Weed guard fabric, or landscape fabric, promises to prevent weed growth and save you the time and energy spent on removing troublesome weeds in the garden. Weeds are the bane of most gardeners, and an easy solution to this common problem sounds appealing. While they can be an effective way to control weeds, weed guard fabrics are not permanent and they are not without problems.
1. Weeds Poking Through
Weed guard fabric is supposed to prevent weeds from growing in your flower beds and other landscape plantings, but according to University of Florida IFAS Extension, it will not prevent all weeds. For example, perennial weeds may poke through weed guard fabric. Sometimes weed seeds and debris blow on top of the fabric and take root. The roots and stems are usually woven through the fibers, so when you pull a weed, the cloth comes up with it. A possible solution is to place a layer of stones or mulch on top of the fabric, so you have a double barrier against weeds. You can also avoid weed problems by making sure the soil is weed-free before laying the fabric. If weeds do manage to sprout, pull them as soon as you see them to prevent them from establishing strong roots, which makes them hard to pull without damaging the fabric.
2. Maintenance Issues
While weed guard fabric breaks down after two or more years, it can be high maintenance during this time. If you’re growing perennials and must divide the plants each year, or you want to add new plants to your garden, having weed guard fabric in place can be a problem. To move or separate plants, you must cut through the fabric. If your plants have grown through the fabric in some places, the tender roots can be easily damaged. Once the fabric is torn, it is not repairable, and weeds may grow through the openings created. You can get around this by waiting until you plan to replace the fabric to add new plants or separate established plants. When removing fabric, do so slowly and carefully so you don’t damage your plants.
3. Moisture Retention
While weed guard fabric allows more air and moisture through than other barriers, such as plastic, it still holds a considerable amount of moisture in the soil. If the soil is too moist, which can be a problem during wet seasons, your plants are at higher risk for root rot and fungal infections. Weed guard fabric can also cause the roots of your plants to grow shallowly, which can affect growth and vigor.
One of the main problems with weed guard fabrics is they are not attractive. You can solve this problem by laying mulch over top of the fabric to hide it. But when you lay organic mulches, such as bark or wood chips, over weed barriers, you create a new layer of topsoil as the mulch decomposes. If weeds establish in this new layer of soil, they may grow roots through the fabric, which will make them harder to pull. The fabric also slows the decomposition process of the mulch. Avoid by using inorganic mulch, such as gravel or pebbles, or alternating the use of fabric with mulch, laying weed guard fabric one year, and letting it deteriorate before applying a layer of only mulch.
- Readers Digest: Weed Control in the Landscape: Taking Care of Weed Barriers
- Bachman’s: Mulches and Weed Barriers
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Nonchemical Weed Control for Home Landscapes and Gardens
- eXtension: Mulch Basics
- The Cooperative Extension System: Problems with Inorganic Mulches
- Washington State University: The Myth of Landscape Fabric
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