Whether you have a small veggie plot in your backyard or a massive flower garden, weeds can be unsightly and frustrating to deal with. Many homeowners resort to landscape fabric as a long-term weed control solution. But what is this mysterious “landscaping fabric”? And are there alternatives to landscape fabrics that you could use instead? It’s time to dispel the many landscaping fabric myths by clearly defining what landscaping fabric is and why you might not want it. Let’s get started…
What is Landscape Fabric?
Landscape Fabric is made of various inorganic materials that are placed over the ground, often as a decorative method. It will actually line your garden and prevents weeds from growing out of the soil.
There are many different types of landscape fabric out there, but they all offer a few essential functions. The weed barrier is either woven strands or a solid sheet with perforated holes. Landscape fabrics allow water and air to pass through the soil while minimizing weed growth.
Disadvantages of Landscape Fabric?
Landscape fabric can look intimidating, but it really isn't. Weed fabrics are low-lying sheets of non-woven geotextile that are used to prevent weed growth in garden beds. Although weed fabrics can certainly mitigate weed growth in the short term, over the long term, you’ll likely run into more problems. Here are some reasons why you should avoid using landscaping fabric in your garden
Landscape fabric does not last forever and has to be replaced regularly; therefore, it is not an effective permanent weed control solution.
Landscape fabric does not decompose in the soil, so if you need a longer-term solution to support your rock pathway, it may be perfect—but it's probably best avoided if you're growing vegetables or flowers.
Landscape fabric has no nutritional value added to the soil.
Wind can blow soil and weed seeds from neighboring lawns and gardens onto the landscape fabric. The barrier will not stop any weeds that are growing on top of it, but it should prevent new ones from taking root in your yard.
Weeds that have grown above the landscape cloth will send their roots down into the barrier, interweaving with it. Their stubborn roots can make your weeding more difficult than usual.
Within a short time, the fabric will become clogged by plant debris and no longer allow water or air to reach your plants' roots.
Landscape fabric is bad for the environment because it kills earthworms and many other beneficial insects in the soil.
Landscape fabric can harm or kill plants and soil organisms.
The cloth clogs the pores of plants, depriving them of air needed for growth; it prevents earthworms from burrowing through healthy layers of topsoil as they usually would; and when you remove landscape fabric that has become covered with weeds or other material, roots that have grown into it will be injured—causing more problems than before!
Exposure to the elements can make landscape fabric deteriorate, which may be unattractive to the landscape.
8 Landscape Fabric Alternatives
Cardboard is a great option for your first alternative weed barrier. It's reusable, economical, and easily tailored to fit the shape of your garden beds. Cardboard is also biodegradable, so you don't have to worry about it becoming a long-term nuisance in your yard. When you're ready to remove it from your beds, simply tear up the cardboard and compost it along with your other organic waste.
When using cardboard as a weed barrier in your garden, remove all staples, tape, and any other inorganic material attached to the cardboard. At every seam, overlap the pieces of cardboard by a few inches. This will ensure that there are no spaces between your plants where weeds could grow. Wetting the cardboard beforehand makes it more pliable and easier to mold around your plants. After you’ve laid the cardboard in your garden bed, cover it with a layer of mulch such as bark or wood chips. It is best to use organic mulch like those because it improves the aesthetics.
Why waste money on expensive weed barriers? Plain old newspaper works just as well. Yes, One of the least expensive ways to get a weed barrier for your vegetable garden is to use plain newspaper.
The main difference between using newspaper for your landscaping and using cardboard is that:
Newspaper is thin, so four to eight layers are enough to effectively block weeds.
Shredded newspaper allows sunlight and moisture to reach the roots of a plant and is essential for its growth, so it is best used on top of a thick layer of mulch. If the shredded newspaper blows away, use more layers.
Don’t use colored, glossy magazines in your landscape. This kind of paper doesn’t break down readily.
Though burlap is often chosen by people who want a more natural look than plastic mesh provides, it’s not so different from traditional landscape fabric in how you install it.
Natural burlap works like landscape cloth, but it is permeable and lets water reach the soil. In addition to being organic, natural burlap will break down and won’t hurt earthworms.
Burlap makes a great weed barrier. Just lay a few sheets over your garden, with slits cut out for your plants, and then pin it down.
4. Ground Cover Plants
If you want your garden to look pristine without having to think about pesky pests, ground cover plants are the right choice. Ground covers help fight weeds by blocking sunlight from reaching weed seeds before they can sprout. If they don't receive enough light, they won't grow, no matter how much water, nutrients, or space they have. Ground cover plants also have other benefits.
In addition to serving as a weed barrier, ground cover plants can add an extra aesthetic element to your garden. Ground covers tend to be low maintenance and will grow in almost any climate.
Straw is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to enhance garden soil and prevent weed growth. Wheat straw can improve the soil's ability to retain nutrients and moisture and also add organic material. Not to mention that it looks so damn pretty in the garden!
Straw mulch comes in two varieties: with hay and without. Hay may contain weed seeds, so only use a guaranteed weed-free straw. It’s compacted, so one bale will cover a depth of 2-4 inches up to 80 square feet.
6. Wood Chips
Wood chips are a classic mulch. They are versatile, affordable, easy-to-use mulch and one of the best biodegradable alternatives to landscape fabric. Wood chips break down slowly to provide soils with nutrients. The slow decomposition also helps maintain moisture and temperature for soil life.
It's best to use wood chips from a reputable source, such as your local tree service. Make sure not to use wood from previous construction projects imported into your landscape—it could contain more pollutants than landscaping fabric does.
Wood mulch has gained popularity as an environmentally friendly alternative to landscaping fabric because it prevents the growth of weeds, can improve water retention, and is recyclable.
7. Pine Needles, Leaves & Other Lawn Waste
Pine needles and other lawn waste are an attractive alternative to the black fabric that landscapes commonly use to protect them from weeds and allow water to flow out instead of down in their beds. Plus, these are environmentally friendly alternatives to black landscape cloth – a polymer made from petroleum — and it’s completely biodegradable.
If you mulch your garden with leaves, pine needles, and grass clippings, you’ll prevent soil erosion, retain moisture and enrich the soil with nitrogen. A lawnmower’s catch-bag attachment makes it easy to shred and gather the leaves and grass clippings. In areas with pine trees, this is a must for providing mulch in your flower beds.
Don’t want to use landscaping cloth or any of these alternatives? Don't worry; you can simply switch to herbicides. There are dozens of natural and chemical-based weed-killer options that work as a great alternative to landscaping fabric.
Pre-emergent weed-prevention products can stop weeds from germinating in the first place. These products do not harm established plants but are instead targeted at preventing new weeds.
You'll have to test out a few different materials to see what works best in your soil. Starting with the basics is a good place to start, so do some research on these materials that can protect your plants from pesky weeds. As time goes on and you have no trouble with weeds, you may think of better ways to keep the weeds away. This is just an example but think of it as an experiment at no notice to you or the plants.
There are many good alternatives to landscape fabric. Choose the one that best suits your needs: that is if you need a weed barrier at all.
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