At Blue Gables Farm, we plant almost everything in landscape fabric. It’s pretty incredible stuff. Somehow It lets air and water through but blocks sunlight. That doesn’t seem quite possible, does it? Anyway, it really keeps the weeds down.
The landscape fabric is a tight weave of black plastic fibers with what looks and feels like a felt backing. You put the felt side down. We hold it in place with steel landscape staples. You would think that the black color would make it hot, but it doesn’t get that hot, even in full sun. And the felt backing serves to retain moisture, which reduces the amount of watering necessary.
This fabric typically comes in 3-, 4- and 6-foot-wide rolls that are between 25 and 200 feet long. You can cut it to length by melting it in half using a propane torch. The fabric melts pretty quickly, so be careful. Cutting it this way also melts the would-be frayed edges so that it doesn’t unravel.
We also use the torch to burn round holes through the fabric. Those holes are where we transplant ceilings or sow seeds. Typically holes are spaced 6, 9 or 12 inches apart on center.
The first time we used landscape fabric we use the 6-foot-wide rolls, but we found that when plants matured it was sometimes hard to reach blooms in the center of a bed that wide, so now we use mostly 3-foot-wide rolls with a few 6-footers.
We typically work the ground and roll out the fabric just before we’re ready to transplant seedlings or sow seeds. This retards weed growth and helps prevent soil compaction.
In the beginning we made our holes a little larger than they needed to be, which allowed more weeds grew up around our flowers. Now we try to make the holes about 2 inches in diameter, which is large enough for most plants to grow and small enough to deter weeds. The only downside with the smaller holes is that sometimes it’s hard to pull root balls up through them at the end of the season, especially with sunflowers, amaranth, and other large-stalk varieties.
Another lesson we learned the hard way is that you either need to cover your aisles with landscape fabric, which can be expensive, or allow enough space between beds to get a lawnmower in to cut grass and weeds in the aisles. Also, if the aisles are too narrow it’s hard to pass through them without getting your arms scratched or legs wet with dew.
Landscape fabric Is UV resistant and lasts for about five years before it starts to break down. It’s pretty expensive stuff, so you need to budget for replacement. It will last a little longer if you take it up at the end of the growing season and store it out of direct sunlight. Some farmers replace 20% of their fabric each year to avoid large expenses every five years.