Love it or hate it, landscape fabric is everywhere. Among professional landscapers and amateur gardeners alike, landscape fabric is one of the most popular (and controversial) methods of weed control.
Most landscape fabric is made from permeable woven material that smothers weeds while still allowing water to reach plants’ roots. Though these weed barriers can sometimes damage soil, they’re effective at keeping gardens weed-free if installed correctly.
We’ll show you in nine simple steps how to install landscape fabric.
1. Measure the area
2. Remove existing weeds
3. Add soil amendments
4. Level the soil surface
5. Lay the landscape fabric
6. Secure the fabric
7. Plant your shrubs and/or flowers
8. Add mulch
9. Maintain your garden bed
We’ll also cover how to install landscape fabric in some special circumstances:
- How to install landscape fabric on a slope
- How to install landscape fabric in a vegetable garden
- How to install landscape fabric with edging
- How to install landscape fabric around trees
Let’s get started by selecting your landscape fabric and gathering the needed tools.
Shopping for Landscape Fabric
There are many different brands and types of landscape fabric out there. If you want yours to last, choose a professional grade fabric. The thicker and heavier your weed fabric is, the harder it will be to damage.
Cheap, thin landscaping fabrics tend to tear easily, creating openings for weeds to grow through. You don’t want to go to all the trouble of installing landscape fabric in your flower beds only to have a weed problem all over again in a few months (or less).
Supplies You’ll Need
Once you’ve chosen your landscape fabric, you’ve got a fairly simple DIY project ahead of you. These are the tools and materials you’ll need to install weed barrier fabric in your garden bed:
- Tape measure
- Garden hoe
- Bow rake
- Utility knife or scissors
- Rubber mallet or hammer
- Landscape staples
How to Install Landscape Fabric Step-By-Step
Step 1: Measure the area
First, you’ll need to measure the garden bed where you plan on installing landscape fabric. That way, you’ll know exactly how much fabric and how many landscape staples to buy.
Step 2: Remove existing weeds
With your garden hoe, dig up any weeds that are already growing in the area where your fabric will go. Make sure to remove all parts of the weeds, including the roots.
Alternatively, you could spray the area with herbicide to ensure you kill all existing weeds. If you choose to use herbicides, let them sit for a few days before laying your fabric.
Step 3: Add soil amendments
Once you lay your fabric, you won’t have access to the soil. If you want to add compost, manure, fertilizer, or any other type of plant food, now is the time.
Step 4: Level the soil surface
Use your bow rake to remove all uprooted weeds, rocks, twigs, and other debris that could potentially rip the landscape fabric. Rake over the soil to make it as smooth and flat as possible.
Step 5: Lay the landscape fabric
Roll out your landscape fabric across the entire area where you want to prevent weed growth. Cut off any excess fabric with your utility knife or scissors, but leave a few extra inches around the edges of your garden bed.
If you need to use more than one sheet of fabric, make sure each section overlaps by 6 to 12 inches. No overlap or insufficient overlap can allow weeds to poke through the seams.
Read the instructions that come with your specific landscape fabric to figure out which side goes face down in the dirt. Most of the time, you’ll lay it with the fuzzy side down.
Step 6: Secure the fabric
Use landscape staples to hold the fabric down. Tamp the staples securely into the soil with your rubber mallet or hammer.
Don’t skimp on landscape staples if you want your weed barrier to stay in place for years to come. You should use a staple every 8 to 12 inches along all edges of the fabric and any seams where separate sections meet.
Step 7: Plant your shrubs and/or flowers
Cut an X-shaped incision wherever you want the new plants to go using your utility knife or scissors. Make the incision just big enough for you to dig the hole for the plant’s root ball.
Pull back the triangular flaps of fabric to dig your hole and insert the plant. Then backfill the hole with soil and pack it in around the roots to prevent air pockets.
Once you’re done planting, secure the fabric flaps snugly around the base of the plant. Leave no room for weeds to break through.
Step 8: Add mulch
Add a 2-3 inch layer of mulch on top of the fabric. In addition to making your landscaping look cleaner, the mulch will help anchor the fabric and protect it from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Mulch can also help the soil underneath the fabric retain moisture.
