How to Install Landscape Fabric for Weed Control
David Beaulieu is a landscaping expert and plant photographer, with 20 years of experience. He was in the nursery business for over a decade, working with a large variety of plants. David has been interviewed by numerous newspapers and national U.S. magazines, such as Woman’s World and American Way.
The Spruce / Michele Lee
- Working Time: 1 hr
- Total Time: 4 hrs
- Skill Level: Beginner
- Estimated Cost: $18 per 300 square feet
Laying down landscape fabric is the easiest and often the most effective method for fighting weeds. It prevents weed seeds from germinating in the soil or from landing and taking root from above the soil. And because landscape fabric is “breathable,” it lets water, air, and some nutrients to flow down to the soil to feed desirable plants.
Landscape fabric works fine on its own, but it’s usually best to cover it with a decorative mulch, rock, or other ground cover. The fabric separates the cover material from the soil, keeping stone and gravel clean and slowing the inevitable breakdown of organic mulch. Black plastic (another type of weed barrier) performs a similar function, but plastic is prone to tearing, and it forms an impervious barrier that prevents water and air from reaching desirable plants.
Installing landscape fabric isn’t much harder than spreading out a bed sheet, but it’s important to prepare the ground properly to ensure a flat surface and prevent damage to the fabric. It’s also important to overlap and secure the edges of the fabric to prevent weeds and cover material from getting through the seams.
Watch Now: How to Install Landscape Fabric for Weed Control
Working With Landscape Fabrics
Landscape fabric is a weed barrier, but not all weed barriers are landscape fabric. Cheap, thin plastic barriers are far inferior to quality fabric and can tear very easily. It never pays to use the cheap stuff because you’ll most likely need to replace it sooner or later. By contrast, quality landscape fabric is long-lasting and is resistant to sun damage and tears. Some products are guaranteed for up to 20 years.
Another benefit of quality fabric is that it’s reusable. If you decide to change an area that is covered with fabric and mulch, simply remove the mulch, unpin the fabric, shake off the soil and other material, and roll up the fabric to keep it for future use. While it may be a little dirty, reused fabric works just as well as new material.
Most quality landscape fabric is made of spun synthetic-fiber material that blocks sunlight but permits the passage of some water and air. The material is tough, but it can be damaged by sharp rocks, tools, and roots. For this reason, it’s a good idea to rake and smooth the ground before laying the fabric. Many fabrics are UV-protected but will last longer if they are not directly exposed to sunlight. A layer of mulch or other ground material provides this coverage.
How to Plant After Landscaping Fabric
Landscaping fabric, also referred to as geotextile, is a type of mulch that can effectively contribute to weed control. The fabric, which is ideally installed prior to planting tree and shrub beds or perennial beds that don’t require periodic replanting, still allows air and water to penetrate while blocking light and impairing weed germination and growth. Even though landscape fabric doesn’t contribute nutrients to the soil, is more expensive than organic mulches and requires more installation time, it can help combat weeds for at least five years.
Mark the areas where you want to grow your plants with marking flags. As an alternative, set out the plants on the landscaping fabric to get a visual.
Cut an X-shape in the landscaping fabric in one of the selected locations. Use scissors or a utility knife and aim to keep the cuts as small as possible. Avoid cutting out and removing fabric. Fold the four flaps of the X-shape under to get easy access to the soil underneath.
Dig a hole in the soil that can comfortably fit the plant. Place the excavated soil in a wheelbarrow to avoid weed seeds from getting on the fabric. Install the plant and place the excavated soil back in the hole around the plant. Tamp the soil with your hands and water the plant.
Unfold the four flaps of the X-shape in the landscaping fabric. Cut off the tips of the flaps so they don’t touch the stem of the plant.
Place a 1-inch layer of organic mulch over the landscaping fabric to prevent premature degradation due to ultraviolet light exposure. Keep the mulch one inch away from the stem of the plant.
Is It Good to Put a Weed Barrier in a Vegetable Garden?
Weeding a vegetable garden can take hours of your time, and new weeds seem to sprout as soon as you get the old ones pulled. A weed barrier can greatly reduce or eliminate weeds in your garden bed. Selecting the barrier and installing it correctly ensures it doesn’t interfere with the healthy growth of the vegetables while still providing maximum weed protection.
Weed barriers prevent most weeds and lawn grasses from growing into the garden bed, drastically reducing how much weeding you have to do. A barrier can completely prevent weeds, depending on the type of barrier and installation method. Barriers installed beneath the soil, such as in a raised vegetable bed, may not stop weeds from rooting in the soil above. Barriers laid over the top of soil stop almost all weeds and also help retain moisture in the soil, which reduces how often you have to water.
Landscape fabric lasts for up to five years and is often used beneath the soil in raised beds. It isn’t suitable for above-soil use because it gets torn during the annual replanting of vegetable plants, which allows weeds to penetrate it. Plastic mulch covers the soil surface and lasts for about one season, making it suitable as a surface barrier in vegetable beds because you’ll replace it each year. Layers of cardboard or newspaper (not the glossy pages) can also provide a barrier beneath or above the soil. These break down quickly, but the decomposing paper does benefit the soil.
Installation methods depend on the location of the barrier. Barriers installed beneath the soil, including those lining raised vegetable gardens, must be laid over the ground in an unbroken sheet. Overlapping sheets at the seams and anchoring them with metal stakes prevents weeds from breaching the barrier. When laying barriers over the top of the soil, overlap the seams and anchor both the seams and the edges of the barrier so it doesn’t blow off the soil. When applied over the soil surface you must cut a hole in the barrier for each vegetable plant.
Digging and Planting
After the weed barrier fabric is in place, you won’t be able to dig the soil, so do all your digging before spreading the fabric. If you want to spread landscape fabric on the base of a raised vegetable bed, break up the soil at the base of the bed with a garden fork and lay the fabric on top. Then you can fill the bed with a soil and compost or manure mixture for growing your plants. On the other hand, if you plan on spreading landscape fabric on the soil surface, dig the soil first before laying the fabric. After you’ve anchored the fabric in place with stakes or stones, cut X-shaped holes with a sharp knife. Open the center of the X, and dig a small hole with a trowel to plant each vegetable plant.
Surface barriers, especially plastic, don’t allow moisture to reach the soil beneath. You must install drip irrigation lines before laying the barrier or water at the base of the plant so the water can reach the soil through the planting hole in the barrier. If the soil is allowed to dry, the vegetables will die. Surface barriers can also look unattractive. Spreading straw mulch or another more attractive mulching material on top camouflages plastic and cardboard barriers. The secondary mulch also further reduces weeds and helps maintain the soil temperature.
- University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program: Weed Management in Landscape Plantings
- Virginia Cooperative Extension: Mulches for the Home Vegetable Garden
- UCCE Orange County Master Gardeners: Raised Bed Gardens
- University of Illinois Extension: Everyone Loves Raised Beds!
- The California Garden Web: Vegetables & Sustainable
Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington’s specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.