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Using Landscape Fabric

Whether you’re new to gardening or have been at it so long your thumb is a deep shade of green, you may have seen rolls of landscape fabric at DIY stores and gardening centers—and become intrigued.

Landscape Fabric

For those who lead active lives, spending a few hours on the weekend pulling or digging weeds out of a garden or flowerbed can quickly become tedious. Several weed-control methods are available, and the use of landscape fabric is right at the top of the list because it doesn’t involve using potentially toxic chemicals to kill or prevent unwanted weed growth.

What is Landscape Fabric?

Landscape fabric is constructed from woven fibers or manufactured as a solid sheet with perforated holes to allow water to soak through. Some brands offer UV protection to maintain the life of the fabric. It comes in rolls, typically at least 3 feet wide and anywhere from 50 feet to 200 feet, or more, in length. Thicker fabric typically runs a bit more expensive.

Landscape pins, which sell separately, are necessary to secure the fabric and add to your total material cost.

Note that virtually all landscape fabric can be covered with mulch of any type—wood chips, gravel, recycled rubber nuggets, etc.

Advantages of Landscape Fabric

Most gardeners agree that the best place for landscaping fabric is around shrubs and trees where it can be installed and topped with quality mulch to hopefully last for years. Because it’s intended to be left in place, it’s not recommended for vegetable gardens or annual flower beds.

Landscape fabric:

  • Keeps inorganic mulches and unwanted debris like rocks from settling into the soil. While mulches, such as chipped and shredded recycled rubber, offer aesthetic value when layered around the bases of trees and shrubs, they do not decompose, so a layer of landscape fabric will keep them from sinking into the soil where they would be difficult to remove.
  • Prevents weed seeds buried in the soil beneath from sprouting. Seedlings need light and air to grow, but when weeds seeds germinate below a layer of landscape fabric, they are blocked from reaching the sun’s rays, so they die.
  • Limits the need to use herbicides for weed control. Not all gardeners are gung-ho to use chemical herbicides in their borders and flowerbeds, especially if they have pets and children who play in the yard. By using landscape fabric, the need for chemical herbicides is reduced or eliminated.
  • Helps retain soil moisture by reducing evaporation. Sun and wind are significant contributors to evaporation, which can leave the soil dry, so using a landscape fabric over the top of the soil will help keep valuable moisture in the ground.
  • Offers some erosion control on slopes subject to washout from heavy rains. Semi-permeable types of landscape fabric will allow some moisture to seep through but protect the surface of the soil from water that’s running down a slope, which can cause erosion.

Usage Tips
If you’ve decided to try landscape fabric, the following practices will help ensure the health of your plants and the longevity of your landscape design.

  • Choose professional-grade landscape fabric. Cheap stuff rips easily and might not last a single season. The weight and thickness of the fabric is a good determiner of its quality. A roll with a total of 150 square feet that weighs 20 pounds is going to have thicker, heavier fabric than a roll with the same square footage that weighs only 10 pounds. Individual gardening and landscaping needs vary, so it’s essential to choose the best landscape fabric that suits the task at hand.
  • Add amendments, such as composted manure, peat moss and other types of organic matter, to the soil before installing landscape fabric—because, obviously, you can’t add them later. If you’re unsure of what amendments to add, take a soil sample to your local extension office, a county office that performs soil testing (usually for a fee), in addition to providing residents with expert agricultural and gardening information.
  • Level the soil. After adding amendments and working them into the soil thoroughly, level the terrain by breaking up hard clods and raking the surface smooth.
  • Lay out the fabric with the rough side facing downward. This helps the fabric stay in place while you’re working.
  • Do not skimp on fabric. Overlap the edges of the landscape fabric by at least 8 inches if you need to use multiple pieces of fabric, and allow a 2-inch overhang around the edges. You can tuck it under later when the rest of the fabric has been secured. Landscaped beds typically have a border, so you can tuck the excess fabric neatly along the inside of the border. Just push it down between the soil and the border with a putty knife to conceal it.
  • Pin the fabric securely. Insert a landscape pin every 8 – 10 inches along the edges of the fabric and every 12 inches apart in the center of the fabric. Don’t skimp on pins or fabric could come loose in a month or two.
  • Cut round holes for inserting landscape plants, using a very sharp utility knife. Make sure holes are large enough to plant the specimens you select.
  • Cover the landscape fabric with 2 – 3 inches of mulch. This layer assists the pins in holding it down, protects it from UV rays and helps the ground beneath the fabric retain moisture. Plus, mulch adds a beautiful finishing touch to the landscaping!

Information courtesy of BobVila.com

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