Garden Myths - Learn the truth about gardening

Landscape Fabric – Weed Barrier Cloth

Landscape fabric, weed barrier and weed barrier fabric are names for the same product.  It is a black mesh type of plastic that is used extensively in landscaping to keep weeds out of your garden. Does it keep the weeds out? Does it let water through to the plants? Lets have a look at the effectiveness of landscape fabric.

landscape fabric - weed barrier

Landscape fabric – weed barrier cloth

Landscape Fabric – Weed Barrier Cloth

This is how landscape fabric is advertised to work. You place it on the ground and cover it with mulch. Weeds already in your soil can’t grow through the cloth so they die. Weeds can’t grow on the cloth, so any sprouting seeds also die. Voila! No weeds.

Don’t Buy Into the Landscape Fabric Myth.

It is true that seeds sprouting under the cloth will not grow through it. However, strong perennial weeds will eventually grow through or around it. Many perennial weeds can grow quite a distance under ground and since landscape fabric comes in 3 and 4 foot wide roles they only need to grow a few feet to find an opening.

If you use a thin cover of mulch, weeds do not grow in the mulch because it is just too dry there. But in no time at all you will see the landscaping fabric stick up through the mulch and then it looks terrible in your garden.

If you use more mulch to hide the weed barrier, wind and water deposits soil particles and plant remains onto the cloth. In no time at all you have the perfect seed mix sitting right above the weed barrier, and weeds start to grow. Believe me when I say that plant roots can grow through the holes in the landscape fabric.

Weed barrier cloth is no better for controlling weeds than a 4 inch layer of mulch.

Landscape Fabric Stops Rain

Weed barrier cloth is porous (ie it has holes in it) and it is advertised as ‘letting the rain flow through’. This is mostly a gardening myth. The reality is that some rain will go through the holes, but much of it flows over top of the cloth and away from your plants, which remain dry.

Weed Barrier Sucks the Life out of Your Soil

I’ve talked many times about the importance of life in the soil. Landscape fabric reduces the air reaching the soil, and prevents any new organic matter from getting to the surface of the soil. It does not take long and the dew worms, microbes and other soil life, which depends on air and food, either leave or die. When this happens, there is a reduction of nutrients for your plants, and soil structure starts to degrade. Neither is good for your plants.

Permanent Plantings are Damaged

In permanent landscapes, plant roots will grow into and through the landscape fabric. At some point in the future when it is replaced (needs to be replaced every 10 years or so), you will damage the roots.

Is There a Good Use for Landscaping Fabric?

Maybe. If you are planting trees in uncultivated land that is very weedy, there is a benefit to using the weed barrier around the tree for a few years in order to keep the weeds down, and give the tree a chance to get established. The tree roots have less competition for space and nutrients. The loss of water due to the weed barrier is offset by the fact that the weeds are no longer using the water. The landscape fabric should be removed after a couple of years once the tree is large enough and strong enough to compete with the weeds.

Recent scientific findings, reported by Dr Linda Chalker-Scott, suggest that a 6- 12 inch layer of wood chip mulch is just as effective. I have used the landscape fabric, as described above, for trees planted in fields, but have now switched to using just mulch.

More Reasons for NOT Buying Landscape Fabric

  • it is a plastic and we don’t need more plastic in the environment
  • plant roots growing on top of the fabric can’t withstand a drought as easily
  • moving plants, and dividing plants is a nightmare because the weed barrier prevents you from digging new holes
  • if you do get weeds they are near impossible to pull out
  • it is relatively expensive for a product that does almost nothing!


1) Photo Source: Two Women and a Hoe

Robert Pavlis
Editor of
I live in southern Ontario, Canada, zone 5 and have been gardening a long time. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

I hope you find Garden Myths an educational site that helps you understand your garden better.

