As you prepare for a change of seasons, it is common to want to clean things up, to make the garden look a little more tidy, and to create less work for yourself in the future.
Very often, landscape fabric is part of those plans for an easier, weed-free future. Landscape fabric is easy to use and it works. For a while. And at a price that might surprise you.
How landscape fabric is used
Landscape fabric is a semi-porous material that is used to create a weed-free area in a landscape. Advertisements claim that water, air, and fertilizer can still reach the soil while preventing weeds from taking hold. Photos make the end result look lovely and trouble-free. To use landscape fabric, the following steps are used:
It’s that simple. Unless there is a slope. Or if you care about pollution. Or if soil or plant health matter.
Air flow is important
Plant roots and soil dwelling critters need to absorb and release gases to survive. In a healthy environment, oxygen and carbon dioxide move freely between the soil and the atmosphere, allowing for moisture and temperature regulation and other important processes. Without air flow, important soil microorganisms, worms, and plant roots die.
Mulch material matters
Landscape fabric and mulch allow gases to disperse at different rates. Mulching is an excellent way to stabilize soil temperatures, retain moisture, and block weeds, but the material used makes a big difference in gas exchanges. Recent research has shown that, if you cover the soil with landscape fabric, you will slow those gas exchanges by more than 1,000 times than if you had used wood chips. If you were to use plastic sheeting, the gas exchange rates would be slowed by yet another thousand times.
Finally, as plant material, soil, and water collect on top of landscape fabric, weeds will grow anyway. Also, landscape fabric, which is actually plastic, tends to deteriorate over time, being exposed to moisture, microorganisms, and foot traffic. These plastic particles end up in creeks, rivers, lakes, and oceans, as well as in our own air supply. As the mulch shifts, areas are exposed, torn, and the whole thing looks messy as weeds, being weeds, take hold once again.
The next time you see an area covered with landscape fabric, take a closer look at the crowns of nearby trees. Are they dying? Are they putting out suckers? These things are happening because the trees are suffocating.
Instead of using newspaper, cardboard, or landscape fabric to block weeds, simply contact your local arborist and ask for a load of clean wood chips. A nice 4” thick layer of mixed wood chips does an amazing job at blocking weeds and protecting your soil. For free.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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