Climbing Out of the Landscape Fabric Trap

Repeat after me:  Landscape Fabric is a Marketing Gimmick.

There you go.  I just saved you hundreds of dollars and hours of unnecessary labor.  If you’d still like to understand some of the many reasons why you should avoid landscape fabric, read on.

When my husband and I first moved to our property  we wanted to create and maintain an easy, low maintenance yard that wouldn’t be full of weeds even with our busy schedules.  Like others before us, we went straight to our local garden centers, bought rolls of landscape fabric that would ‘magically’ keep our yard weed free, pins to install the fabric, and loads of mulch to hide the ugly fabric with.  I still cringe to think about our naivety.  Here’s why:

  1. It Doesn’t Actually Work.  You will still have weeds, and in some cases, you will have more weeds than if you had just left the soil as-is.  Some weeds will thrive in the environment you create by laying fabric down, and some will still easily grow right through the fabric – even the expensive ‘professional grade’ or ‘heavy duty’ fabric.
  2. It is a Huge Pain to Weed with Landscape Fabric. Once you have weeds growing on, or through your fabric, imagine trying to weed it.  Everywhere you try to dig you will continually be ‘hitting’ the fabric layer.  Next thing you know you will be spending hours trying to pull up landscape fabric that has been topped with a heavy layer of mulch or soil.
  3. It Inhibits Natural Soil Processes.  The health of your soil will suffer under the barrier created by landscape fabric.  Earthworms, for example aid in the health of your soil, and do so by moving throughout the different soil layers.  A layer of landscape fabric is prohibitive to earthworms and doesn’t allow them to perform all of their functions.  You can expect most earthworms to leave an area within a year or two after landscape fabric has been installed.
  4. It Inhibits Natural Wildlife Processes.  Have you noticed how birds forage in the soil? This is an important aspect for wildlife, however adding a landscape fabric will create a barrier for bird foraging as well.  Additionally, several types of native bees and insects rely on access to soil in order to set up their ground nests.
  5. Your Plants Will Suffer.  As the health of your soil deteriorates underneath the layer of landscape fabric, your plants’ health and growth will be stifled as well.  Plants need room to grow, room to ‘breathe,’ and generally loose, workable soil to access.  Here’s a personal example:  the previous owners of our home installed two – yes two! – layers of landscape fabric in certain sections of our yard.  The areas where they installed the double layers had tons of weeds growing – way more than the areas without fabric – and the plants were visibly struggling to survive.  I spent hours removing the fabric layers, added a top-dressing of finished compost, and by the very next growing season there were little to no weeds, and the plants were thriving!
  6. You Can’t Easily Change Your Mind.  Once you’ve installed the landscape fabric, it makes it significantly harder to change your mind of what you want your garden to look like.  You want to move a plant to a different area?  First you have to get through the layer of landscape fabric you put down.  You want to try growing some seeds outside?  You’re out of luck.  The seeds won’t be able to grow through the fabric barrier.  Basically any time you change your mind about your yard/garden/landscape you will have to first deal with the landscape fabric blocking your access to the soil.
  7. It’s Expensive.  You’ll spend lots of your extra money (and time!) purchasing and installing landscape fabric and after a year or two you’ll most likely regret the decision (like I did).

There are plenty of reasons why not to fall for the landscape fabric marketing gimmick.  So what should you do if you want to have a lower maintenance yard and spend less time weeding?  Luckily there are options that can alleviate some of the time burden of intensive weeding and yard maintenance – look for them in a future post!

How about you?  What are your landscape fabric horror stories?
Landscape Fabric

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