Using heavy duty landscape fabric in the garden? Or other options for weed control!


#1

Has anyone used heavy duty landscape fabric (the professional grade, not the buy-at-local-hardware grade) in their vegetable garden? Pros and Cons? You can read my backstory below. :slight_smile:

We had our first garden at our new place this past year. We went big with high hopes but we didn’t succeed as well as we hoped. The biggest problem we encountered was wiregrass (I’ve always called it that; but maybe the same as bermuda grass?). The field we tried to turn into a garden had been a field of weeds for at least a few years though we found evidence of it being a garden or at least a flower garden at one time (rose tags). After pulling out incredible numbers of grapefruit and larger sized rocks(!) we tilled several times, letting the broken roots of the grass dry out thoroughly and then raking them out. That did kill most of the grass IF we were able to get deep enough in the ground to get out most of the root. Our mistake was we left large walkways between the rows that we didn’t plow or till, and the wiregrass quickly invaded the rows. Where we put cardboard or plastic along the side of the rows it halted or slowed it but since wiregrass can seed even if it is cut to only a few inches tall, baby plants starting springing up and we didn’t keep up with the weeding fast enough. It was a mess. We still had a good harvest but had other problems such a stinkbugs on our tomatoes that really deflated us. . .so many rotten tomatoes on the vine or ones that rotted within a day of being picked.

Next year our plans are for a much smaller garden. . .at least my plans. My husband is not so sure about a garden at all :slight_smile: and admittedly I am looking for a solution that won’t require the effort of hand weeding as we’re looking forward to the arrival of baby #3 in June! One thing we know is that in future we will plow and till ALL the ground and if we want grass in the walkways instead of bare dirt, we will plant rye or another cover crop. Normally I would just use newspaper and leaves or straw/hay around plants as we put them in the ground – these keeps out many weeds. But if there’s even the slightest root of wiregrass left this won’t work. I don’t want to use solid plastic, because our soil drains quickly and we need every bit of natural rain to reach the plants – we do have soaker hoses that can be put under plastic, but we mainly water with water saved in rain barrels. But I have been looking at the professional grade landscape fabric and wondering if it could work.

My questions are – how long would it last? Could it be weighed down with rocks and covered with a little straw during the growing season and then moved to a new spot next spring? (I’d want to make as few holes in it as possible, and plants like tomatoes require different spacing than lettuce. . .and we are big fans of crop rotation.)

I’d appreciate any experience y’all have with this or other suggestions for weed control! We are trying to do this organically.


#2

Old carpet can work, especially for paths through the garden. Gather it up in the fall or following spring and till the entire garden. Then reuse the carpet. ( At my dad’s place in California the nasty Johnson grass would eventually start growing up through it after a season, but in Wisconsin the weeds haven’t come through it. Just be sure to overlap it enough. I suppose it depends on the density of the carpet, also.) Cut the carpet into 4 x 5 foot or smaller pieces, as it can get heavy when wet and muddy. The easiest way to do this is to turn it over on the lawn or sidewalk and then use a box cutter on the back side. It slices through fairly easily then. A carpet store near us is happy to let us take carpet from their dumpster, as I assume they have to pay to dispose of it. Watch for staples along the edges. I have used carpet laid on untilled land for several months to effectively kill weeds for future garden areas. It also worked well around the squash plants and Prime Ark Freedom blackberries. Water will go right through it. I hope someday to make some hiking paths of carpet through the wooded portion of my rural acreage, as I don’t like walking through ticks or poison ivy. II’ll put wood chips over it, so it won’t look so silly there. With baby #3 due in June, keep the garden small. Congrats!


#3

Couple of years ago we had a patio put in and we had some leftover landscape fabric that went underneath the patio. It’s the kind that outdoor builders use. Not as flimsy as what you buy at lowes of HDepot.So I started using it in my flower beds. Good thing is no weeds made through it for two years. Probably won’t next year either. Not sure if you can relocate it, haven’t tried but my guess is you can because the second year I wanted plants in different locations and tried making holes here and there. The fabric is so thick and still in good shape that it wasn’t an easy task. As far as keeping weed at bay, all the credit should not go to the fabric as I also mulch thick.
But I’ve heard that landscape fabric in general is not a good weed barrier and it’s better to use mulch.


#4

The fabric might help some during one summer. But Bermuda will over run it if given the slightest chance.

You can kill Bermuda by covering a large area with black plastic for 3 yrs. You need heavy duty plastic and zero holes. Bury the edges in the soil. The plants must not get any light or they’ll hang on. After you kill it off it will move back in from the edges but you might get 2-3 yrs with few weeds.


#5

We use heavy mil plastic and it works well. We poke holes in areas we plant. Last a few years.


#6

Because of serious bind weed I started using woven landscape fabric in my vegie garden years ago. I staple it down between the raised beds every season because my raised beds are not confined by frames and I annually throw fallen soil back on top (this is the most productive method, IMO, because soil remains super aerated). This means I lift the fabric off every season, not just between rows, but also from over the beds themselves, except small stuff, like lettuce, many greesn and peas. Things that require a lot of space for individual plants (even corn) I cut openings in the fabric to plant them. I cover the fabric over the beds with some kind of mulch to help capture rain (the woven stuff can shed rain).

Dealing with fabric annually takes a lot of time, but not nearly as much time as it saves.

Some people just use cheap black plastic- especially weekend gardeners. They replace the crap annually. For them it is well worth it, apparently. To capture rain water you would need to make your planting mounds concave- something I even do when using the woven stuff- that water is precious, and when it comes down hard it is likely to run off the mounds (raised beds, in my case).