66 Responses to 'Landscape Fabric – Weed Barrier Cloth'

  1. Kate says:

    Hi Robert I was just about to go out to buy fabric when I found your post. THANK YOU. I have saved your site for future info. Thanks from an Irish gardener, of sorts, currently in sandy France. x

  2. joejoe says:

    I generally agree with your opinion on landscape fabrics… Weeds will grow on top of it or around it.

    However, I still use landscape fabric on walkways and areas I cover with stone. It will provide added resistance from weeds growing thru the stones, and it will also keep the stones cleaner, since they will not mix with the underlying soil.. Since soil is less dense than rock it will naturally reach the surface… Landscape fabric keeps those two from mixing with each other.

  3. Wendy says:

    so how about the PP non woven landscape fabric? It’s said that it’s air permeable, biodegradable? What if I use this type of fabric instead of the plastic weed barrier?

    • They all say they are air permeable – and they are to some extent, but less than no fabric at all. I don’t see how a landscape fabric can be biodegradeable and still work? Unless it is biodegradeable after many years which means you will have the same problem as regular stuff.

      You do not need it – just mulch.

  4. Lynne Bennion says:

    I’ve read posts by others on your blog who had the problem of trying to remove years’ old woven cloth covering a garden area. Mine has been there for probably 10 years, and there are weeds under, through, & on top of the fabric. Worst of all, the fabric seems interwoven with the soil & grass & weeds. Does anyone have a suggestion for HOW to remove it?

    • The real problem is that roots grow through it and hold it tight. The only way to get rid of it is to tear it out – not an easy job since it will break into smaller pieces as you go.

    • Art Thompson says:

      I recall it being a daunting task with a rake, patience, and a lot of sweat. If you have a lot of grass and weeds I suggest killing it first with Glyphosate (if you have time).
      I am also a big fan of employing strong local youths at a fair hourly rate for these type of projects.

  5. Ashley says:

    Hi there, we are putting in a play set in our back yard and I want to know if 2 inches of play bark without weed barrier will be sufficient to keep weeds out. Thank you.

  6. angie says:

    i see this post is from a few years ago, hopefully you are still monitoring it.
    my question is. would you use duck fabric for weed barriers in an above ground flowered?
    i have a few skeens of it and would love to use it if it will work.

    • Not sure what duck fabric is, but any material used in the same way as landscape fabric will have similar issues. The issues become less as the pore size increases, but then it also becomes useless for suppressing weeds.

  7. annroberts54 says:

    I have to say that I must be the odd man out. I use a really good quality landscape fabric to cover the soil between my raised garden beds. Once I mulch heavily it lasts for many years. Rain water never sits on the surface unless it is also doing so in uncovered areas of the yard, meaning we get 6″ in a day which can happen here.

    Yes occasionally I get weeds growing above the mulch. But they are so much easier to pull since they can’t seem to grow thru the fabric. I use Roc-Cloth or now Lowe’s carries the same stuff. Black on one side and brown on the other. Some of mine has been working well now for 7 years.

  8. Alicia says:

    I bought a house that has stones lining the back of the house. A lot of weeds come through the stones. Prior to us buying the house, the owner had the black mesh cloth through it. We took it up because it looked a mess. Is it worth us putting that back up with stones over the top of it again? If not, what can we use to reduce the amount of weeds that come through the stones? Thank you!

  9. Mandy says:

    Hi Robert,
    I noticed in several replies you mentioned wood chips. We live in an area where there is lots of huge 50-100 year old oak and other tree’s. It’s very shaded and my neighbor up the hill from me doesn’t believe in grass, so her whole yard is weeds and sticks and moldy leaves she doesn’t mulch or remove. So weed control is an issue .I tried newspaper and had weeds everywhere within a month. We also have bad termite issues. I gave had over $15k done in work inside home due to damage. So I’m hesitant to use wood chips or anything “wood”. I tried pine bark nuggets but so light just blow away. And can’t find in bulk in Omaha and by the bag is too pricey. What do you recommend to control weeds. I can’t keep up especially with the neighbor with a whole yard of several kinds. I was going to invest in a commercial grade fabric and then layer with colored dark brown mulch since was told the colored mulch won’t attract termites. Thanks for your time.

