Weeds growing around shrubs and other vegetation compete with desirable plants for moisture, nutrients and light, harbor pests and diseases, and negatively impact the overall appearance of the landscape. One way to effectively prevent most weed problems for several years involves installing weed barrier fabric. This material prevents light from reaching weed seeds or small plants under the fabric but, unlike black plastic, allows ample air and moisture flow to and from the soil around the roots of bushes. Weed barrier, or landscape fabric, prevents or minimizes the need for potentially toxic herbicide applications, and saves you a great deal of time and effort if you install the material properly.
1 Pull out all weeds by hand, or use a hoe or grubbing tool to remove all weeds and capture as much of each weed's root system as possible. If you are using a hoe or grubbing tool, take care to not penetrate the soil too deeply when removing weed roots or you may risk injury to the root system of the desirable bush.
2 Rake up all debris, remove any rocks and move soil around, if needed, to create as smooth and level a site as possible. Be aware, however, that adding or removing more than 1 or 2 inches of soil around shrubs or other vegetation may negatively impact plant health and should be avoided.
3 Lay out weed barrier fabric starting at one end of the landscape bed, tucking the ends under any edging, if possible, so no gap is left between the edging and the start of the weed barrier fabric.
4 Cut an "X" into the weed barrier fabric to create an opening that you can fit over any small bushes and other plants, and slide the fabric over the shrub branches, bending the flaps you created back into place to minimize the bare soil exposed around the base of the plant. To fit the fabric around bushes with too large a branch spread to easily fit the fabric over, make a single cut into the fabric from the edge nearest the base of the shrub and slide the fabric around the stem from the side.
5 Lay the next strip or section of weed barrier fabric so it overlaps the first strip by at least 2 inches, but ideally about 6 inches. Many manufacturers offer fabric that has a line visible on the fabric that makes overlapping and aligning multiple pieces easier.
6 Anchor the weed barrier fabric as you lay it by pushing pins or anchors designed for use with landscape fabric through the material into the soil every 3 to 5 feet, making sure the ends of the fabric and overlapping sections are completely secure.
7 Cover the fabric with 1 to 3 inches of an organic mulch, such as wood chips or shredded bark, or an inorganic mulch, such as crushed rock. Keep all mulch pulled back at least 6 to 12 inches from the base of any plants. Mulch on the fabric is necessary to protect the fabric from photo-degradation and prolong its effective life.
8 Monitor the area around the bushes and pull any weeds that do appear promptly, before they can grow very large and penetrate through the fabric or make larger openings. Add more mulch or move mulch around, as needed, to keep the fabric covered and protected from sunlight.
Items you will need
- Work gloves
- Hoe or grubbing tool (optional)
- Garden rake
- Utility knife
- Pins or anchors for landscape fabric
- Some plants may be stressed if you use an inorganic material mulch such as crushed gravel around them.
- UC IPM Online: Weed Management in Landscapes
- Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service: Weed Barrier Fabric Mulch for Tree and Shrub Plantings
- DeWitt Company: Frequently Asked Questions
- University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences: Care of Ornamental Plants in the Landscape
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service: Mulching Trees and Shrubs
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images