How to Install Landscape Fabric Underneath Rocks

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small rock mulch spread out on top of landscape fabric

Your gravel ground cover needn’t look like a gravel salad with sprouts of green popping through. With the help of landscape fabric, your river rock pathways and pea gravel borders can remain beautiful and weed-free for years to come. Learn how to install landscape fabric underneath rocks and say goodbye to unsightly weeds. 

Our guide below covers the 10 steps to installing landscape fabric and which landscape fabrics are best to use underneath rocks.

What is landscape fabric?

Landscape fabric is a geotextile typically made of linen, polyester, polypropylene, or recycled materials. 

Its primary purpose in the landscape is to prevent weeds from cropping up in your garden beds, around your trees, or in your gravel ground covers. The fabric also provides erosion control, stabilizes soil temperature, limits evaporation, and minimizes herbicide use. 

Most landscape fabrics are porous enough to allow water and oxygen to access the soil and plant roots. 

Landscape fabric has many different names, including weed block fabric, landscaping fabric, garden fabric, weed barrier fabric, and weed control fabric. 

Why should I use landscape fabric underneath rocks?

Landscape fabric has many pros and cons when you use it in planting beds. But the weed barrier provides many advantages when you install it underneath rocks. 

Small rocks tend to settle into the soil over time. Once stones have sunk into the earth, they become difficult to remove, and digging in the ground becomes challenging.

Landscape fabric creates a barrier between the rocks and soil. When it comes time to remove the stones, you can quickly shovel them off the fabric instead of digging them out of the ground. 

The fabric also prevents weeds from cropping up between the small stones. A river rock pathway can quickly lose its beauty and appeal when weeds grow out of control. And who wants to spend their weekends pulling weeds?

What type of landscape fabric works best underneath rocks?

There are many different types of landscape fabric. Some are better to use underneath rocks than others. The two landscape fabrics that are best suited for rocks are spun landscape fabric and non-woven landscape fabric. In some cases, you might prefer using a thick woven fabric. 

The four main types of landscape fabrics are: woven, non-woven, spun, and perforated. Let’s take a closer look at how they compare. 

Woven

Woven landscape fabric is typically made of woven linen or polypropylene fibers. Between the woven fibers are small holes that allow water and air to access the soil. 

This landscape fabric is an excellent weed barrier for trees, shrubs, and flower beds where you don’t change the plants often. 

If you’re installing rock mulch in a flower bed but want to use landscape fabric with high permeability, then opt for a thick, heavy-duty woven fabric. 

Rating: Woven landscape fabrics are tough to puncture and tear. But they’re not as durable as spun and non-woven landscape fabrics, which are better suited for your rock ground covers. 

Non-woven

This landscape fabric is a solid sheet of non-woven material typically made of polypropylene or polyester. 

The fabric allows some water and air movement, but it’s not as permeable as other landscape fabrics. When using non-woven fabrics in your flower or vegetable garden, there is a chance your plants will suffocate. 

Rating: Non-woven landscape fabric is a great fabric to use underneath your rock ground covers or rock pathways. If you want to install rock mulch in your flower bed, it’s better to use thin spun landscape fabric or heavy-duty woven fabric. 

Spun

Spun landscape fabric is a type of non-woven fabric made of long polyester fibers that have been bonded together with heat or compression.

Some spun landscaping fabrics are thin enough to allow some permeability, but thick spun landscape fabrics are not as permeable. You can use thin spun fabric in flower beds where digging is minimal. 

Rating: Spun fabric is highly durable and an excellent fabric to install underneath your gravel pathway or rock garden. You also can use spun fabrics behind retaining walls to help avert plant roots and prevent soil from seeping through the cracks.

Perforated

This type of landscape fabric is a solid sheet with small, perforated holes. Water and air pass through the material with ease. 

Perforated fabric is lightweight and light-duty, which means it’s great for vegetable gardens or flower beds where you need to dig often. 

Rating: Perforated fabric is a poor weed barrier to install underneath rocks. 

What supplies do I need?

