Let's Talk About Landscape Fabric!

I have a strip of land separating my yard from the neighboring house. There used to be a row of arborvitae there, but I had it taken down, for a couple of reasons, the main one being it was an eyesore. Now I have a strip of potential curb appeal, but first I have three enemies I must deal with; bindweed aka moonflowers or white morning glory, Himalayan blackberries, and the dreaded horsetail. I have done everything I can to rid my yard of these three tenacious weeds from organic to all-out chemical warfare, and yet here they are, back again with renewed vigor.

I want to turn this area into a perennial bed, but between the clay soil which the arborvitae acidified and the weeds and factor in my disabilities and the answer is to create a raised bed and fill it with a good soil mix. I don’t want to go to all that effort (and spend all the money) just to have the aforementioned three persistent weeds pop up through the surface. I am not a young woman anymore, and I would like to take as much of the fight out of gardening as I possibly can.

Long story short, I think I want to lay landscape fabric over the soil before building the bed and filling it. It isn’t a product I am familiar with and so I have been reading up on it. It seems to be a topic a lot of people have an opinion about, and they range from it’s great to DON’T DO IT!!! I don’t mind weeding, but the three culprits listed above and I are in the midst of an all-out war, and sadly, at the moment they are winning.

Please tell me about your experiences with landscape fabric, and if it is a yay or a nay.

never used it myself, but i did lay out old area rugs outside along a route for a path, it was effective in depriving the undergrowth of life. then i it was coir husks for mulch. weeds eventually wormed their way back in, my bad.

Landscape fabric will definitely cut down on the weeds–but if you’re talking acid soil, have you considered planting a bunch of blueberries there? They love things as acidic as possible, they’re native, they’re lovely, they make fruit for your breakfast and you can mulch the holy fuck around them and they LIKE it. Worth a shot!

ETA: Allow me to tempt you with one of my favorite places.

I’m interested to see how your thread develops, and hear what dopers think.

A couple of years back I too was waging mighty war against weeds. Also losing the battle and looking for solutions. I struggled with using landscape fabric, heard a lot of negatives. I dithered for a long while. In the end I went with a suggestion that seemed easier for me.

A friend suggested I cover the bed with sections from the newspaper and then a layer of cardboard. Cover the whole lot with mulch, to hold it down, and so it’s not a hideous eyesore. Water heavily, of course. Once it’s kinda soggy go ahead and poke a hole and place your plants.

It’s a thick enough barrier, to keep out sufficient light, to kill most anything! And it all just biodegrades naturally, over time. A weed or two did manage to come up through a couple of the plant openings, alongside the plant, but that was simple enough to manage for me.

Good Luck to you, I’m sure dopers have lots of good suggestion. I’m also anxious to hear their opinion of landscaping fabric!

Thing about it is it’s pretty inexpensive so it’s worth experimenting in your particular spot to see if it works for you. I have a bed out front (around an arborvita as it happens) that I put in circa 2010 or so and used landscape fabric because it’s mostly a showcase for container plants. Aside from a spot right by the arborvita trunk where I had to go around it with the fabric it’s still holding solid out there–the few weeds that invade are kept shallow by hitting the fabric and are super easy to pull out. That one spot by the arborvita trunk though, a fucking blackberry came up right through the roots and I’ve been battling that sumbitch for YEARS. Asshole blackberries can fucko right off.

I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that, while it should help with the other weeds, the horsetail will get through. That stuff’ll get through tarmac given time.

I use it as greenhouse flooring and also as flooring for the produce washstand; it lets water through and discourages weed growth but keeps my feet out of the mud. The weeds do work their way through it in places eventually, but that may be because wear and tear puts holes in it. There are a batch of different materials and weights available, some of them sturdier than others.

The other difference between my surface use and burying it, of course, is that as it starts to disintegrate I can pull it up and put down a new piece. If you bury it, and it disintegrates (as I expect it will eventually, though it might take quite a while), I suspect it’s not going to disintegrate entirely into molecular constituents, but is going to permanently leave a lot of little bits of plastic in the soil. (This is likely to be true even of so-called “biodegradable” materials.) And we’re discovering that these little bits accumulate in the guts of all sorts of creatures. I don’t know whether this poses a significant problem fot the sort of use you’re considering; I think we just don’t know enough about it yet.

Just to speak to that last point - though I’m not the world’s best gardener myself - our landlords put down landscape fabric just about everywhere before we moved into our current house, about ten years ago. None of it, buried or unburied, is showing any signs of disintegrating yet. So I’m thinking you could put it down for a few years then just dig it up and get rid of it, if you liked, without issue.

