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5 Reasons Not to Use Landscape Fabric in a Flower Bed

Sometimes homeowners, or even gardeners, want a beautiful landscape, but don’t want the work that goes along with it. I totally get it, if gardening isn’t your thing, or you simply don’t have the time, I realize that you’re looking for low maintenance. Ask yourself these questions when considering whether or not to use landscape fabric in a flower bed or your landscape:

  • Are you a gardener? Or, do you just want to create some curb appeal?
  • Do you want to grow perennial or annual flowers?
  • What are you trying to achieve by using landscape fabric?

Flower Garden with fresh mulch

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Reason #1 Not to Use Landscape Fabric – It does not suppress weeds!

Landscape fabric, or weed control fabric, is typically used as a way to suppress weed growth. But, here’s the thing– it simply does not work! It does not suppress weeds! Yes, maybe the first few years, you will notice fewer weeds. Eventually organic matter will accumulate on top of the fabric (even if the fabric is covered with river rock or wood chips) and it creates the perfect atmosphere for weed seeds to germinate.

Also, weeds (especially dandelions) will eventually grow through the landscape fabric (see example below), both from the bottom and top. Weeding an area that has landscape fabric is a complete pain in the you-know-what. The roots of the weeds grow through the landscape fabric making it difficult to pull them. Think about how many times you see weeds growing on gravel or in concrete cracks. If weeds grow in those places, landscape fabric will not stop them.

Dandelion in a gravel path growing through landscape fabric

Reason #2 Not to Use Landscape Fabric in a Flower Bed – Difficult Planting

Landscape cloth is not conducive to planting new plants, transplanting or dividing existing plants. An area that has landscape fabric is a nightmare to plant in. You have to cut through the fabric in order to place new plants. 

Have you ever tried to transplant a perennial that is growing in a bed where landscape fabric was used? The roots of some perennials can become entwined in the fabric. Trust me when I say, it’s no fun!

Reason #3 Not to Use Landscape Fabric in Flower Gardens – Soil and Plant Health

The key to growing healthy plants starts with healthy soil. Building healthy soil is not a one and done deal, it’s an ongoing process.

Healthy soil is rich in organic materials, retains moisture without being waterlogged and allows proper airflow to the roots or your plants. Landscape fabric prevents the ongoing development of healthy soil. With landscape fabric, there is simply no way to amend the soil it covers. 

When landscape fabric is involved, good organic matter, or even adequate moisture, cannot reach the root of the plants. Most landscape fabric is a mesh material which is designed to allow moisture and air through the woven fabric. Many advocates of using landscape fabric will say it helps to retain soil moisture. In reality that mesh becomes clogged with soil and organic matter over time and becomes less penetrable and necessary water and air cannot reach plant roots.

Earthworms and other living organisms are an important part of soil health. Their job is to aerate and fertilize soil. Landscape fabric chokes out the vital air they need, so many of the tiny living things (called microbes) and earthworms can’t do their thing under landscape fabric.

Landscape fabric may constrict the growth of plants. Not all, but many perennial plants will be inhibited from growing larger over time, because they have no room to expand. 

While we’re on the subject of soil and plant health, let’s sidestep here and talk a little about river rocks. Many times landscape rocks are added to landscaping fabric and that causes even more issues for the poor plants. Heat can be intense when using rocks and can bake the roots of a plant. Rocks are heavy and heat up, this is severely stressful to most plants and their root systems.

Weeds growing in a gravel path.
Weeds growing in a gravel path with landscape fabric.

The 4th and 5th Reasons – Maintenance & Cost

The reason most landscape professionals promote the use of weed barrier fabric in the first place is that it makes landscape beds aesthetically pleasing and it’s low maintenance. Again, yes the newly landscaped area may look great for a couple of years, but eventually weeds will start growing. Now, the beautiful landscaping that you spent so much money on is no longer low or no maintenance. Many then resort to using a weed killer and that’s never a good idea.

If you decide to add landscape fabric to a garden area yourself, it’s not an easy job, nor is it inexpensive. You will need to do some research and find the best landscape fabric and how to install it properly. Then the whole ordeal of installing it, getting the fabric to lay flat and using the proper garden staples to hold it in place, is not an easy DIY job.

Also, for water to run through it properly, landscape fabric must be laid perfectly flat, which is nearly impossible. All is takes is heavy rains for you to see where your landscape fabric is not flat. The rain water will pool in that area causing a myriad of other problems.

Most of all, if you’ve ever had to remove old landscape fabric from flower gardens, you will immediately know why to never use it. Over the past several years, I have been renovating old gardens and one of the worst was a flower garden where the previous owners had used a combination of black plastic and landscape fabric. On top of that was about a 12″ layer of river rock and on top of that was several inches of organic materials including mulch. It was a lot of hard work and took a long time to clean the old bed out, but I’m happy to report that the effort and money spent was worth it. Even after all the work, when planting new plants, I still run into river rock and pieces of fabric and plastic.

A good quality landscape fabric is expensive. Weigh that with the time of installing it properly and then the time to remove it in a few years when you figure out that it doesn’t work, and that, in and of itself, is a good enough reason not to use landscape fabric in the first place.

Here are my picks for weed control in your gardens:

Alternatives to Using Landscape Fabric in Your Garden Bed

Some will say use black plastic as an alternative to landscape fabric, because weeds can’t grow through plastic. If you have any concern for your gardens and the environment at all, do not use plastic as a weed barrier. Rain water cannot penetrate plastic, nor can any organic matter. Plastic does not allow water or air through, plant roots need both. If you place plastic or landscape fabric under mulch, you will find your plant’s roots all directly under the plastic or fabric, at the soil surface, as they reach for water and air.

