How to Install Landscape Fabric

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Weed suppressant fabric covering a bed in a walled organic vegetable garden

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, right? Landscape fabric might have an infamous reputation, but many gardeners swear by the weed blocker. If you’re eager to give this weed control method a try, it’s essential to learn how to install landscape fabric correctly. Otherwise, you risk suffocating your plants. 

We’ll show you nine simple steps to installing landscape fabric and how to get your flower bed looking beautiful. Want to install landscape fabric around a tree sapling or in a vegetable garden? We’ve got you covered there, too. 

What is landscape fabric?

Landscape fabric is a sheet-like material typically made of polyester, polypropylene, linen, or recycled materials. It’s also known as garden fabric, weed block fabric, landscaping fabric, weed control fabric, and weed barrier fabric. 

The fabric usually comes in rolls which you can spread across the garden area to create a weed barrier. Landscape fabric also helps retain moisture, insulate soil, and control erosion. 

Most landscape fabrics are porous enough to allow water and oxygen to reach the soil. 

Which landscape fabric should you use?

Before you roll out the fabric and send those garden staples into the ground, it’s essential to learn the different types of landscape fabric. You don’t want to spend the morning installing landscape fabric only to discover it’s the worst kind you could have put around your flowers. 

Woven

Woven landscape fabric is typically made of woven linen or polypropylene. The small holes between the weaves allow water, nutrients, and air to access the soil. 

Woven landscape fabric is an excellent weed blocker for trees, shrubs, and flower beds that don’t need their plants changed often. 

Non-woven

Non-woven garden fabric is a solid sheet of non-woven material, usually polyester or polypropylene. 

It’s not as permeable as other landscape fabrics, so you likely don’t want to install it in your flower or vegetable garden. Instead, install it underneath your rock mulch, rock garden, or rock pathway to prevent the soils from sinking into the ground. 

Spun

Spun landscape fabric is a type of non-woven fabric. It’s made of long polyester fibers that have been bonded together with compression or heat. Thin spun landscaping fabrics are usually permeable enough to allow water and air to pass through the barrier, but thicker options are not as porous. 

Spun landscape fabric is tough and durable. Many homeowners use the heavy-duty fabric as a physical barrier around the gardens’ borders to block invasive grasses and destructive pests. 

Use thin spun fabric in flower beds where digging is minimal. Apply thick spun fabrics underneath rock mulches and pathways or behind retaining walls to prevent soil from escaping the cracks. 

Perforated

This landscape fabric type is lightweight and has small, perforated holes. It’s easy to tear and has high permeability, making it the best choice for most vegetable gardens or flower beds where you frequently add new plants. 

Supplies you’ll need

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

How to install landscape fabric in 9 steps

Step 1: Measure the area

Measure the garden area with your tape measure to determine how much landscape fabric and many landscape staples you’ll need to buy. 

For example, if the garden bed is 2 feet wide and 10 feet long, you’ll need at least 20 square feet of landscape fabric to cover the entire area. It’s a good idea to buy a little extra, so you have enough fabric to fold underneath the edges. 

You’ll want to buy enough garden staples for every one foot of garden fabric along the edges and the interior area. You’ll also need at least four garden staples for each plant you install and enough staples to cover any overlapping fabric. 

Step 2: Remove existing weeds

You’ll need to clear up the entire garden area before installing your fabric. Either pull up those sprouting weeds by hand or grab your garden hoe and slice those weeds down to the roots. 

Another option is to use an herbicide. After applying the herbicide, you’ll need to wait at least two weeks before installing the fabric. 

Step 3: Comb the soil

Give the garden bed a thorough comb with your bow rake to collect dead weeds, dry leaves, and small twigs. You don’t want to install your landscape fabric over a mess!

Step 4: Level the ground

Once the planting bed is clear of debris, use your garden rake to spread the soil and level the ground. 

Step 5: Add a soil amendment

You won’t be able to access your soil for a while once you’ve installed your landscape fabric. Now is the time to make any soil amendments you need, such as adding compost or fertilizer. 

Step 6: Roll out the landscape fabric

Your garden is finally ready for the red carpet. Well, the landscape carpet, that is. Roll out the landscape fabric across the entire bed, allowing a few extra inches of material along the bed’s edges.

Need to roll out multiple pieces of fabric? Spread the material so that each sheet has a 6- to 12-inch overlap. Having little to no overlap provides the perfect opportunity for weed seeds to sprout. Remember to leave an extra few inches of fabric along the edges. 

Read the instructions that come with your landscape fabric to see which side faces the ground. For most landscape fabrics, it’s fuzzy side down. 

Step 7: Hammer in the garden staples

Finally –– time to put to good use the loads of staples you bought. Starting from one edge of the garden, you’ll want to fold the excess material underneath the landscape fabric. Cutting the extra material can be fine, but it might cause the fabric to fray, especially if you’re using woven fabric. 

