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Why Landscape Weed Barrier Fabric is Ugly & Wasteful

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Landscape fabric won’t end your weeds.

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 or weed cloth) sounds like the perfect solution for reducing garden maintenance. Unfortunately, it isn’t. And, it can even cause more headaches and ugliness than you might imagine.

Cutting holes in your landscape fabric to plant?

Stop. Don’t do it!

If you drape weed barrier all over your garden planting beds and then cut holes into that barrier to plant, you’re inviting multiple problems. The reality is, your new plantings likely won’t thrive. But odds are the weeds still will do just fine despite the landscape fabric you invested in.

So, what happens when your garden meets weed cloth?

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.

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, when water meets landscape fabric?

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.

Want to learn more about working with garden fabrics?

In our online learning programs, we’ve teach a lot of lessons around gardening solutions that have proven to work better than garden fabric. You can take a deeper dive into learning more about the problems we’ve encountered with this product. (Like how it kills Earth.) And, we’ll even share some situations where this garden cloth and some others may actually be appropriate.

What about using landscape cloth with gravel?

If you’re looking for information about working with gravels and pebbles, that’s a whole other discussion. Learn more in our article about garden gravels here..

175 comments on “Why Landscape Weed Barrier Fabric is Ugly & Wasteful

  1. Garden Mentors on

    Steve, Sorry to hear you lived the fabric nightmare in a previous garden. Using rock might work well. It’s hard to know, site unseen, if your exact description is appropriate. A local consultant may be able to help you more. In most cases, when putting down any kind of paver or slab, adding a good draining layer of crushed stone is important. Otherwise, the stones won’t level well and will begin to move around in the earth. But, again, site unseen, it’s tough to know what’s best for an specific space. Too, if you haven’t, you might want to take a look at this article on garden gravel:

  2. Joel on

    My wife and I are doing our backyard this spring and a large swath of it will be xeriscaped rock (1.5″ local river rock with 2-4″ cobble stones) with trees and shrubs within it. The plants will all be watered with a dripline and small circle of mulch at the base. What do you suggest we do for weed mitigation? I understand everything your article said, but I feel like just raw dirt under the rocks is like asking (begging) for weed city back there! I get not to use it under mulch (disrupting enzymatic processes and whatnot) but even under large chunks of rock with no plants at all desired.. anything we can do?

  3. Garden Mentors on

    Joel, Thanks for sharing your project story. You might take a look at this story, with images illustrating some of the issues we’ve run into when fabric’s been installed under gravel. In our experience, fabric under round gravel like you’re describing creates a roly poly danger zone. (Plus, once soil or other organic matter makes its way into the stones – and it will over time – weeds will grow there. And, they may pop through the fabric below. As you might imagine, this makes for an even more difficult area to manage.) Here’s the article link:

  4. Lori on

    I have a row of box hedging round the curves of our patio, and want to neaten up the bed they are in, with a gravel finish. Was going to put membrane down first…but maybe not now. Can I put gravel straight on top of soil if membrane is not a good idea? Was wondering about some plastic edging strip vertically to provide a clean finish where lawn meets soil bed, would this work?

  5. Garden Mentors on

    Lori, Site unseen we hesitate to offer specific recommendations. That being said, you might take a look at this article on choosing (& using garden gravels). And, as for the plastic lawn edging, we aren’t a fan. When soil heaves, so too does the edging. And, it’s fairly easy to catch plastic edging with a mower, which may pull it partially out of soil and make it all look raggedy. Good luck!

  6. Emilia Shanti on

    I can’t totally agree with you because all the materials have their lifetime. For sure, if you don’t replace an old material with a new one in time, it can mess with roots and make some difficulties. However, if you replace it once you see that your fabric doesn’t work properly, everything will fine.

    Moreover, landscape fabric lets water and air in and doesn’t diminish the ground quality.

  7. Garden Mentors on

    Emilia, Thank you for sharing your opinions. From the looks of things in your links, your goal is to sell more & more landscape fabric. Are you, perhaps, endorsed or paid by the manufacturers of these materials?

    We would counter your endorsement of these materials, by saying that landscape fabric actually doesn’t do a good job allowing water and other soil microbe needs pass through. It tends to sheet those things away, causing runoff issue and diminishing the quality of the soil beneath it. As well, why put down a material that really doesn’t work with the intent to remove and replace it over and over. That isn’t a very sustainable approach to gardening or environmentalism. Having found piles and piles of garbage fabric that had been removed from beds and replaced, it reminds us that this stuff is simply non-decomposing trash waiting to happen. And, having found layers and layers of it overlapping in dry, microbe-less soil profiles with failing plants, we also cannot abide by it. Having battled weeds growing through it and on top of it, we’ve learned it really doesn’t do the job its advertised to do. And, having fallen when walking through beds sheeted with fabric and topped with rock, we wonder why in the world anyone would encourage someone to do this.

