How to Use Landscape Fabric in a Garden or Flower Bed

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Landscaping fabric used in a garden with small plants poking through the holes

Landscape fabric is a popular weed-control barrier among gardeners who want to rest their green thumbs. But not every gardener is a landscape fabric fan. Dig it or hate it, learning how to use landscape fabric in a garden or flower bed the right way can help save your plants from a DIY disaster –– and end your wedding chores.

What is landscape fabric?

Landscape fabric is a geotextile typically made of polyester, linen, polypropylene, or recycled materials. It’s primarily used around vegetable gardens, flower gardens, shrubs, and trees to block weed growth while still allowing water and air to pass through to the soil. 

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

What are the benefits of using landscape fabric in the garden?

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

Weed control isn’t the only benefit landscape fabric can provide for your garden or flower beds. The weed barrier also limits evaporation, insulates soil, controls erosion, and minimizes herbicide use

If you’re using rock mulch in your flower or garden bed, landscape fabric can prove a handy tool. Why? Because small rocks tend to sink into the soil, which makes removing the stones and digging the ground difficult. Landscape fabric prevents the rocks from sinking by acting as a barrier between the rocks and soil. 

What are the disadvantages of landscape fabric?

Although landscape fabric does boast its advantages, it comes with its fair share of disadvantages too. If the following disadvantages deter you from using landscape fabric in your garden or flower beds, you might prefer a landscape fabric alternative

  • Landscape fabric’s benefits begin to decline after about one year. 
  • It is not a 100% effective weed control solution. 
  • The fabric can clog over time, blocking water and air from reaching the soil and plant roots. 
  • Landscape fabric can jeopardize plant health if the plant’s roots grow into the material. 
  • Wind can blow weed seeds from neighboring lawns and gardens onto the layer of mulch above the fabric. When these new weeds sprout, their roots will often intertwine with the barrier, making them difficult to remove. 
  • Landscape fabric can suffocate earthworms, which damages soil health as a result.
  • Landscape fabric prevents organic mulch from improving your soil.

What type of fabrics work best in a garden or flower bed?

There are many different types of landscape fabrics, and some are more suited for your garden than others. For instance, landscape fabrics with poor permeability are not an ideal choice for your garden or flower beds. 

The best landscape fabric for your vegetable garden is likely perforated fabric. Woven fabric is a good choice for flower beds where you don’t regularly change the plants. But let’s take a closer look at all your options. The four main landscape fabric types are: 

  • Woven
  • Non-woven
  • Perforated
  • Spun

Woven

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

This type of landscape fabric is typically made of tightly woven polypropylene or linen fibers. It has tiny holes that allow water and air to pass through. 

Woven landscape fabric makes a great weed barrier for trees, shrubs, and flower beds where you don’t change plants too often. 

Rating: This fabric is a good choice for your flower bed where you don’t dig often. It’s better for your vegetable garden than non-woven and spun fabric, but not as good as perforated fabric. 

Non-woven

Non-woven landscape fabric is typically polyester or polypropylene and does not contain woven fibers. The landscape fabric allows some water movement, but not enough for your flower beds or vegetable garden. 

Non-woven fabric is primarily used underneath rock mulches, rock pathways, and rock gardens to help prevent the small stones from sinking into the earth. The fabric barrier also makes removing the rocks from the landscape much easier.

Rating: Non-woven landscape fabric is a poor choice for your vegetable garden or flower bed (it might suffocate your plants). 

Perforated

Perforated landscape fabric is ideal for those flower beds where you often add new plants or in the vegetable garden. The lightweight fabric consists of small, perforated holes that water and air can easily pass through and seep into the soil. 

In many cases, perforated fabrics come with pre-cut holes where you can plant your veggies. 

Rating: Perforated landscape fabric is the best choice for your flower beds and vegetable garden. 

Spun

This fabric is a type of non-woven landscape fabric. It’s made of long polyester fibers that have been bonded together with heat or compressions. 

Thin spun landscape fabric is typically porous enough for water and air to pass through, but thick spun fabric is not as permeable. 

Spun landscape fabric is a durable, heavy-duty material. You can use it as a physical barrier around your gardens’ borders to deter pests and invasive grass. It’s also a handy fabric underneath rock mulch or behind retaining walls to help prevent soil and roots from reaching the cracks. 

Rating: Spun landscape fabric is a poor choice for a vegetable garden. Thin, permeable spun fabric is an okay choice for flower beds where you don’t dig often, but a poor choice for flower beds where you need to change the plants frequently. 

Should I cover my landscape fabric with organic or inorganic mulch?

landscape fabric laid down behind a large property, with mulch being spread on top
Pacific Southwest Forest Service, USDA | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Organic mulch might be preferable in a garden that has no landscape fabric because it adds organic matter to the soil. 

Yet when it comes to a garden with landscape fabric, it won’t make much difference to the soil whether you add organic or inorganic mulch on top of the fabric.

How come? Because landscape fabric creates a physical barrier between the soil and the mulch, which means any nutritional value from organic mulch won’t improve the soil. 

Inorganic mulch options include: 

  • River rock 
  • Shredded rubber 
  • Pea gravel 

Organic mulch options include: 

What supplies do I need?

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

How to install landscape fabric in a garden or flower bed

Step 1: Measure the garden area

Measuring the garden area enables you to determine how much landscape fabric and garden staples you’ll need. 

For example, if the garden measures 2 feet wide and 10 feet long, you’ll need at least 20 square feet of landscape fabric to cover the entire area. But remember, it’s a good idea to buy extra landscape fabric

Why? Because you’ll need to account for any overlaps in the fabric, and you’ll want the fabric to extend a few inches over the bed’s edges. You’ll also need some extra material on hand so you can slip it under any slits you make in the fabric. 

