Throughout history, gardeners have used various materials to hold moisture in the soil and reduce weeding chores. One old-fashioned technique was to layer newspapers around plants, water thoroughly and add a top dressing of mulch or straw. The zinc in the ink was purported to reduce weed seed germination, and at the end of the season, the biodegradable mulch and paper could be turned into the soil.
Times have changed, and today there are a wide variety of landscape fabric options. To choose the right one for your needs, consider these four factors:
Non-woven fabrics provide an effective, long-term solution to weed suppression. Made from polyester or polypropylene, the material is non-porous, so it restricts oxygen and resists water penetration. These two factors reduce weed growth but they can harm the root systems of trees, shrubs and plants. Non-woven materials can be used to stabilize soil behind retaining walls or as underlayments for paver patios or crushed stone walkways. They block weeds, help prevent paving materials from sinking into the soil and discourage ants and other insects from burrowing underneath.
Woven or perforated fabrics are made from manmade materials like polyester or natural ones like paper, burlap or linen. Woven fabrics are porous so they allow water and air to penetrate to plant roots, but they block light which hinders weed seed germination and growth. They help the soil retain moisture, but the holes allow water to evaporate which creates a healthier growing environment. They can be used to create an effective weed barrier in garden beds and around plants anywhere in the landscape, including trees, shrubs, bushes and flowers.
Weight or Thickness
Landscape fabrics are classified by weight (2 oz, 3 oz, 6 oz) per yard or by thickness (mm). Both non-woven and woven materials come in a range of weights. Heftier fabrics resist punctures, are more effective and tend to last longer. They’re are also more expensive, but the investment can be worthwhile. Heavy weight professional grade landscaping fabric, for example, is extremely durable and will last up to 20 years in the right application.
Most landscape fabrics are dark gray or black, but other colors are available. Some companies offer a deep brown shade that closely resembles natural earth, and red mulch films are popular with gardeners since the color stimulates growth.
Most landscape fabrics are sold in rolls and some feature UV coatings to slow the rate of deterioration caused by sunlight. In general, all landscape fabrics perform best and last longer when they’re protected from the sun’s damaging rays. In hardscape applications, the fabric is protected by the surface material. In foundation plantings and garden beds, simply pin the fabric in place and spread a generous 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch on top.