Whether you call it landscaping fabric, weed block or weed barrier fabric, ask any landscaper or gardener how they feel about its use and they’ll probably have a strong opinion.

Landscape fabric is often promoted as the solution to the bane of every gardener’s existence – weeds. Not only does it supposedly block unwanted weed growth, but best of all, you don’t have to worry about weeding for what seems like years. Unfortunately, and like many advertised products this isn’t exactly true. However, landscaping fabric does have its pros and cons when it comes to its use.

Function and Cost

Landscaping fabric consists of woven fibers with perforations incorporated into the cloth that allow water and air to flow through to reach the plant’s roots. Some brands have added UV protection, which adds to the fabric’s life and durability. When installed over a weed-free garden bed it acts as a barrier to weeds germinating from beneath, as well as stopping weeds taking hold sprouting on top of the cloth.

When it comes to the cost of installing landscaping fabric, the price can vary depending on several factors. The soft, pliable fabric comes in rolls that are generally 3 feet to 6 feet wide and in lengths of 25 feet to 200 feet. Depending on the brand and thickness of the cloth, costs run around 10 cents per square foot to 85 cents per square foot. In addition, landscape fabric pins, which hold the fabric in place, usually run around 10 cents per pin.

Installation costs vary depending on who is doing the job. If you are the lucky one, the only cost is some of your patience and time. The price of a professional landscaper is dependent on the size of the area and the time involved, in addition to material costs, which can amount to a hundred dollars or more. 

Landscape Fabric Won’t Last Forever

Landscaping fabric generally works as a weed barrier for a year or less before its usefulness starts declining. In fact, and according to the University of Florida, its long-term use can negatively affect soil and plant health and is best used where ornamental plants aren’t growing like pathways or around mailboxes. However, it does have some usefulness when used in the proper situations.

Pros of Its Use

Some of the benefits of using landscaping fabric include:

  • Keeps inorganic mulches like rocks from sinking into the soil.
  • Prevents weed seeds covered by fabric from sprouting.
  • Reduces the need for herbicidal weed control.
  • Suitable used on slopes where erosion is a problem.
  • Helps the soil retain moisture.

Cons of Its Use

Some of the cons of using landscaping fabric include:

  • Over time, decomposing particles of mulch and soil clog the perforations in the cloth, which keep adequate amounts of water and air from reaching the plant roots leading to the plant’s decline.
  • Earthworms, which aerate the soil, don’t develop, leading to compacted and unhealthy soil.
  • The fabric acts as a barrier to organic materials biodegrading in the soil, which lead to an unhealthier soil structure.
  • Weeds can still grow in the mulch used to cover the fabric.
  • Landscape fabric is time-consuming to install, especially around existing plantings.

Installation Tips

If you’ve settled on using landscaping fabric, below are tips that assure the fabric will work properly. In addition, it’s easier to install the fabric in a bed where nothing is growing.

  1. Measure the area so you have an idea of how much landscaping fabric, pins and mulch you’ll need.
  2. Spread the fabric over the area, being sure to overlap the edges by 6 to 8 inches and cutting in the shape of the bed as needed. Allow the fabric to hang over the border of the bed by about 2 inches, which then tucks into the soil when you pin it in place.
  3. Pin the fabric to the soil, placing a pin about every 8 inches to make sure it doesn’t come loose.
  4. If planting plants in the area, cut an “X” for the placement area and fold the cut area back in place once you are finished planting.
  5. Add about a 3-inch layer of organic or inorganic mulch over the fabric.
Landscape fabric
Cut an “X” in the fabric where plants go through, then fold the corners back into place. Photo: Amazon.com

If used properly and in the best situations, landscaping fabric does have its benefits, but it does have its drawbacks, too. Although it might work for a time in reducing weeds in an area, the unwanted growth eventually rears its ugly head despite the weed barrier. Over time, you also end up with soil that isn’t as healthy, which can affect your plants and their health. Use landscaping fabric wisely to prevent potential problems.