Recording the garden bed’s size also will help you estimate how many garden staples to prepare. You’ll need a garden staple for: 

  • Every foot along the fabric’s edges
  • Every slit you make (you’ll need one garden staple for every 1 foot of the slit)
  • Every time you overlap the fabric (you’ll need one garden staple for every 1 foot of overlapped fabric)
  • 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: Pull the weeds

You don’t want to install your landscape fabric in a crowded bed of weeds. Pull up those pesky weeds by hand, or grab your garden hoe. Remember to be gentle when working around your flowers and veggies — a garden hoe’s blade is sharp!

Another option is to use an herbicide to get rid of the weeds. If you use an herbicide, you’ll need to wait at least two weeks before you can install your landscape fabric. 

Step 3: Rake up debris

Let’s get your garden bed looking spick and span. Comb your garden rake through the soil to gather loose debris, including weeds, dry leaves, and twigs. You want your garden bed looking spotless before you lay down the fabric. 

Step 4: Level out the soil

Level out the soil with the help of your garden rake. You want your landscape fabric to rest on an even surface. 

Step 5: Make amendments to the soil

Once you install your landscape fabric, you won’t have easy access to your soil anymore. Now is the time to make any soil amendments you need, such as adding compost. 

Step 6: Roll out the first piece of landscape fabric

Is your soil red carpet ready? Starting from one end of the garden or flower bed, begin rolling out the landscape fabric. 

It’s helpful to have one person stand on the fabric to hold it in place while another person rolls the material forward. 

Read the instructions to determine which side of the fabric should face up. For most landscape fabrics, the fuzzy side faces down. 

Remember to leave a few extra inches of fabric along the garden’s sides. We’ll explain why this is important in a later step. 

If your garden or flower bed already has existing plants, there are two ways you can install the fabric around the plants. Option one is to cut small slits starting from the fabric’s edge. Option two is to cut X-shaped incisions. 

To install fabric around existing plants cutting slits: 

As you roll out the fabric, identify which spot on the fabric will be the plant’s position. Next, cut a slit from the fabric’s edge toward the place where the plant will be. If it’s a plant with a large stem, you may need to cut a hole at the end of the slit. 

Slide the plant through the slit until it reaches the desired location. Continue to roll out the fabric. 

To install fabric around existing plants cutting X shapes: 

First, find the spot on the fabric where the plant will be. Next, cut an X-shaped incision in that location. Open the incision flaps and gently pull the fabric over the plant. Fold the incisions back down against the plant’s stem.  

Step 7: Overlap the remaining pieces of fabric

For each piece of landscape fabric you roll out, there must be a 6- to 12-inch overlap. You want to overlap the fabric to ensure that the weeds have no opportunity to grow. If the material doesn’t overlap, then a weed can sprout through the gap between the pieces of fabric. 

Step 8: Secure the landscape fabric

With your landscape fabric spread across the garden bed, it’s time to secure it with garden staples. You’ll install a lot of staples, so grab a handful. Secure the staples using a mallet or hammer. 

Here’s where to install the staples: 

  • Every foot along the fabric’s edges. Fold the excess material underneath the fabric and then staple. You don’t want to cut off the extra inches because that will fray the edges of the fabric.
  • Every slit you made leading up to a plant. Before installing the staple, cut a piece of fabric the length of the slit and slide it underneath the opening (this is to ensure no weeds sprout through the slit).
  • Every foot along the overlapped the fabric 
  • Between every flap of an X-shaped incision 
  • 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: Add new plants

Do you have new flowers or veggies you want to install in the planting bed? This next step is easy. 

Some perforated fabrics come with small pre-cut holes where you can plant your veggies. 

If your fabric doesn’t have holes, cut an X-shaped incision and fold back the flaps. Dig a hole between the flaps the size of your plant’s root ball. Place your plant’s roots inside the hole, backfill with soil, and lay the flaps back down against the plant. Secure the flaps with garden staples. 

Step 10: Spread mulch over the fabric

Spreading mulch above your garden bed is optional, but exposed landscape fabric can be an eyesore. Accentuate your garden and flower beds with a 2-inch thick layer of textured, deep-colored mulch. 

Remember, you can apply organic or inorganic mulches to the planting bed. 

FAQs about landscape fabric

1. How long will my landscape fabric last?

Landscape fabric doesn’t decompose, which means it can last in the soil for many years. Yet, that doesn’t mean your weed barrier will remain effective for many years. Landscape fabric’s benefits typically decline after one year of use. 

2. How do I install landscape fabric around an existing tree or shrub?

Installing landscape fabric around a tree or shrub is similar to installing it in a garden or flower bed. The main difference is that you’ll need to cut larger holes for your shrubs and trees. You’ll also need to regularly check the growing trunks to ensure they don’t outgrow the holes. Otherwise, the fabric will girdle the tree or bush. 

3. Are there landscape fabric alternatives?

Yes, landscape fabric alternatives do exist. Many organic mulches, such as wood chips and shredded bark, are effective weed suppressors. They also add nutritional value to the soil, unlike landscape fabric. 

Landscape fabric alternatives include: 

Pine needles
Shredded leaves
Wood chips
Shredded bark
Compost
Grass clippings
Cardboard
Burlap
Newspaper

Give your green thumbs a break

Measuring the garden, holding down crinkled landscape fabric, hammering in garden staples –– that’s enough to give any gardener a headache. Installing landscape fabric might be a straightforward task, but your tired green thumbs might prefer to hand the job over to someone else. 

Hire a local lawn care pro to help you achieve a weed-free garden. You can rest assured your plants will get the best treatment they need and that no DIY disaster will jeopardize their health. Let a pro prepare the garden bed, install the fabric, and spread the mulch while you enjoy your spare time doing what matters most.  

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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