Most homeowners eventually develop strong feelings about landscape fabric. Some swear by it, and others swear at it. While landscape fabric has its place, in many cases there are better alternatives. Here’s what you should know if you’re thinking about installing or removing it.
- Why I Installed Landscape Fabric
- Why I Removed It
- How I Removed It
- My Results One Year Later
- Alternative Weed Barrier Options
Note: This article contains affiliate links. See my disclosures for details.
Why I Installed Landscape Fabric
My backyard used to be buried in the devil’s favorite ground cover: English ivy. I solarized the ivy under black plastic until it died, and then I removed the dead sticks. Afterward I put down cardboard, jute and landscape fabric to help block weeds and support the slope while new plants filled in.
So much landscape fabric…
Getting rid of ivy was a huge undertaking, so I wanted to be completely sure that no lingering ivy seeds would grow back. And it worked! My ivy is gone for good! But once the landscape fabric had done its job, I realized I had more reasons to remove it than to keep it.
Why I Removed My Landscape Fabric
1. Landscape Fabric Inhibits Soil Quality
It’s harder to get nutrients and oxygen to your plants’ roots. All the beneficial mulch, leaves and pine needles that land above the fabric won’t be able to mix with the soil underneath the fabric. Worms and microorganisms will also have a harder time improving the soil in these conditions.
2. And It Traps Moisture and Heat
This can lead to fungal problems in your plants. Some plants, like my hellebores, might struggle with this more than others.
3. It Can Block Desirable Plants as Well as Weeds
If you want your favorite plants to reseed and spread through your garden, that will be more difficult. When my lithodora flowers and fescue grasses tried to multiply, most of their new roots stayed shallow above the fabric rather than properly rooting into the soil below.
4. But Eventually Landscape Fabric Makes It Harder to Pull Weeds
Ugh. In time, weeds will probably land above the weed barrier and grow anyway, and it will be harder to pull them when they’re entwined with the fabric.
On the plus side, if you decide to remove your weeds and landscape fabric at the same time, you might be able to rip them out together in one fell swoop. Super rewarding!
5. It Might Cause (Or Hide) Erosion Issues
If you cover your yard in fabric, you won’t be able to see how the soil looks below. For example, I discovered this disturbing channel growing under my fabric.
Plus, one of the best ways to prevent erosion is to add plants with roots of varying depths, and that is harder to do when you’re planting through weed barrier.
I love these erosion control tips from Bosky Dell Natives. Look for plants, shrubs and trees native to your area to help stabilize your slope.
6. And It Simply Looks Bad When It Pokes Through Mulch
You will find yourself constantly shuffling mulch around to cover the unsightly fabric when it gets exposed. This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s annoying.
7. Worst of All, It’s Bad for Bees
70% of our native bees nest in the ground. They need bare soil to build their nests and carry on the population. This was my top reason for getting rid of landscape fabric.
Native bees are peaceful and a vital part of our ecosystem. They are typically solitary, meaning they build individual nests, so they don’t have the defensive instincts of huge colonies of honey bees and wasps.
In fact, the kids at a local elementary school call them tickle bees! Nothing to be scared of. It’s an absolute joy having them in the garden.
You can read more about ground-nesting bees on the Xerces Society website.
How I Removed Tons of Landscape Fabric
Whatever your reason for removing landscape fabric, you’ve probably guessed that it can be a pain to do, especially on a slope. You can watch my progress in this video.
Like anything else, I did it one piece at a time.
I brushed or raked back the mulch and started pulling. There were small gaps around the plants, which helped. But I had used a generous amount of landscape staples to attach all the fabric, making it challenging to remove.
A shovel came in handy for areas where it was especially deep.
Some of my plants, like sedums, had grown over the fabric, so I separated them and set the sedums back in place.
Luckily, I was able to pull up some decent sized chunks of the weed barrier. It wasn’t so old or flimsy that it was splitting into a million little pieces. Just a few hundred maybe.
I got help from my neighbor cat, Echo, who rolled around in the dirty pile. We ended up filling two heavy duty contractor trash bags.
The Best Time to Remove Landscape Fabric
Spring or summer is the best time for this project. I took out the majority of my landscape fabric last May when it wasn’t too hot or too cold.
Since some pollinators overwinter under fallen leaves (above the weed barrier if present), you might want to wait until they have woken up before you disturb the soil.
I learned this firsthand when I found and pulled some additional landscape fabric in the fall. I awakened several sleepy queen bumble bees! They were very patient with me, but I felt bad.
Do you see the poor girl on top of the pile? She’s wondering why she received this rude awakening.
My Results One Year Later
Here’s how my yard looks this May.
Removing the landscape fabric created habitat for ground-nesting bees and made my plants happier, too. The new foliage looks healthy with way less rust than usual. And it’s much easier to add plants now that I don’t have to dig through fabric.
Best of all, look who moved in! I am finding new bee tunnels every day. Check out the video to see a bee mama creating her nest. Precious!
I can’t believe how quickly the bees showed up. If you want to encourage ground-nesting bees in your yard, leave some sunny patches of soil with little to no mulch, and add a native plant buffet.
Alternative Weed Barrier Options
There are times when you might still want to use landscape fabric. Some people recommend it under decorative gravel to keep the pebbles from sinking into the soil. And I’m still glad I used it to get rid of ivy. But in most cases, there are better alternatives.
Cardboard is now my favorite weed barrier. It does an excellent job of killing the weeds below, but unlike plastic it eventually biodegrades and benefits the soil. Plus, most of us online shoppers have plenty of cardboard.
You can also buy rolls of “biodegradable landscape fabric” like this, which is just thick paper made from recycled cardboard.
Lots of Wood Chips
I got rid of invasive vinca by smothering it in wood chips and cardboard.
It’s a powerful combo, but in some cases a thick layer of chips can get the job done alone. Chip Drop is a great way to get free or cheap wood chips.
Leave the leaves and preserve the pine needles! These natural mulches are beneficial for plants and pollinators, and they can prevent weed seeds from reaching your soil.
Another way to block weeds is to simply add a lot of plants. As they fill in, there will be fewer places for weeds to take root. I love this method because it aligns with my addiction to plant shopping.
Fighting weeds can feel like a hopeless battle. But as you lower their numbers and increase the beneficial plants in your yard, conquering the weeds will get easier.