The best weed barriers are organic mulches, which help prevent light from reaching weed seeds while helping to retain soil moisture and gradually breaking down to help build healthy soil. Mulch also provides a habitat for many pollinators. A heavy layer of mulch greatly limits the number of weeds in my gardens and I believe it’s the best choice for weed reduction.

Another better option for using landscape cloth is planting ground cover plants. Ground cover will do a good job to suppress weeds and it’s also a pretty alternative.

Newspaper or card board are good biodegradable alternatives to weed cloth. Adding 3 inches or more of a good shredded wood mulch on top of it is a great way to suppress weeds. Newspaper and cardboard will break down over the growing season and if need be they can easily be removed. 

Dried, untreated grass clippings are another good, biodegradable alternative to garden fabric. I like to use grass clippings around my plants in my raised veggie beds. The clippings form a mat and work wonderfully for weed suppression.

Shade garden with field stone lined pea gravel path.

Good Places to Use Landscape Fabric

A proper use of landscape fabric is for pathways. We have it under pea gravel paths and it does help with weed reduction. The picture above shows one of our garden paths where we used landscape fabric under the pea gravel. Although there are still weeds that pop up, there aren’t as many. Plus, we don’t have to worry about the health of the soil in these areas.

We also utilized landscape fabric under a large playground area in our backyard. We also cover the fabric with pea gravel in this area.

Landscaping fabric also works well between rows of a vegetable garden, or cut flower garden. Or, even around raised garden beds, where nothing will be planted. 

Do Not Use Landscape Fabric in Your Flower Gardens

I think landscape fabric could offer some weed reduction, particularly in the first few years. But in the long-term, it’s definitely a negative for soil health, plant health, air and water circulation, etc. I have taken out old plastic and landscaping fabric as well as rock and the plants explode. Using landscape fabric creates more work in the long run. First, with the installation. Second, when you’re planting new plants. And, lastly, when you finally realize it simply doesn’t work and you have to pull it all out.

If after reading this article, you’re still considering using landscape fabric in your flower garden, be sure you ask friends and neighbors what experience they’ve had.

Need more help with your flower gardens, check out these articles:

How to Deal With Weeds In Your Garden
Flower Garden Maintenance Tips
Flower Gardening 101

Have you ever had to deal with removing landscape fabric from your gardens or landscaping? Please leave a comment and tell me your experience. 

Do you use landscape fabric in your gardens and love it? Likewise, please leave a comment and tell me your experience.

Happy gardening,
Joanna

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p.p.s I’d love to have you follow Gingham Gardens on Pinterest. Lots of great gardening ideas and tons of eye candy for gardeners. Gingham Gardens is also on Facebook.

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10 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more with your article about the evils of landscape fabric. We live in a a house with a large yard that belonged to a relative many years ago. The dear old man who owned it back then planted a rather large vegetable garden in part of the yard and used black plastic sheeting as a weed preventative. To this day, I can dig down 6 to 8 inches in that part of the yard and find that plastic sheeting, still intact. It’s almost impossible to pull out from that depth! He had no idea what a problem he left behind. I would NEVER use that black plastic, but decided to try some of the landscape fabric in a large perennial bed I made. Bad decision. As you stated, the fabric was difficult to put down, was somewhat costly, and ultimately caused nothing but problems. With mulch on top of it, weeds eventually found a good place to germinate, while other weeds popped up through the fabric. Their roots became hopelessly entangled in the fabric, making them almost impossible to get out. Trying to plant new perennials through the fabric was difficult. I created a virtual nightmare of work. Never again! I’ve found that layers of newspaper and/or corrugated cardboard ( I soaked both in water before laying them down) are the very best solution for me in weed control. I add mulch on top of the layers and have an almost completely carefree and weed-free growing season as a result. The bonus is that those materials decompose somewhat over the winter and add nutrients and aeration to the soil. Thanks for your article! I always enjoy reading your posts and look forward to them.

    1. Hi Donna – thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens and leaving such a helpful comment on the article about not using landscape fabric. Good tips about using newspaper and cardboard instead. Happy gardening, Joanna

  2. I agree. I’m in the process of pulling up the landscape fabric I let my landscaper put down , against my better judgment! It is a terrible chore and I’m only a quarter of the way done. I may have to pay someone to finish the job. It doesn’t let water penetrate the fabric so I have to hand water, and it compacts the soil which is not good for anything. All of the reasons listed are true. It is much more work having landscape fabric down than not. Don’t do it!!

    1. Hi Pat, thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens and taking the time to leave a comment. Good luck with your landscape fabric removal chore. I’ve been there. Joanna

  3. When we first moved into this house, I put own a lot of really good landscape fabric. The weeds eventually grew anyway. Dirt and decomposed wood chips ended up on top of the fabric and made a perfect growing medium for lots of weeds and even some garden plants that spread by seed or rhizomes. Well, I spent last summer removing landscape fabric. It was a lot of work because it was grown over and I had used tons of staples to hold it in place. I pulled it up, removed any weeds that were actually growing below the fabric and then put on lots of compost and wood chips. I only got about half way around my yard but will definitely finish (hopefully) this year. An absolute thumbs down for landscape fabric. That said, there were a few especially weedy areas where I did put some cardboard under the wood chips.

  4. I absolutely agree with you about using weed barrier in the garden. We have used this under our rock surrounding our front yard and I still spray weeds. The people who owned our house before us laid black plastic and I have had to dig and tear through it while the weeds have grown on top as well. Just a bad idea all the way around.

  5. Hi Joanna,
    Years ago I made the terrible mistake of using landscape fabric AND covered the fabric with river rock.
    After reading your article I must say, you are right on every point! Hopefully readers will take your advice to heart. They won’t be sorry they followed your advice. Nothing teaches better than experience! Don’t use landscape fabric or plastic where you intend to plant anything.

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