Landscape fabric is a poor idea for gardening beds for multiple reasons.

First of all, it doesn’t keep out weeds for very long. Soil and detritus blow on top of it and weed seeds sprout (they don’t need much substrate), send their roots into the fabric and it’s annoying and potentially fabric-damaging to rip them out.

Worthwhile gardening activities are limited or prevented by the use of fabric, such as dividing perennials and working amendments into the soil.

Plants benefit by the soil around them being turned over occasionally and aerated. You can’t do that if it’s covered by landscape fabric.

Landscape fabric prevents reseeding and growth of valuable plants. Some plants come back every year through reseeding, but not if their growth is blocked by fabric.

The fabric deteriorates over time and has to be replaced.*

Mulch does much of the work of fabric, a major difference being that it keeps soil cooler and its breakdown benefits the soil.

I only use landscape fabric in applications like underneath a brick garden path or where I have tubbed plants and don’t want anything growing around them - never in planting beds.

*when we moved in at our current property, I found that a previous owner has laid down landscape fabric which had gotten partially buried over time in a large bed, and it took a lot of digging and pulling to get all the shreds and shards out.

I agree with all of that.

But for the OP’s purposes - putting landscape fabric under a raised bed - it will work fine.

The landscape company I work for doesn’t use it (in planting beds) and will actively recommend against it if it’s specified. We’ll break the price out as an alternate – “Look, if you insist, we’ll add it in for this much”.

Pretty much the reasons Jackmannii said: it doesn’t really do its job well in that application and becomes a maintenance headache.

Yeah, I’ve never used landscaping fabric on top of the dirt, it’s what goes underneath to keep weeds from coming in through the deep dirt–the ones that subsequently start up on top are shallower though and pretty easy to keep up with. Also, landscape cloth first, then soil, then plants, then a shit ton of mulch is about as perfect a solution as you’re likely to get in this naughty world.

My major experience with landscaping fabric is using it as an underlayment when I built a retaining wall for my wife’s garden. It does a great job of keeping dirt from seeping out between the concrete blocks.

I missed the part about the raised bed.

Still, if the weeds the OP listed are that pernicious in the local soil, odds are they’ll seed in from overhead or eventually return through gaps in degenerating landscape fabric and the OP will be back to fighting them again.

Also, in my experience if weeds are such a problem that they can’t be controlled by handpicking and mulching, it’s an indication that the gardener is taking on too much and would benefit by having a smaller area under cultivation.

Or it’s an indication the gardener lives in the Pacific NW where it rains a shit ton and the plants grow rampant with a velocity usually reserved for cheetahs on meth.

I found that the leaves and debris on top of the fabric soon creates soil of its own and then weeds grow in that.

That’s when we use it. Or to lay under several inches of decorative stone, pea gravel, etc to help keep it separated from the soil so it doesn’t get blended together over time. Not much real use as “weed fabric” that doesn’t lead to headaches later.

Seconding the newspaper/cardboard suggestion above, although I’ll admit to not having personal firsthand experience with either.

I do have personal firsthand experience with bindweed, though. That gardening headache was solved by … moving. Seriously. So you have my sympathy on that one.

Oh wait. I do have one personal firsthand experience with landscaping fabric: the shreds & shards found years (decades?) later at one rental home. It’s midly annoying at worst, I guess, but it does stick around in half-rotted form for a long, long time. I’d imagine newspapers would not.

Do you know anyone that installs carpeting? My brother does and his garden is wall to wall carpeting. Used from tear outs, not new. I’ve used it for areas also - tomatoes, melons, cucumbers. Lasts about 5 years in the Midwest. Lay it bottom up and it all looks tan. Don’t use the padded stuff.

There seems to be a type of gardener (not including the OP here), usually a relative beginner, who expects to put in a garden (or have it done for them) and then sit back and enjoy it, as if it was a newly designed living room, with just a bit of puttering here and there to keep it nice.

Landscape fabric (or another invention of the devil, lava rock) appeals to these folks, as a kind of no/low-maintenance thing, along with pre-emergent herbicides (i.e. Preen) and such.

The trouble is, with any garden beyond a small-scale approach, they are bound to be disappointed if they think they can plant stuff and not have to maintain it. It takes a certain amount of work to keep it looking good.

I am looking forward :dubious: to going home this evening and spending an hour weeding a good-sized section of my subtropical bed, which I haven’t been able to attend to because of rainy weather, vacation and busy times at work.
At some point I’m going to downsize and make more use of raised beds. No landscape fabric in them, however.