Who uses landscape fabric and why?

The landscape fabric has been removed and compost added. Soon the space will be completely replanted.

Last fall I had the idea of doing something nice for the rather boring and minimalist plantings outside my office. The building itself is great—an 85k-square-foot former railway signal factory (circa 1904–6) that has been repurposed into a mixed use complex including our offices, residential units above, banquet spaces, a yoga studio, a bar, and an inner courtyard that had previously been completely hidden from public view because all the windows were bricked over. I love my office; it’s one of the coolest places to work in town.

However. The few planted areas (aside from the courtyard, which is green and beautiful) are pretty dismal. There isn’t much green space in front, as this is in an industrial streetscape; gardens start to appear behind us on the residential side streets. The triangular planted areas in front of the complex are filled with a few shrubs, daylilies and hostas, with—considering how small the spaces are—an overabundance of bare mulch. I found out why this was when I decided to perk things up a bit by adding 100 daffodil bulbs, tightly planted on either side of the central shrub (some kind of serviceberry, I think). My spade was impeded by a black barrier underneath the mulch. I saw that it was everywhere and tore enough away so that I could get the bulbs in. The soil underneath came away in large heavy clumps; I broke it up as much as I could with my shovel, and piled it back on the bulbs, hoping they’d be able to get through it. (Of course, I do not own this space, our company leases here and we have no responsibility for the landscaping.)

The daffs did come up this month, and I guess they only served to remind my boss of how dismal the rest of it is, so we are completely redoing the bed with the landlord’s permission. I’ll get to that later. The thing is, why landscape fabric? I saw weeds come up through it so it can’t be that—anyway, they had piled mulch on top of it, which works just as well and benefits the soil in the process (though not when it’s on fabric). Shouldn’t this crap be outlawed? It suffocates the soil, probably acting as a better barrier to water and oxygen than weeds. Who does this? Why do they do it? How can we stop them?

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on May 3, 2016 at 11:54 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy, Shut Up and Dig.

Comment List

  • Chris - PEC 19 / 09 / 2016

    I find it a useful barrier between soil and informal gravel patios and pathways. Keeps the gravel from disappearing; makes it easy to pluck errant weeds trying to root in the gravel. I’ve not noticed weeds coming through it except at seams where two pieces meet. That said, it takes only about 10 – 12 years for enough detritus to build up in the gravel itself to support plants (weeds, perennials, trees…) to the extent it becomes a nuisance and the area needs to be re-thought. In my experience, anyway.

  • Patricia 07 / 10 / 2016

    As a professional garden designer and gardener, I despise the stuff. It prevents moisture and air from reaching the soil, prevents a lot of the shallow roots of shrubs and trees from reaching the soil and creates a place for a lot of roots to really hang on to making them near impossible to remove except with chemicals. This stuff is what landscapers (i.e.: guy with truck and lawnmower) puts in because he has no specific plant knowledge. More and more homeowners use these guys for maintenance and now believe the plastic barrier to be “the proper way”.

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