Weeding is one of the most labor-intensive tasks related to gardening. However, much of it can be avoiding by covering the ground beneath trees and ornamental plants or in vegetable gardens with mulch or landscape fabric. For those who use mulch, cedar chips are a common material choice. Both landscape fabric and cedar chips have their pros and cons, and this analysis may help you determine which is best for your landscape.
Organic vs. Synthetic
For gardeners who prefer an all-natural approach to weed control, cedar chips may be a more attractive option. They are an organic material, and offer an aesthetically pleasing, natural-looking ground cover around plants and trees. As cedar chips break down, they return nutrients to the soil.
Landscape fabric, by comparison, is an engineered material made from synthetic materials. Its appearance is such that most homeowners cover it with a layer of organic mulch to conceal it. Landscape fabric does, however, offer chemical-free weed control which allows moisture and oxygen to permeate the soil.
Costs and Installation
Installing landscape fabric is more labor intensive than spreading organic mulch, and the material is often more costly. Fabric must be rolled out and cut to fit planting beds, and must be secured to the ground with metal pins inserted through the fabric and into the soil.
Cedar chips, by contrast, can be dumped out and spread relatively quickly with a rake, and are usually less expensive.
Neither landscape fabric nor cedar chips are a permanent solution for weed control. Landscape fabric breaks down with time, and direct exposure to UV light speeds up this process. This is another reason many consumers choose to cover the material with a layer of mulch.
Cedar chips last longer than other types of wood chips, but do break down over time and require replenishment.
Both fabrics are helpful for weed control, but neither is a sure-fire method of total weed elimination. Landscape fabric does prevent the germination of seeds in the soil beneath the fabric, but if you've covered the fabric with organic mulch, those weed seeds and germinate and grow there. The result can be weeds which set roots into the fabric and are even more difficult to remove, and damage the fabric. The only way to avoid this issue is to cover the fabric with an inorganic material, such as pebbles.
Cedar chips can, of course, allow a small number of weeds to thrive in covered planting beds
Cedar chips are effective for retaining moisture in the topsoil around plants. They also have a strong fragrance which may discourage some insects--both beneficial and harmful. The fragrance does lessen over time.
Landscape fabric can be a great choice in areas where erosion is a concern. The material helps to keep soil in place.