How to Install Landscape Fabric and Plastic

Using Landscape Fabric Wisely

Some gardeners swear by landscape fabric while others hate it. There are some definite benefits, as well as clear disadvantages, to using these products. Here are some tips for getting the best results from landscape fabric or plastic:

Replace the fabric/plastic and mulch every few years.

  • As your mulch layer decomposes, it will form a nice layer of compost on top of the fabric, which allows weed seeds to sprout on top of the fabric. The mulch and fabric need to be replaced every so often or it stops working.
  • Landscape fabrics and plastics degrade over time, leaving bits of shredded synthetic material in the soil. Meanwhile, those rips and tears allow weeds to penetrate and can entangle your plant roots. Breakdown is faster in sunlight, so make sure you have plenty of mulch.

Use drip irrigation or place soaker hoses under the fabric.

  • Water follows the path of least resistance, and at least some of it is likely to run off the fabric rather than soaking through. To prevent this from happening, use targeted watering rather than overhead watering.

Use landscape fabric and plastic only when needed.

  • The barrier of the fabric or plastic can interrupt the natural ecological balance, including the life cycle of insects, birds feeding, and the natural composting of organic matter. Even if it is “breathable,” landscape fabric will slow the rate of water evaporation and can contribute to mold growth.
  • Shrubs and trees with landscape fabric often grow more shallow roots than those without it, which makes them less healthy overall and less drought-tolerant. Over time, plant roots can become tangled in the fabric, making it difficult to maintain the area.
  • In general, your garden will always be healthier if nature is uninterrupted. While landscape fabric may be safer than chemical weed killers, it is still a synthetic material that blocks natural processes in the soil.


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27 Comments on “How to Install Landscape Fabric and Plastic”

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  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    May 24th, 2019 at 11:13 am

    That’s the way to do it. Sounds like you’re well on way to stopping those weeds, Carolyn. Thanks for sharing!

  • carolyn wilkinson Says:
    May 23rd, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    hello I’m having weeds grow in my flower bed so I put newspapers and cardboard down sprayed water to it down than put down mulch. now I want to put down plastic paper will that stop the weeds..

  • Kathleen smith Says:
    July 17th, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    I went to this site to find the best plastic fabric to lay down. I have an idea now after reading about a thick plastic liner. We have thes sprouts from lilac trees all over a path that we walk on every day ! I am not worried about future plants. We struggle with a baby carriage on this “lilac sucker ” walkway ! I am hopeful that heavy plastic with crushed stone and stepping stones can work !

  • Beth Says:
    June 10th, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    So, I’ve just spent the last four weekends removing the landscaping fabric that the previous owners installed… still not completely done but it’s exhausting work…. the dirt underneath is tan colored with no worms or healthy looking material anywhere. Pulling the fabric away from the bases of my bushes, just roots and not a speck of dirt…only air, pretty sure that’s not good and probably the reason I lost five bushes…and since I have about 40+ more bushes and crape mrytles, the fabric has to go. So just a bit of advice…the feeder roots will cover the top and grow through the fabric, the mulch will slide away with rain and wind leaving the fabric exposed, the soil will be useless and the plants will die. The material on top of the fabric was dark and healthy looking, tons of worms and organic material that would have so been a benefit to the dirt underneath the fabric:(. Also, that weed barrier will prevent growing under the fabric but seeds will love the organic compost on top…still leaving you with weeds. A good thick layer of compost and mulch will have a better impact on your soil and if you pulled the weeds as they appear vs. trying to prevent an impossible task you’ll save yourself time and back pain later. Good luck.

  • Frances Blevins Says:
    June 29th, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    Our landscaper says he will put down swimming pool liner as a weed barrier on a small slope in our backyard and then put a layer of river rock over the liner. Is this ok, what kind of disadvantages to this?

  • Kelly Forbes Says:
    June 12th, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    And to answer the question about which side goes up…the landscapers who have put in some weed barrier fabric, have put the shiny side up. That is, however, the really thick, hard to cut fabric if you ever want to plant in it.

  • Kelly Forbes Says:
    June 12th, 2016 at 8:23 pm

    I have used weed block fabric for years and I will not do it anymore. I agree that the soil underneath is not healthy. If you use the kind that is more fabric-like, it has lots of fibers that bugs get caught in, and I’m a fan of all critters that gardens attract. It is also extremely difficult to try to plant anything after cutting the weed cloth which is a pain, then the soil is terribly compacted. I lay newspaper or paper bags cut to fit under the mulch and that works great to kill the grass and eventually breaks down so you have to keep it mulched. I thought I might try that with a trap rock that I have to find a use for as I am taking it out of some areas but not sure how deep of a layer I will need to keep it mostly weed free without weed barrier cloth.

  • Madina Says:
    June 9th, 2016 at 10:24 am

    How can I apply underground plastic netting in the garden? I realized that’s what was keeping the weeds and root growth from other growth down! Now trees are sprouting up everywhere’ and weed are in abundance….HELP!!!!?

  • Paul Says:
    June 3rd, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Shine side up or felt side?