    • Seems as if termites either can’t see or have poor vision. SO it is unlikely the ‘coloring’ in wood chips will make a difference.

      Termites are not attracted to wood chips and are safe to use in termite infected areas.

      I would not use commercial grade fabric. Just use the regular wood chips or the colored ones if you prefer.

  10. Mark says:

    Hi Robert,

    I want to lay a dog run beside my house. At the moment it is just topsoil with few weeds. I was thinking of putting down weed barrier fabric and covering with washed rock. But after reading this that seems useless.

    Would you say I should put down wood chips or newspaper first and then put the layer of rock over this or just put the rock down on it’s own?

    Also what type of rock works best for this, Will pea-gravel be as effective as larger stones?



    • I don’t know anything about dog runs. If I was making a path for humans I would just lay down a 5 inch layer of 1/4 inch crushed rock. Pea gravel is difficult to walk on since it constantly shifts.

  11. Helen Richards says:

    What type of wood chips do you recommend?

    • What ever you can get locally. Big chips are better than small ground up stuff.

      The key is that it is organic, and that it is local. In some areas people use pecan shells – that is local and organic and works.

  12. Robert I’m laying a border of one meter around my lawn, what is the best thing to put under these to suppress the weeds.

  13. Lisa says:

    I am desperate. I have a large steep slope that is covered with bindweed. I keep weeding and mulching but nothing is helping. Any suggestions?

    • I would use Roundup. Mulch 2 feet thick might get rid of bindweed.

      • Elle says:

        I can’t believe that you recommend Roundup!!! I could cry with frustration. I was delighted when you advised against use of plastic in the garden but you have no problem with Roundup??!!!

        I have used wet cardboard layers with wood shavings on top to suffocate bindweed with much success.

        • If you understand Roundup you would not be surprised. It is less toxic than vinegar and does less damage to soil than plastic or cardboard, both of which harm soil life by excluding air and water.

          Cardboard rarely kills bindweed – it just travels under ground to a new location.

          • Johnson says:

            You are not able to use Roundup in Ontario. Do you have any other recommendations? Thanks!

          • The only other alternative is hand weeding.

          • Art Thompson says:

            Do I understand correctly that the ban is loaded with exceptions? For example, you can use Glyphosphate on Poison Ivy, but not for ‘cosmetic’ reasons?
            Tell me how that gets enforced.

          • In Ontario glyphosate can be used when the weed poses a health hazard. Farms are exempt from the ban. Poison Ivy poses a health hazard.

            There is no enforcement. Most stores either do not control it or don’t know the law.

    • Art Thompson says:

      I agree.Roundup (Glyphosphate).Bindweed can have roots up to 20 feet deep. You might try a combo of Roundup and covering with black plastic until you’ve conquered the infestation.It will probably take a couple of years.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    My son spread perrinal wild flower seeds over my cloth like gray landscape rolls. He cover it with dirt, fertilize and mulched it. Will the seeds grow. He was making me a seed mat for wild flowers. If not do i need to cut out paper and remove debris and replant. Please let me know.
    Thank you

  15. Kerwin Maude says:

    I am not a landscaping nor garden expert but I found commercial landscape fabric immensely costly. Thinking outside the box, this westcoast Canadian layered factory damaged rolls of window bug screens and grabbed recycled ones from customers that were free. Instead of it lying in a landfill, it was recycled for better use in my garden and landscape plants. Innovative and creative, this man layered bug screens (three sheets thick) on top of each other, and buried them out of sight and covered them with lava rocks or drain rock. The rain seeps through the fabric to get at the plants and lawn watering does the same. Weeds have a difficult time poking through as they cannot squirm through the blanketed porous screens. If one or two weeds pop up through they can be killed with cheap vinegar. Before you try this idea ask your local garden expert as their advice supersedes any home remedies. I went to several garden experts before trying it myself, and they unanimously thought it was a great idea, economical and imaginative. Window screen factory places or window screen services often have unuseable rolls of bug screen fabric that are defective. In my case, I gots rolls of it for free and they were happy to get rid of it. Again, this guy is not aware of any environmental issues and my landscaping garden is maintenance free for over 8 years while others use garden tools or get on their hands and knees to spend considerable time manicuring their projects. I would not recommend bark mulch as it is an attractant to bugs and ticks. While it looks great once it is first applied, after time it looks drab after being exposed to the elements. The sad thing is lava rock is expensive but it retains its color for a long time. Good luck..Btw, bug window screen fabric is far more porous and will not suffocate your garden projects like landscaping fabric or chemicals sprays that are not good for the environment, shrubbery or animals. Best of luck…if this works for your readership we all win with shared information.