  • Garden hoe
  • Hand tamper
  • Tape measure
  • Rubber mallet or hammer
  • Utility knife  
  • Scissors
  • Garden gloves
  • Landscape staples
  • Bow rake 
  • Digging shovel or garden trowel
  • Your choice of plants
  • Your choice of rock mulch
  • Your choice of landscape fabric
  • Herbicide (optional) 

How to install landscape fabric underneath rocks

Step 1: Measure the area

Measure the area you’re working with to determine how much landscape fabric you’ll need. You’ll only cover the area with one layer of fabric. So if the area measures 15 square feet, you’ll need a minimum of 15 square feet of fabric to cover the area. 

You’ll want to buy some extra landscape fabric to account for: 

  • Installation mistakes
  • Maintaining a few inches of excess fabric around the area’s edges
  • To slip underneath any slits that you cut in the fabric. You might need to cut slits when installing the fabric around an existing plant. Sliding extra fabric underneath the slit will help prevent weeds from sprouting through the opening. 

Measuring the area also helps you estimate how many garden staples you need. Garden staples allow you to secure the fabric to the ground. 

But won’t the rocks hold down my fabric? Although rock mulch is typically heavy enough to weigh down the fabric, exposed fabric can become a nuisance when the stones move out of place. It’s better to secure the fabric with garden staples so you can avoid any future headaches. 

Expect to install a garden staple for: 

  • Every foot along the fabric’s edges 
  • Every time you overlap the fabric (you’ll need one garden staple for every one foot of overlapped fabric)
  • Every slit you make (you’ll need one garden staple for every one foot of the slit)
  • Every time you make an X-shaped incision (you’ll need four garden staples for every X-shaped incision, more if the incision is particularly large) 
  • Every square foot within the bed’s interior area

Step 2: Remove the weeds

Give your landscape fabric a clean slate by removing existing weeds from the area. We know weeding isn’t your favorite chore (which is why you’re installing a weed barrier), but once you install the weed blocker, your green thumbs will finally have plenty of time to rest. 

Pull up existing weeds by hand or slice up their roots with your garden hoe. If you apply an herbicide, you’ll need to wait at least two weeks before you can install the fabric. 

Step 3: Clear the debris

Comb your garden rake through the soil and gather up any weeds, leaves, or twigs. 

Step 4: Level the soil surface

Spread the soil with your garden rake to achieve a flat surface. Your landscape fabric won’t lay tightly on the ground if it’s resting on hills of soil. 

Pro Tip: If you’re installing a rock ground cover or pathway, tamp down the soil with a hand tamper. Tamping the soil will help stabilize your rocks. 

Step 5: Add soil amendments

Once you install the landscape fabric, you’ll have limited access to your soil. If you’re laying the weed barrier in a flower or garden bed, now is the time to add any soil amendments you need, such as compost. 

A soil amendment won’t be necessary if you install the fabric for a gravel pathway or gravel ground cover without plants. 

Step 6: Roll out the first sheet of fabric

Time to start rock ‘n’ rolling! Starting from one end of the area, roll out the landscape fabric. It’s helpful to have someone stand on the material so that it remains taut as you roll. 

Read the landscape fabric’s instructions to see which side of the material faces down. For most landscape fabrics, it’s fuzzy side down. 

As you spread the material, keep a few inches of fabric extending past the edge. 

If you reach curves along your gravel pathway or flower bed, use a handful of small rocks or one large rock to hold down the fabric firmly against the area’s edge. Cut the excess fabric with your scissors, but remember to preserve a few extra inches along the border.  

What if I need to install the fabric around an existing plant?

Weed suppressant fabric covering the ground around an orchard
Shutterstock

If you run into an existing plant, there are two ways you can install the fabric around the plant. You’ll first need to determine where the plant is located in relation to the fabric. Once you’ve found where the plant will grow in the fabric, you can either: 

  • 1) Cut a slit from the fabric’s edge to the plant’s location. If the plant has a large trunk or stem, such as a bush or tree, cut a hole that encircles the plant (the fabric shouldn’t rest against the trunk or root flare). Otherwise, if the plant’s stem is small, you don’t need to cut a hole. Next, slide the plant through the slit until it reaches the slit’s end. Continue rolling out the landscape fabric until you reach another plant. 
  • 2) Cut an X-shaped incision where the plant will grow. Fold back the flaps, gently drape the landscape fabric over the plant and pull the plant through the incision. Lay the fabric on the ground, fold the flaps back down, and continue rolling the fabric. 

