Few gardeners place weeding at the top of the list of things they love about gardening. Some weeds, alas, respond only to being pulled. Using landscape fabric, however, can greatly reduce weed germination, weed growth--and that special twinge in the weed-puller's back. Use landscape fabric in a variety of ways to retard weed growth, leaving more time for the more enjoyable aspects of maintaining a garden.
Landscape fabric, also often called mulch-cloth, comes in a variety of weights and sizes and several types of material. Impermeable landscape fabrics are usually reserved for areas requiring a complete water barrier (a pond liner or area of severe erosion, for example). Permeable fabrics provide a light barrier, essential to preventing weed seeds from germination, but allow water, liquid nutrients and air through to the ground below. Fabrics come in weights heavy enough to be laid under roads and driveways as well as biodegradable lightweights suited for the most elegant of flower-beds.
Explore the use of landscape fabric for preventing grass- and weed-growth in a variety of landscaping situations. Lining the site of a retaining wall with landscape fabric can increase its erosion-control properties. Lining the dirt supporting patio flagstones with fabric means fewer weeds and grass clusters poking between stones. Even a layer of fabric under the deck reinforces its shadiness and discourages opportunistic weeds trying to reach the sun through its planks. When building a new garden bed, especially a raised bed, line both the bottom and cover the top of the soil with landscape fabric for a weed-deterring sandwich.
Some gardeners become discouraged with using landscape fabric because of unrealistic expectations. Blocking all light, air and water with impermeable fabric to prevent weeds will damage overall soil quality, making it unable to support much beyond weeds. One reason we label weeds as weeds is their persistent capacity to eke out an existence and thrive under hostile conditions. Dark permeable fabric has a strong effect on weed-seed germination, by depriving seeds of necessary light. Weeds are, however, known for their willingness to struggle. Landscape fabric is best described as strongly diminishing, rather than completely preventing, the growth of all weeds.
Home Uses of Impermeable Landscape Fabric
One long-term use of impermeable landscape fabric is in the creation of patios or new flower beds from grassy areas. Cover areas to be cleared of turf with impermeable fabric; anchor it with a layer of mulch, stones or strips of lumber. Leave untouched for 60 days. Depriving grass roots of water and blades of light weakens turf so that it is more easily dug out. Impermeable fabric can also be used to suppress weeds and grass in areas to be paved. Use impermeable fabric only in areas where existing soil condition is not a consideration--and be realistic. Impermeable fabric will weaken but seldom completely kill off existing plantings. There will still be some digging to do.
Home Uses of Permeable Fabric
Use permeable fabric, overlaid with a layer of shredded or chipped mulch, to control weeds around established or new perennial plantings. Rely on permeable fabric when setting up annual beds, whether flowers or vegetables. This works most easily when you are cutting small holes in fabric to insert seedlings and bedding plants but can also be adapted to seed-planting; cut and anchor strips of fabric between seeded rows; you won't eradicate weeding, but your beets, beans, and cukes will have fewer rivals for water, light and nutrition, and yields can be much improved.