    • It probably lets air and water through better than landscape fabric. Roots will still grow into it and it will still show if there is not enough mulch on top. I would not use it. Wood chips work just fine on their own and they add organic material to the soil.

  16. terri moreno says:

    Landscape fabric provided a nightmare for me when I planted strawberries in rows for what I thought was going to be an easy prevention of weeds. Not only did it NOT prevent weeds from growing, but the runners and weeds got trapped in the fabric, making it impossible for me to manage the four 50 foot rows that I had anticipated would bring much joy and production.. The worst problem was removing the fabric from the garden beds. Everything was so inter-grown that I had to virtually rip out everything – not an easy task. There are still remnants of that awful black stuff here and there.

  17. Sharen Rutledge says:

    I’ve never garden before, where I want to plant my vegetable garden has a lot of weeds. Would it be safe to use wood chips then the soil dirt on top to plant the vegetables. Usually my dogs don’t get in the area, but if they do with the stuff hurt them. Thank you

  18. Mike says:

    Thanks for the article…I have a garden about 30′ x 15’…I’m looking to downsize the garden and utilize say only about 10′ x 15′ the other 20′ x 15′ I want to cover & not grow anything & not have any weeds sprout…I’m looking for something simple to accomplish this goal..I was thinking of buying some contractor grade fabric landscape fabric to cover the part of the garden I will no longer be using…What would be you’re recommendation for my goals?

    Thanks for your time…

    • Landscape fabric will get weeds. Best thing to do is to cover it with 4 inches of wood chips. As a long term solution plant a ground cover that takes no effort and lets in no weeds. In zone 5 I recommend Geranium Geranium macrohizum.

  19. rose-- no web site says:


    • The best thing for trees and shrubs is to leave the soil alone and get them to grow in it. Add wood chip mulch on top of the soil. If they grow and flower you know they are doing well. If they don’t grow – there is a problem.

      I don’t worry about “doing as well as they should”. I am only concerned with are they doing well enough to please me.

  20. Jennifer Lawlor says:

    I certainly agree that the fabric does not work. I laid some down and covered with rubber bark for my kids play area on a dirt surface, and within a month there was grass growing up through the fabric and the rubber bark. It was a mess. I couldn’t pull the grass up, there was just too much of it. I ended up having to just pull the fabric up to get the grass out. What a waste!

  21. Thomas Broohy says:

    For many years I have collected newspapers ( only the black and white) for mulch in the rows between my raised beds. Laying sections shingle fashion, I then cover with collected leaves–4 to 6 inches. These look nice, and oak especially lasts the growing season. It’s kind of a pain to replace each year, but earthworms love it. For the plants, I use a new-ish product : bales of chopped hay/straw, which is mostly seed free and easy to snuggle close to stems. A bale goes a long way. Both vegetable and flower plants do quite well. And, btw, strawberries proliferate in the rows, and are deliciously productive.

    • Newspapers work well, but they do have a problem. They don’t let enough air and water to the soil under them. Worms don’t actually get much nourishment from them. Straw is a much better solution for soil and soil life.

