Should you use landscape fabric?

What are the benefits of landscape fabric? Some believe that using fabric to cover soil and topping it with a layer of mulch reduces the amount of weeds that grow and the time necessary to maintain their garden. Their motto is once and done! They want to minimize the work involved in maintaining a garden. Does it work? Short term yes. Is this a good long term solution? In my opinion, no.

Your garden or landscape is alive. As mulch or plant trimmings decompose, they add rich organic matter and fertilizer to the soil, greatly benefitting the plants. You can help this cycle by pulling weeds and allowing the top layer of mulch to fill the hole the weeds created. You can also regularly refresh your mulch, either annually or bi-annually. Successful gardening is work.

The good news is that you can achieve a similarly low maintenance garden without the disadvantages of landscape fabric, by applying a 2-4” layer of mulch on your planting beds. This helps with weeding. If you do get weeds, they are very easy to pull. The weeds themselves are likely rooted in mulch or in the top layer of the garden bed. When watering, the water easily penetrates the mulch and ensures the roots of the plants are getting their moisture. Although landscape fabric is permeable, it slows the flow of water to the roots of your plants. The fabric may also cause rooting of plants to fabric as it holds water and is slow to drain down into the soil.

Where would landscape fabric be a good idea: in an area where you are using decorative stone/rock; or in installing a pathway or decorative rock border where little or no plant material is used. You don’t have to worry about organic matter helping your soil because you don’t have plants in that area of the garden.


Recap- If you want to reduce the weeds in your landscape use a good thickness of mulch. Landscape fabric causes rooting to occur where the soil surface meets the cloth. Healthy gardens have deeper rooted plants to stabilize the plants and to resist drought. Landscape fabric puts more water stress on plants as it reduces overall moisture available to plants. If not covered with mulch, landscape fabric can act like a wick and dry out soil moisture and increase soil temperature. Landscape fabric also doesn’t allow the normal breakdown of organic material and keeps soil and mulch used in distinct layers which doesn’t allow organic material to benefit soil structure.