maintenance program to care for your shell-covered areas. In our own garden, we spend a lot of time pulling all sorts of sprouting baby trees, grass and other weeds out of our gravel paths. It’s what happens out there in the natural world.

    Good luck working this through with your landscape company. I’m sorry you’re going through a challenging mis-communication snafu with them.

  94. Andy Riley says:

    I have 2 keystone gardens that have been taken over by tree roots. Moving the beds away from any trees is not a real option in my yard. If I dug out the beds and went a foot or so in the ground do you think a heavy duty weed barrier work or would another option be to dig around the beds and install one of those solid plastic tree root barriers? Please help me.

  95. Andy, odds are the tree roots will win in the end. Can you increase the height of your raised beds? If you’re growing annual edibles in them, most annual crop roots won’t go terribly deep.

  96. Bill says:

    Most articles I’ve seen discouraging people from using weed barriers are in a setting where things will be planted on top of them.

    What if we are planning on putting some gravel (no compost, nutrients, etc.) in some walkways? Is it still not a good idea to put a barrier down below that?

  97. Bill, Take a look at this article where we discuss gravel and gravel over landscape fabric: http://gardenmentors.com/garden-help/design-3/garden-gravel/

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