  22. Art Thompson says:

    Robert, this is a great post. Landscaping fabric is the worst solution to a weed problem. When I bought my house 7 years ago, I had a heck of a time getting up the old fabric that was being held tight by all of the weeds growing through it.
    It was common in my neighborhood for all the gravel driveways to have fabric installed first (same contractor). Now they all have weeds and fabric coming up through the driveway!

  23. Hi Robert,

    Just commenting on your premise that landscape fabric does not work.

    Weed fabric is really only suitable in certain situations certainly, but I have to say, if you buy a quality product then it will last for many many years and will allow for the penetration of water and through-flow of nutrients. A lot of people miss-use the fabric, and therefore make it less effective. As a company we only sell high quality fabric, not like the kind you find in the garden centre, but a woven style especially made for us. We provide guides like this ( to try and make sure people use it properly and therefore limiting the amount they need to use. Its all about how and where you use it.


    • Have you done side by side studies to quantify the amount of water going through your fabric vs no fabric? Studies on other products show a definite reduction of water flowing through during a rain.

  24. Cami says:

    I agree. I hate weed barrier fabric. I just mulch my plants and sprinkle down some preen. If you need to change anything in your garden over the years, weed barrier becomes a nightmare. Not to mention it DOES block out a lot of water from your established garden.

  25. hotwired64 says:

    I mulched with woodchips and found that after two years it was great soil for weeds. I’m 69 and pulling weeds is not something I can keep up with. I have raised beds with subterraneous irrigation and piping for aeration under the weedcloth. My irrigation, aeration, and feeding are controlled with a 32-channel I/O card, zone valves and moisture sensors. I have not experienced any of the “downsides of weedcloth” that you describe, though I don’t have a conventional garden and don’t use the cheap perforated plastic. Using the more expensive landscape “weave” cloth will eliminate many of the problems you describe.

    • But only if you also invest in a lot of automation as you have described. Seems too complicated to me.

      How do you know you are providing enough air not to affect the soil microbes? How do you measure their activity and populations? I think all you can really say is that using your system – you don’t see a problem.

      I’ll stick to several inches of wood chips which work great. This solution is also better for the environment since I am using fewer commercially made products.

  26. Glenn says:

    Hi Robert, thank you for the great article! What are your thoughts on using weed barrier under what will become a Zen garden? I will only have 3 or 4 bushes in a 450 sq ft area, the rest of the area will be limestone chippings and a few big rocks. I plan on keeping the weed barrier away from those bushes so the they’ll thrive. I realize that weeds may still eventually grow through the barrier and rocks but I plan on keeping up with it. Thanks in advance!

    • I would not use limestone chippings. I used them in some of my paths, and for the first 2 years they looked great. Now they are the perfect seedbed for weeds and my garden flowers. the air pockets are too small and stay too wet – perfect for seed germination. After some research for a Japanese dry garden I found out that what they use are 1/4 inch irregular rock. If you plant to add some markings in the sand they keep the shape for a long time.

      I put down 3-4 inches of larger rocks – just junk rocks from the garden, and covered with 4 inches of the 1/4 inch. I get almost no weeds after about 4 years.

      I would not use weed barrier.

    • Dan says:

      Hello, I’m new here, just stopped in to read an article about Blossom End Rot on tomatoes, which was great, and then noticed the articles on the right, and was curious if the articles on landscape fabric, and ‘DEET’ are as holistic as the BER article. I am quite pleased with this post, as well. In regards to your question, I must say there is nothing ZEN about placing garbage into the earth in an attempt (that will fail) to thwart nature. You may get a few years out of it, but eventually more soil will cover the fabric, and seeds will fall, and you’ll be pulling ‘weeds’ out of the fabric. The most zen thing you can do, in my opinion, is learn about the plants that you term ‘weeds’. Some of them are probably even edible. If you “plan on keeping up with it”, it is much easier to pull plants out of the earth than it is pulling them out of fabric and earth combined. If you’ve ever had to remove landscape fabric, it’s a mess, and the plants really don’t want to come out of it, and they end up ripping the fabric as you tug on them, at least if they are large. If you keep up with them, there’s no point in putting down the fabric in the first place. Pull all the weeds first, then set your stones, then keep up with it. Not trying to be cocky, I just can’t stand the stuff when I’m working with a client or something.

