One of the most popular products utilized when people are making new flower beds or landscaping is that black, fibrous landscape fabric. It is very common in yards all across America, and while it is effective for several months, it ultimately is detrimental to your flower beds! Overall landscape fabric is a bad idea for weed control. In this guide I will list the reasons as to why you should use cardboard or newspaper instead of landscape fabric.
Reasons why you shouldn’t use Landscape Fabric in Gardens and Flower Beds
1 – Landscape Fabric is only effective for a short time
What’s that you ask? Isn’t landscape fabric permanent? Why yes! It will last for decades under your mulch. But here is the thing – when you first construct a flower bed you may have some perennial, deep-rooted weeds that will grow up through your mulch layer. There may be a few other weed seeds that get stirred up during construction and will germinate. Dandelions, Burdock, and thistle all have the ability to punch through several layers of mulch. Using some kind of barrier (like landscape fabric) will smother them effectively.
But after that first few weeks, no more deep-rooted weeds will be alive. They will have spent all their stored energy trying to penetrate the barrier. However, new weed seeds will blow in on top of your mulch and germinate. Bird droppings also will contain some weed seeds. And landscape fabric will not stop those new seeds from germinating.
Let me repeat that – you will still get weeds in your flower beds even if you use landscape fabric. They will blow in from the surrounding environment and from bird droppings. And these will turn into new weeds.
2 – Landscape Fabric prevents organic matter from getting down to the soil
Overtime your mulch will degrade and compost itself. This decomposition is basically improving your soil by adding organic matter. By using landscape fabric, you will be creating a barrier that will prevent any of the organic matter from getting deeper into the soil. You are effectively creating a nice, but thin layer of good soil on top of the landscape fabric.
3 – Landscape Fabric prevents worms from aerating/fertilizing your soil
Worms are excellent for improving soils. As they move up and down through the soil they are constantly eating and them expelling worm castings / vermicompost (aka – really good fertilizer). Additionally their movement aerates the soil and reduces compaction.
Worms cannot pass through landscape fabric. And worms need to reach the soil surface to survive. So, having landscape fabric will reduce the health of the soil in your flowerbed.
4 – Landscape Fabric is Expensive
Landscape fabric costs about $0.50 / square foot when you factor in the edging pins you need to hold them down. It generally comes in a rectangular shape, rolled up. If you will have contoured or round beds (which many do) you will have to trim/waste some of the fabric. This cost is completely unnecessary for the function landscape fabric performs.
5 – Landscape Fabric makes it difficult to modify the garden layout
If you want to move, add, or divide plants after a year or two, landscape fabric will make it difficult. You need to scrape away mulch down to the fabric, then cut a hole in the fabric where you want your new plant. It is much easier to just not have barriers between your mulch and soil.
If you want to divide a plant that is getting large, then it becomes much harder. The root mass of a mature perennial will likely be much larger than the original hole or “X” you cut into the fabric. Landscape fabric makes this a more complicated chore than it needs to be.
An environmentally friendly alternative to Landscape Fabric
So, what if I told you that there is something that will perform the same function of landscape fabric, just as well and is often free? You can use newspaper or cardboard in place of landscape fabric! We’ve written a guide for how to use cardboard or newspaper to stop weeds and smother grass. But if you want to know the reasoning, see the list below!
Reasons to use newspaper or cardboard instead of landscape fabric
1 – It will stop weeds that have deep roots/prevent seeds from germinating for several months
Good corrugated cardboard, or thick layers of newspaper will be tough enough to stop dandelions and other deep-rooted weeds from coming up through your mulch. Studies have found cardboard mulch to be excellent in preventing weed growth. It will take several months before the cardboard/newspaper degrades enough, but by that time the weeds will all be dead.
2 – It will allow earthworms to reach the soil surface
After several months the cardboard will degrade to where earth worms can pass through. Think of it as passive composting. It will take about the same amount of time for the newspaper to break down. Once this occurs, they can aerate your flowerbed soil naturally, and allow for the transfer of organic matter deep into the soil. By improving the health of your soil, the flowers and landscape plants you grow will be bigger, fuller, and more beautiful.
3 – When newspaper and cardboard degrade, you are getting free fertilizer!
Newspaper and cardboard are able to be composted. And this natural process will occur between your soil and mulch, creating a thin layer of compost. This will provide nutrients to your flowers, making them healthier!
4 – Newspaper and Cardboard are generally free
Even if you don’t subscribe to the local paper, you can usually get enough for free. You can often get free newspaper in mail advertisements. I just save our local grocery store ads each week until I’ve accumulated enough to make my layer ( I use about 10 sheets thick).
For cardboard, save boxes and talk to your neighbors. If a few neighbors know you are looking for some cardboard, then they may save some for you to use. All of this can be free.
I hope you have found this article useful as to why you should not use landscape fabric when making flower beds. I also hope that I’ve convinced you to use the biodegradable alternatives in cardboard and newspaper.
I have a couple resources that may be helpful to you that I suggest you check out. Namely, how to build a vegetable garden from scratch and how to create a native plant garden. It covers all aspects you need to consider, as well as what tools and equipment are needed. I’ve built a lot of gardens over my years, and have a very efficient and cheap way to create gardens.
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