Skip Richter, based in Houston, is a popular speaker for garden clubs, Master Gardener programs, and other gardening events across Texas. He has...Full Bio


Why I don't recommend weed-blocking fabrics

A caller the other day asked me why he never hears me recommend weed-blocking fabrics.  

While I always thought weed-blocking fabrics were theoretically a great idea, the reality is that they don’t work in Southeast Texas landscapes. In fact, they create more problems for the future.  

In the years I have been hosting GardenLine, more than one company has come to the KTRH sales department with pockets full of money wanting to advertise their weed-blocking innovation. Each time, I would tell the potential client, “You and I both know that this isn’t going to work here.” They’ve never tried to debate me. And they’ve never received my endorsement, either.  

My favorite way to control weeds is with generous amounts of mulch. And to be consistent with pre-emergent herbicides. 

If you do use a weed-block fabric, you’ll still have to cover it with mulch for aesthetic reasons.  And over time, good quality mulches break down into super-healthy top soil.  And here’s the irony: Weed seeds blow in, and weeds will grow like crazy in the topsoil above the weed-barrier cloth. But they don’t just grow on top of the cloth -- the roots will actually grow through the cloth into the soil below, making a huge mess of your planting beds. The weed-control fabric can’t get out of the way, nor can it be easily removed at this point. (BELOW)

Photo: Randy Lemmon

Often when a homeowner is frustrated by the mess that’s been created, they cover the fabric permanently and pass the problem along to curse the next homeowner.  So, in essence, while it doesn’t work forever, it sure does last forever.  

I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years talking about and working on countless landscapes.  Many have been re-landscapes, and we often had to deal first with weed-barrier cloth that was practically welded to the ground because so many weeds were growing through it. A nightmare job. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen weed-barrier cloth actually work … unless it’s used to create a "rock path."

Photo: Getty Images

For clarification, I have recommended such fabrics when working with river rock for drainage patterns or a swath between a landscape and the house foundation. It’s also helpful in rock gardens. In fact, in those cases, it’s an awesome product to keep the stones from working their way into the soil.  But you will still have weeds set up shop in the tiniest amount of dirt.  So, weed killing and weed preventing with pre-emergent herbicides will still be required in these situations.  And if you don’t stay on top of them, you will have a mess.  I promise.  

 In my humble opinion, and I have plenty of experience to back it up, weed-barrier fabrics and weed-barrier cloths simply do not work in this region!   Still, I know some people will use it.  And if they don’t engage in continuous weed killing, they will eventually have a bed full of weeds tangled up with the fabric. Worst of all, you can’t effectively use tools to remove the weeds because the cloth interferes with your ability to dig into the soil.  Y'all have to trust me … I’ve dealt with this so many times, it makes me crazy to think about it.  

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