      Thank you for this post, Robert, and good luck with your zenning, Glenn.

  27. Susan says:

    I have an old weed filter with pebbles on top and it has only lasted 14 years; In the UK we’ve had a lot of rain- moss builds up on my weed filter and decays it- I will look for a better mulch method now as the weeds and grasses are taking over the whole of the surface area where the weed filter is supposed to be working. Thanks for the advice.

  28. Sebastian says:

    Dear Robert,

    I am in the process of converting my lawn (incl. some clover and other weeds) into vegetable beds and I am thinking of using sheet mulching/lasagna mulching.
    Cut the lawn really short.
    cover with rich compost/manure
    nitrogen layer
    weed barrier (cardboard)
    nitrogen layer
    compost, manure
    cover mulch (hay,straw)

    About the weed barrier, I do not want to use cardboard (ink, glue). So I thought maybe use hessian sacks. Or skip it altogether? If I do some heavy mulching. What are your thoughts?

    Just another thought: all that compost, manure, etc. wouldn’t that be to much organic matter to add? like 5%?

    • Robert Pavlis says:

      The weed barrier in the blog is quite different than using cardboard. Cardboard will degrade over time, and in a year or two it is gone. Weed barrier lasts a long time.

      The ink on paper and cardboard is made from natural chemicals and is quite safe. Not sure about the glue, but microbes will almost certainly digest it too. I would not worry about them.

      I don’t know about hessian sacks. If they degrade quickly then they would work OK. In a vegetable garden you will want these gone by next spring–either they decompose, or you remove them.

      Lasagna method has gotten a lot of press and it works quite well for getting rid of the grass. The problem with the method is that the newspaper and cardboard keeps water and air from the soil. Consequently, microbes die, fungus dies and dew worms either leave or die. None of this is good for the soil.

      I assume by nitrogen layer you are talking about adding nitrogen fertilizer, either organic or synthetic. I would not have a nitrogen layer. You won’t be planting vegetables until next year, and by then the nitrogen is gone. Nitrogen is the one nutrient that moves very quickly in soil. It either gets washed away, or moves into the air. You can add nitrogen just before planting if you want.

      If you use a couple of inches of manure and compost, and cover with straw, that will kill the existing grass. 3-4 inches total will do the job.

      Soil should not have more than 5% organic matter. It might seem like you are adding a lot, but most of this manure and compost will be degraded, and the amount of remaining organic matter will be much less once you are ready to plant. Is it too much? It depends very much on how much your soil already has. Adding a couple of inches of compost each year, and harvesting vegetables should not be a problem.

      • Daisy says:

        Hey you ! The lasagna method is absolutely brilliant ! The air does get in and the beautiful earth is not compacted by walking on it . The worms are loving it ! My flowers and vegetables grow beautifully !

  29. Inger Knudsen says:

    I think this is true when we are talking about garden beds but cloth can be efficient under walking path especially if you are establishing a garden of some size. It is true that it looks terrible, with cloth sticking out underneath the mulch, you will put on top of the cloth and you will have to keep on adding mulch to cover the cloth So in most instances you are not ahead because if the cloth was replaced with cardboard you could just leave it alone but with cloth you have to keep on adding mulch
    My problem is to have enough mulch, Establishing a new garden you could accept the cloth for some time and then remove it when the bindweed etc. is gone. It does save a bit of time By leaving cloth for some years you would have killed a lot of life in the soil including a lot of the weeds and you could save on weed killer
    My recommendation is to view cloth as an interim solution It will save some time especially if you have a tendency to want to establish too many beds in too short a time!

    • Robert Pavlis says:

      A think layer of wood chips will reduce weeds just as effectively as the cloth. I doubt that the cloth kills bindweed in a path – it will just find another place to grow it’s green stems. It can travel a long distance under ground.

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