Step 9: Maintain your garden bed
Just because you install landscape fabric doesn’t mean your weeding days are over. Weed seeds can germinate on top of the fabric, using decomposed organic mulch or blown-in dirt as soil.
To prevent new weeds from sprouting, apply a pre-emergent weed control product (such as Preen) to your mulch at the start of every growing season.
If you use organic mulch, it will break down over time and need to be removed and replaced. Leaving the decomposed organic material be gives weeds a place to grow.
If you use inorganic mulch such as river rocks or rubber, all you’ll have to do for maintenance is remove it and spray it with water if you notice a lot of built-up dirt and debris.
Installing Landscape Fabric in Special Circumstances
Some conditions will make installing your landscaping fabric a little more difficult, but don’t worry. In most cases, you’ll only have to add a few extra steps to the basic process we already covered.
How to install landscape fabric on a slope
Before you lay your fabric, you’ll need to carve “shelves” or “steps” into the slope and fill them with large rocks. The rocks will provide a stable base for the landscape fabric to sit on top of.
When you lay the fabric over the stones, make sure separate pieces of fabric overlap in the downhill direction. That way, any mulch that slides downhill won’t be able to slip under the seams and loosen the fabric. This will also keep excess water from getting under the fabric as it drains downhill from the top of the slope.
How to install landscape fabric in a vegetable garden
First of all, you should know that landscape fabric is not the best weed barrier for annual vegetable gardens. When you dig up the plants at the end of the growing season, you’re likely to tear the fabric.
Newspaper or cardboard are better choices for vegetable gardens because 1) they’ll eventually break down into the soil and add nutrients and 2) they’re cheap or free, so you won’t have to worry about the cost of replacing them every year.
You can, however, use landscape fabric beneath the soil (instead of on top of it as you would with a regular garden) for raised vegetable gardens. When installing landscape fabric beneath soil, you’ll need to use one unbroken sheet for each bed. Anchor the sheet with landscape staples and shovel the soil for your vegetables over it.
How to install landscape fabric with edging
It’s easy to install landscape fabric and a new landscaping edge at the same time. When you lay the fabric, leave several extra inches at the edge of the garden bed.
When you install your landscape edging, you’ll need to dig a trench for it. Wrap the extra landscape fabric around the bottom of the edging material before sinking it into the trench. The edging will secure the landscape fabric.
If you’re laying landscape fabric in a bed that already has edging, simply tuck the excess fabric securely between the soil and the edging material.
How to install landscape fabric around trees
For a fully grown large tree, you’ll have to overlap several pieces of fabric around the base of the tree’s trunk. As you would with a regular garden bed, secure the individual sheets with landscape staples.
For a tree seedling, use a 4-foot-by-4-foot or 6-foot-by-6 foot square of landscape fabric. Cut a hole in the center of the square where the seedling will go.
After you lay the piece of fabric around the seedling, dig a 3- to 6-inch deep trench around the edges. Tuck the landscape fabric into the trench and cover it with soil to hold it down (you could also use edging or landscape staples to anchor the fabric).
FAQ About Installing Landscape Fabric
Should you lay landscape fabric before planting?
That’s up to you. Many DIY-ers find it easier to plant through an incision in the fabric after laying it than to figure out where and how large to cut holes for existing plants.
Are there landscape fabric alternatives?
Yes. Cardboard and newspaper are popular biodegradable weed barriers that many gardeners use in place of landscape fabric.
When to Call a Landscaping Professional
Though the process is simple, installing landscape fabric can take up a lot of time. Not to mention that if you install it incorrectly, it won’t function as a weed barrier, and you’ll just have to dig it up.
If you don’t have much experience gardening, you might be better off hiring a professional landscaper to install your landscape fabric for you.
Aside from laying weed fabric, a landscaping pro can design and install your whole planting bed. Under their expert care, your landscape can reach its full potential.
It’s up to you whether or not landscape fabric is the right choice for your garden. If you decide to install it, now you’ll know exactly what you’re doing.