    Why not build soil and use mulch, which is truly natural, suppresses weeds, encourages soil/root/soil microbe life and never needs to be added to a landfill? Why buy a product that, as you say, has a lifetime and will need to be replaced? Sounds like a lot of needless, useless, damaging cost and work to us.

  8. David on

    This may sound like an odd question for this forum, but I’ll ask it anyway. I have a pond bank with western exposure that I want to cover with rocks. I want a long term solution to totally prevent any/all vegetation from taking hold and growing. I’m getting too old to be cutting bushes and/or weed eating a pond bank every year and the bank is way to steep to mow. I’m planning to either use landscaping fabric under the rocks or use sheets of plastic like what lain in crawl spaces under houses. Would landscape fabric be a good long tern solution here?

  9. D. Stiegen on

    Glad to find this site and discussion. We’re in Phoenix AZ. Our backyard is ‘Midiron’ grass, a non-seeding variant of Bermuda which spreads via rhizomes. We want to totally replace it with a thick layer of 1/2″ size gravel. This is angular and sharp-edged, not round. There will be no plants in the area. We need advice on:

    #) Killing or crippling the grass. Our soil is like rock and there’s too much grass to dig up. The area is about 70′ x 30′ and too large to cover with newspapers. Even putting down burlap would be a big effort, and might (?) not work. Will Roundup kill it?

    #) Suppressing weeds / leftover grass. A plastic layer sounded good but not so much after reading this article and posts. Though, we will not be planting through it. Will Roundup work as periodic treatment?

    Any advice or experience welcomed.


  10. Garden Mentors on

    David, I hear you on not wanting to have to do battle with weeds at a pond edge. In our experience with a couple of ponds that came with landscape fabric under boulders along the edge, the fabric doesn’t do the trick you’d hope for. Weeds still take root in the pond and between the rocks. And, having the fabric involved just makes getting the weeds out even more difficult. That being said, site unseen, it’s difficult to know for certain what might work well in your particular application. Good luck!

  11. Garden Mentors on

    D – Thanks for writing in. Site unseen we are unable to make recommendations or discuss herbicide options. To move forward, you might want to find a gardening consultant local to your area to hire for assistance with your specific challenges. Good luck!

  12. Leslie Futterknecht on

    I followed the landscape fabric route years ago and after a few seasons my bulb plants stopped coming up. I have removed all of the fabric and am now putting down only mulch. I did “find” all of the bulbs when I removed the fabric. Poor babies. Time to put in new when fall arrives!

  13. Philip on

    Some of the information in this article is true, some false! I used landscape fabric under river rock when I built my house 33 years ago. For about 20 years I had NO weeding to do! Some people use cheap fabric. I had no weeds or plants penetrate the fabric, my plants did great! The fabric will not strangle your plants! The fabric will rip if the plant grows. The only drawback I see is over time grass and dirt will blow in and form a layer of soil that weeds will grow in, then you will began to have grass. I am in the process of replacing mine as we speak after 33 years.

  14. Renata on

    Hi. Thanks for the great info.
    I would appreciate your input.
    I created a pathway around my den some years with gravel (marble chips) so when it rains dirt does not splash on the walls. I looks great but the maintenance is high because the weeds growth at a speed never imagined. I spray weed killer but they continue to grow and I spend ours pulling them out.
    My question: Should I better remove the gravel completely and replace them with mulch? If so, which kind? Would the mulch would help the weeds from growing at such speed? Any other suggestions?
    Thank you so much for your help!

  15. Garden Mentors on

    Renata, Thanks for sharing your challenges and questions. Site unseen, it’s tough to make a specific suggestion for your situation. Bringing in a local consultant might be the best way to work on your challenges. There are all sorts of plants that qualify as “weeds”. Managing them requires knowing them. Exchanging gravel for mulch may help, but without seeing what weeds are there and how they’re growing, it’s tough to know if a simple exchange will be a good choice. But, getting away from spraying toxins sounds like a fantastic plan. Good luck!

  16. Judith on

    I dug several feet down and put in peat moss, manure, some gravel for drainage, and misc nutrients.
    Now, when I get a weed, it comes out with the greatest of ease – cause I have NO CLAY!!!!!!
    I literally can pull the weeds out with my pinky.

  17. Russ on

    I am setting up a small container nursery (about 0.5 acre). Should I use the “ground cover” fabric? The previous owner used some cheaper fabric and he had weeds growing where he put the staples and some of the container plant roots went through the fabric and into the soil below. I am considering trying root mulch or a wood chip mulch and see how that works.

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