  • david vincent Says:
    May 29th, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Hi i have just started with a green house i was thinking of having gravel down both sides with weed fabrick underneath do i put cuts in the fabrick to let the water run away after watering the pot plants i will put on the gavel please help thank you

  • Raisa Sarangi Says:
    February 10th, 2016 at 1:31 am

    Can I place landscaping fabric over the grass?
    I want to place some stones in my front garden.

  • Irene Says:
    December 31st, 2015 at 9:28 am

    Thank you for the article. And thank you for all other responders which help me decide not to install the fabric. I definitely don’t want to kill the soil and deal with the decayed fabric in the long run.

  • Rae Says:
    October 13th, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    I only use this in areas that I don’t plant. Areas that will hard scared in the future or where plants overwinter in pots. Or over vegetable beds that sleep for the winter and I’m not cover cropping.

  • Jon H Says:
    August 26th, 2015 at 4:35 am

    Hi Dan,
    If you have the correct woven fabric (100gsm or heavier) you will be able to cover the entire area without having to clear it.

  • Dan Says:
    August 6th, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    i am wanting to put the fabric around some shrubs I planted last spring. Can I lay it over the top of the grass or will I need to skin it off clean?

  • Elizabeth Says:
    June 24th, 2015 at 11:30 am

    I have to echo Dawna & KP here you guys. We bought our house 2 years ago much to my excitement of all the flower beds that were mostly blank slates. Come to find out the previous occupants’ version of gardening involved landscape fabric with tons of mulch, layer after layer, year after year. Unless you want people later on down the line to have a heck of a time undoing your “work”, please … PLEASE – Step away from the landscape fabric.. lol

    The soil under the fabric looks like dead, compacted clay. I don’t even know how plants survive the fabric when it’s blocking all the good nutrients from getting down to the roots (which seemed to grow UP thru the fabric in search of nutrients). And it certainly doesn’t block weeds in the long term. The only thing it’s blocked is my efforts to have a healthy soil/planting bed 🙁

  • Laurie Sharp Says:
    May 26th, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    We are in the beginning stages of replacing turf with drought tolerant landscape. Bark, with a rock river and converting to drip. My husband insists on using the fabric and after reading this page I am unsure. We are on a slope and I am not wanting to do this again, it is hard work so would appreciate your advice.

    Thank you

  • Gayle Taxdal Says:
    April 27th, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    Which side goes down when using landscape fabric, the plastic black side or the lighter colored side?

  • Cynthia Says:
    December 4th, 2014 at 9:38 am

    I have an area adjacent to my pool deck which is slightly higher than deck and I have a small palm planted there and plastic edging along my deck. I want to keep soil around the palm from eroding down onto my pool deck. I would like to use plastic and river rock . Will that keep the soil from eroding?

  • joyce Says:
    October 28th, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Plastic turf for playground area for my gradkids.Do you have to treat the area? One of the kids allergic to grass,I want him to play as the others. Please let me know . Thank You very much

  • Chris Says:
    September 4th, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Can I use my old intex Pool liner which i will cut into circles and top with mulch or rocks around my trees to keeps grass from growing around.

  • ginger Says:
    June 27th, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    If I lay down plastic for my flower bed will my lily grow and come up every year more and more like they normal do or should I leave the plastic out

  • Holly Says:
    January 2nd, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I have a large, deep flower bed that has been a beautiful, “curb appeal” that runs between the house and driveway. I have enjoyed it for 25+ years, but it has gotten to be more than I can take care of. I want to zero scape it with river rocks. I have a sprinkler system. I am leaving a few large crape myrtles and pecan trees in the bed. I’m told that I need to place the plastic down before covering with the rocks, otherwise the rocks will sink into the existing mulch/soil. I Don’t think I want to do this because I feel the plants will not do well. Sooo, lay plastic or not?

  • KP Says:
    February 25th, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I’m pulling ten year old plastic out of gardens, flower beds, etc right now. I used to be ok with it, until I saw the soil compaction problems-seriously, everything under the plastic is dead soil (and the soil over it is loaded with nasty stuff, since it prevented natural soil filtration to occur). Not only that, but all winter, we had drainage problems throughout the beds. As I’ve pulled the plastic, the problem has disappeared. I will never use plastic ever again. Mulch is way better weed control method for the ecosystem and my house’s foundation!

  • Brian Says:
    May 23rd, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Is there a top and bottom side to landscape fabric?

  • Dawna Says:
    February 20th, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    I’m so glad I found this site. I’ve been struggling with bits of plastic EVERYWHERE I work in the yard of the fixer upper we moved into last summer. The plastic was laid down about 20 years ago and, from the looks of it, bushes were planted right on top. I have root systems from butterfly bushes, lilacs, blackberries, roses, and evergreens all growing across the sheeting, under all the weeds that have grown anyway. It’s such a nuisance! I think I’d rather have just weeds to pull!

  • Michelle Says:
    April 17th, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I am looking for long narrow strips of plastic to lay for a shelter belt we’re planting on our farm. I have seen farmers with them but don’t know where a person would find such a product. thanks for your help.

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How to Install Landscape Fabric and Plastic