Remember: If you have young plants still growing, such as a young tree, it’s essential to check them regularly after installing the fabric. Why? Because you don’t want the trunk or stem to outgrow the original hole you cut for it. If the hole becomes too small, it will girdle your plant. Pull back the mulch to check the stem or trunk’s size, and if the hole is becoming too small, increase its size using a utility knife. 

Step 7: Roll out (and overlap) the remaining sheets of fabric

As you begin to roll out the remaining fabric, remember the golden rule: Always maintain a 6- to 12-inch overlap between each piece of landscape fabric. If you don’t overlap your material, then an ambitious weed might grow between the small gap between two sheets. 

Step 8: Secure the fabric

Before the landscape fabric has a chance to blow away, let’s secure it to the ground. With the help of your hammer or mallet, tap the garden staples into the ground (fingers crossed you have soft soil!). 

Here’s where to install the garden staples: 

  • Every foot along the edges of the fabric. If you are not installing edging in step nine, fold the excess fabric underneath the material before stapling it down. Don’t cut the extra material; otherwise, the fabric will fray. If you are installing edging in step nine, don’t fold the excess material underneath the staple. Instead, you’ll fold the remaining material underneath the edging. 
  • Every slit you make (you’ll need one garden staple for every one foot of the slit)
  • Every time you make an X-shaped incision (you’ll need four garden staples for every X-shaped incision, more if the incision is particularly large) 
  • Every time you overlap the fabric (you’ll need one garden staple for every one foot of overlapped fabric)
  • Every square foot within the bed’s interior area. Do this step last because garden staples that secure slits and overlapping fabric will already secure much of the interior. 

Step 9: Install the edging

If your gravel pathway or rock mulch design contains edging, now is the time to install it. Otherwise, skip this step. 

Installation methods will vary depending on the edging material you’re using. Some edging designs involve hammering plastic landscape edging into a prepped trench. Your design might involve laying pavers or large stones in a trench. 

Regardless of the edging method you use, remember to wrap the excess landscape fabric underneath the edging. Tucking in the landscape fabric helps prevent weed growth between the stones and the edging. 

Step 10: Spread the stones

Your landscape fabric is now secure, and you’ve installed the edging. Spread the rock mulch on top of the fabric by hand or with your garden rake. Cover the whole area with rock –– you don’t want any landscape fabric playing peek-a-boo! 

The rock layer should not exceed more than 2 inches thick. 

FAQs about landscape fabric 

1. Is landscape fabric permanent?

Landscape fabric is not a permanent solution. Over time, you may discover drainage issues or weeds growing in your gravel pathway. 

Landscape fabric’s benefits begin to decline after about one year, which can be particularly concerning if you install the weed barrier in a planting bed. Landscape fabric might not decompose, but you will need to replace it. 

2. What are the disadvantages to using landscape fabric?

Landscape fabric has its pros and cons. This article covered the weed barrier’s many benefits, but let’s take a look at some of its drawbacks: 
Landscape fabric is not a 100% effective weed control solution. 
The fabric can clog over time, which means water and air won’t access the soil or plant roots. 
Landscape fabric can harm plant health if the plant’s roots grow into the material in search of oxygen. 
It can suffocate earthworms, which damages soil health as a result.
Landscape fabric prevents organic mulch, such as wood chips, from improving the soil.

  • Wind can blow weed seeds from neighboring lawns and gardens onto the layer of mulch above the fabric. These new weeds can be challenging to remove because their roots often intertwine with the weed barrier.  
  • Turn to the pros for help

    If you have the patience and attention to detail, installing landscape fabric can be a straightforward DIY home improvement project. On the other hand, if you don’t want to spend your weekend hauling rocks or spreading the fabric, turn to the pros for help. 

    Hire a local lawn care professional to take the project off your hands. A professional can help you determine the best weed barrier for the job, prepare the landscape bed, lay the fabric, and spread the rocks. Take back your free time and give your green thumbs a rest. 

    Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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