It seems that along with the frightening proliferation of over-mulching, there is another supposed time-saver, one which neither saves time in the long run, nor is beneficial to the garden: landscape fabric. (aka landscape cloth, weed barrier)
I heard garden speaker and writer, CL Fornari, ranting about it at one of her talks. If you go to her blog, she has written a good article on the subject. CL feels (and I agree) that landscape cloth only blocks weeds for a year or two, then they begin to grow right through the fabric, which breaks down in the sun. (true!) But it also prevents organic matter from entering the soil from the top. (not good) It’s a big hassle to have to dig holes in it when you plant something, and it is difficult to remove because it rips but does not disintegrate. On top of that, you can damage the fine roots of surrounding plants when you pull it out. “Beware of life’s quick fixes”, CL warns, and I’m with her.
Now there is yet another reason to avoid landscape cloth: it can kill songbirds. In the January/February 2010 issue of “Bird Watcher’s Digest” Kevin J. Cook warns that as the cloth ages, it becomes exposed and frayed. Those frayed strips attract birds who use it in their nests. They – and their nestlings – can become entangled in the strips and die.
I think many gardeners avoid this stuff, because we realize that maintenance, like weeding, is part of having a garden. But people who want “low or no-maintenance” gardens (whatever those are) will jump at the chance to avoid actually having to work in their gardens. For them it is an unpleasant chore rather than a relaxing pastime. Unfortunately, municipalities use it like crazy, too.
In the spirit of fair play, I think landscape cloth can be useful when used on pathways between rows in vegetable gardens. Some gardeners also find it good for keeping the soil from running out of containers.
But overall, when a product has dubious benefits and can actually be harmful to the ecosystem, in my opinion, it’s time reconsider.
 This article is available in the printed magazine only (page 81). I could not find it online.
Well said, I have little respect or use for the cloth. And now songbirds! Didn’t know this.
Zealous use of landscape cloth and tornado mulching around trees drive me crazy. How did these trends start?
I really can’t say when they began, but landscapers and TV shows are perpetuating them. As for the mulch, when I was out today, the landscapers were busy burying those poor trees’ trunks in piles of dyed red “cedar” mulch. Yuck!
Oh my goodness, I hate this stuff. When we bought our home last year, this stuff was all over the garden, and because the garden had been neglected for a few years, weeds, grass and other greenery had grown right through it. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown by the time I removed it. Never again!
I’d rather pick weeds by hand each day than use this stuff again. Yuck!
I hear you! We just moved into a new house this year, and there’s frayed landscape cloth in the garden. I am dreading the task of removing it!
I hate this stuff too! Several years ago, I was tired of pulling all of the weeds and volunteer seedlings from the square section with a birdbath that is in the center of my raised bed herb garden. I used the landscape cloth and thought that some of the small white stones (another thing I hate now!) might set the area off. After two years, I noted weeds and seedlings popping up between the stones. I neglected it for a year or so more and when I couldn’t stand it anymore, tried to rip it out. There was a massive tangle of roots all through the fabric and the stones. What a mess! After a week of battling and throwing it all out, I went back to chunk pine mulch and pulling the occasional weed.
Well, I guess we can all be fooled once….
Glad you were able to rip yours out. I hope it didn’t take too many of your plants with it!