Once you hammer in a few staples, pull the landscape fabric taut and keep moving from one side of the garden to the other. Remember to install the staples every one foot along the edges of the fabric and the interior area. You’ll also need to insert staples where the fabric overlaps. 

Step 8: Plant your flowers and shrubs

Your landscape fabric should be snug and secure in your garden bed now. Next, decide where you want to plant your shrubs and flowers. 

Using a sharp utility knife, cut an x-shaped incision where you want to grow the plant. Make the incision just big enough for the plant’s root ball. 

Fold back the incision so that it creates a square opening for you to dig in. Dig a hole for the root ball, insert the plant, and backfill the hole with soil. After you’ve packed in the soil, fold the triangles back down and staple them into the ground. 

Repeat this process for each plant you want to add to your flower bed. 

Step 9: Add mulch

If you want a beautiful flower bed, add 2 inches of mulch on top of the fabric. This step is optional, but leaving the fabric uncovered can be an eyesore. Inorganic and organic mulches can add beautiful texture and color to the bed, including bark mulches, river rocks, and rubber. 

How to install landscape fabric in special circumstances

Installing your landscape fabric with edging? Need to install fabric around a tree? The installation process is nearly the same, but with a few minor tweaks. 

How to install landscape fabric in a vegetable garden

vegetable garden using landscape tarp and pine straw for mulch
woodleywonderworks | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

If you’re going to install landscape fabric in your vegetable garden, the best option is likely a porous, woven landscape fabric. 

But many gardeners might find that harvesting their veggies and digging new holes will quickly tear up the light-duty fabric. The weed barrier also can harm soil health over time, which is why many gardeners avoid using landscape fabric in their vegetable gardens. 

If you want to avoid landscape fabric, alternatives include cardboard, newspaper, and burlap. 

How to install landscape fabric with edging

landscape tarp being used in a garden
osseous | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Worried about weeds popping up between the landscape fabric and your edging? That’s an easy fix. 

Leave several inches of extra landscape fabric at the garden’s edge. Next, dig a trench around the garden bed where you want to install the edging. Wrap the extra landscape fabric beneath the bottom layer of edging material and sink it into the trench. The edging blocks will hold the fabric in place. 

Does your garden already have existing edging? Then tuck the landscape fabric between the soil and the edging as best you can. 

Keep in mind that if you install the extra fabric underneath the edging, you’d need to remove the edging temporarily when you replace the landscape fabric. 

How to install landscape fabric around a tree

If you’re installing landscape fabric around a large tree, you’ll likely need to overlap several sheets of landscape fabric around the tree’s trunk. Remember to secure the sheets with garden staples. 

If you’re installing landscape fabric for a tree seedling, cut a small hole in the center of a 4-foot-by-4-foot or 6-foot-by-6 foot square of landscape fabric. This hole is where the tree seedling will go. As the tree grows, you’ll need to cut back the landscape fabric and make the hole larger. Otherwise, your landscape fabric might girdle the tree. 

FAQs about installing landscape fabric

1. Can you install landscape fabric after planting?

Yes, you can install landscape fabric after your garden is already growing plants. 

If you have a small garden bed, cut a slit toward the plant from the fabric’s edge. Once you reach the plant, cut a small hole around the plant. Slide a small patch of landscape fabric underneath the slit to prevent weeds. Secure the slit with garden staples. 

If you need to install the fabric to a large garden bed, you’ll need to estimate where the various plants are located on the fabric and cut multiple incisions. One method is to gently lay the fabric over the plants, make the X-shaped incisions, and pull the plants through the fabric. 

2. Are there landscape fabric alternatives?

Installing landscape fabric isn’t your only solution to minimizing weed growth. Alternatives to landscape fabric include burlap, newspaper, cardboard, grass clippings, wood chips, and pine needles. 

3. How long does landscape fabric last?

Landscape fabric’s effectiveness starts to decline after a year or two.

4. Can you combine landscape fabrics?

You only need to spread one layer of landscape fabric in your planting bed. Installing two landscape fabrics at a time, with one layer over the other, may prove detrimental to your plants. Combining two layers of different fabrics might ruin the benefits of another. For example, perforated fabric has high permeability. But if you cover it with non-woven fabric, then the non-woven fabric will block water and air from passing through the perforated fabric.

5. Is landscape fabric right for your outdoor project?

When appropriately installed, landscape fabric can be an effective weed-control barrier. But while the garden fabric minimizes your weeding chores, it does have its pros and cons

Landscape fabric tends to clog over time, putting soil and plant health at risk. The weed barrier also suffocates earthworms by preventing them from reaching the soil surface. And unlike organic mulch, landscape fabric adds no nutritional value to the soil. 

It’s up to you to decide whether landscape fabric is a good solution for your garden bed. Worried you’ll jeopardize your garden’s health with improper installation? Hire a local lawn care professional to install the garden fabric for you. Skip the DIY disaster and leave the job to a qualified professional. 

Main Photo Credit: Peter Turner Photography | Shutterstock

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