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Mr. Smarty Plants - Advisability of landscape cloth in native gardens

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Wednesday - July 18, 2007

From: Lubbock, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch
Title: Advisability of landscape cloth in native gardens
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Is the use of landscape cloth healthy or unhealthy in native gardens?

ANSWER:

We are not going to turn up our noses and sniff at those who use landscape cloth in their gardens, but we believe its usefulness is limited. Landscape cloth, also known as landscape fabric or weed barrier, is a porous, woven or spun, man-made material. Most do their intended purpose of inhibiting weed growth in beds covered with the material. In general, they are not particularly unhealthy for native plants. However, there are any number of problems that they are prone to creating.

The first problem is that they don't stop all weeds. Any holes cut in the material to allow penetration of garden plants also allow penetration of weeds. Invariably, weeds take advantage of this opportunity.

Second, some weeds easily penetrate many weed barriers as if there was no barrier there at all. Then it's difficult to remove the weeds because you can't get at the roots. The needle-like leaves of emerging nutsedge (Cyperus spp.) plants are a good example of this.

Most landscape fabrics get clogged with fine dust particles, fertilizer salts and calcium from irrigation water over a period of time. This clogging makes the weed barrier an effective water and air barrier as well. This, of course, is then a serious issue.

Having to stop and cut holes in your landscape fabric every time you want to plant is a hassle. Also, many groundcovers need to be able to put down roots along their stems to spread. Beds with weed cloth in place do not allow for this.

Finally, many gardeners struggle with keeping mulch spread over their landscape cloth. Rain, wind, cats and dogs have a way of moving mulch off of the relatively smooth weed cloth surface leaving it exposed and unsightly. Sloping beds are especially susceptible to this problem.

It seems to us that a native garden should be as much like nature made it as possible. Nature does not utilize landscape fabric.

 

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