#7

I’ve been using the same landscape fabric for my watermelon patches
and my rose garden for the past 9 years. It keeps out weeds and helps
to retain moisture. The fabric in my rose garden is a permanent fixture,
while the fabric in my melon patches comes up every year, when I till the
patch and then it goes back down afterwards. I couldn’t garden without it,
and it’s not that expensive. A 300 ft. roll 4 feet wide is only $80.


#8

I use black plastic to cover the whole garden and slice x"s where needed on new pieces for planting holes. I buy 20x100 ft rolls for around 80 bucks. Also put cardboard down when I can find it. Helps to have a drip system under it though but not needed.


#9


#10

I know the question is about landscape fabric but I want to add how successful using a thick layer of woodchips as mulch to control weeds and grass. Didn’t do a thing to the grass that was already there just covered it with several inches of wood chips. In one summer the chips are already breaking down and turning to dirt. I have plenty of chips to keep adding more as they decompose.


#11

That’s what we do here, though we initially sheet-mulched with cardboard and newspaper, then spread the chips over that. Works well for us, and as you note, it degrades naturally and usefully. We just add new chips every year or two.


#12

Thank you! That is an awesome recommendation.


#13

I have friends doing the same thing. Do the fact that the wood chips aren’t decomposed yet (i.e. green compost) have any negative impacts on the veggies? I used to hear to use wood chips only for flower gardens.


#14

Something like this would be a last resort for us since our soil is pretty sandy and the only water we have on the property is our house well. We are using rain barrel water for most watering and at least how we have our system now we can’t use it with our drip hoses. But thank you especially for the picture!


#15

This isn’t what you asked about, but I thought I’d throw this out there:

You could always build raised beds, especially since you’re planning on a small garden. That’s what I do, and I actually have a Bermuda grass lawn.

First thing is to remove al the Bermuda grass underneath your planned raised bed area, then cover with several layers of heavy-duty cardboard.

Then, make your raised bed as high as you can, with the highest width board you can find. If you can find rot resistant wood (cedar, juniper, etc) that would be best, but even untreated pine will last around 4 years. So build it up as high as you can, and fill it with loose soil. Potting mix, or garden soil, some compost. Either way put in perlite until it’s nice and light.

Then, all around the outside of the bed, put down a thick layer of cardboard, carpet, etc, and then top with a thick layer of wood chips.

If you’re very paranoid, they sell metal edging that you can hammer into the ground around the outside of your raised bed. That will give you a few more inches of protection underground.

Then, plant as normal. A little mulch on top will help prevent airborne weed seeds from gaining purchase.

This is a lot of work up-front, but should pay dividends on the back end in far less time having to be spent weeding.

If you do get weeds or a little Bermuda, it is far easier to get them out by the root since the soil is so light. I can hand dig out my weeds quite easily. :slightly_smiling_face:

Also, since the raised beds will be off the ground, it will be a little easier to work with while pregnant. Not quite as much bending and stopping.


#16

I’m not so sure the carpet thing is a good idea, there are a lot of unpronounceable chemicals used in the making of it and it will most certainly break down and leach into the soil. Will it work. you bet your arse it will but there are many other free options.

Go to the big box store dumpsters or just talk to a manager and you will get all you can cart away.


#17

I use wood chips and shredded wood a lot for young trees, but over time weeds that thrive in it have tended to arrive at my site in NYS and bind weed is only one of several. Also fresh wood chips seem to sometimes stunt young vegetable plants. I think that it is natural chemicals of certain tree species (and not only walnut, either) that are at least partially to blame, and not simply bacteria playing N fetch from surface soil. Experiment with wood chips in the vegetable garden if you like, but don’t bet your whole crop on them until you know you like the results.

I do use shredded wood for my pepper plants, but that is on top of fabric after they are pretty well established and the weather turns hot.


#18

The thing about putting cardboard down at the bottom of a raised bed worked surprisingly well for me, (although not the lasagna technique itself). I would just mix the stuff up top normally.

Container growing works for me too. The 1000bulbs place seems to have the cheapest prices. I filled my containers with a mixture of screened compost a little peat moss and diatomaceous earth sweeping compound I got at the auto parts store.( “Optisorb” brand) although there are others. I put some of the chunkier bits of the compost toward the middle and bottom of the bag to help with drainage.

Not necessarily the ideal setup, but it worked, mostly used the materials I had on hand, and I didn’t have to spend a bunch of money on bagged potting soil. You can get any number of bulk amendments for your containers as needed at not horrible prices.

Overall, I’d say that the key thing for someone in OP’s situation is to make manageability the top priority and size of the operation the last priority; keep your stuff as close to the back door as practical.

As to the rest of the backyard, that’s why we have weed whackers.


#19

I appreciate all the advice and tips shared. Now I’m running into the issue of trying to decide WHAT weight of fabric/what specs to buy. I’d like something that would last at least 5 years (removing during the winter). But I’m seeing everything from fabric so tough that people say you have to use a torch to make a hole to fabric reviewers say not to walk on it or it will be ruined. . . ALL called “heavy duty.” I will end up walking on it since I am going to plant a smaller, tight garden this year. … if anyone has specific brand recommendations or minimum specs that have worked well for them I’d be thrilled to hear them! Thanks in advance. :slight_smile:


#20

I just used old/cheap tarps. Cover the entire garden area, hold the ends down with rocks or staples, cut slits for the plants. Solved my weed problem and helps hold moisture. Cheap, quick and easy, and works great.