Pulling Up Landscape Fabric: How To Get Rid Of Landscape Fabric In Gardens

Pulling Up Landscape Fabric: How To Get Rid Of Landscape Fabric In Gardens

By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer

You’ve just finished weeding your garden bed and are planning to order mulch, but you look back at the wake of your weeding in horror. Little black tufts of landscape fabric stick out of the ground everywhere. Now you’re faced with the question, “Should I remove landscape fabric?” Continue reading for tips on removing old landscape fabric.

Why Should I Remove Landscape Fabric?

There are valid reasons for getting rid of landscape fabric, or avoiding its use altogether. First off, does landscape fabric degrade? Yes! Over time, landscape fabric can deteriorate, leaving holes that weeds grow through. Torn bits and wrinkles of degraded landscape fabric can make even a newly mulched bed look shabby.

In addition to deterioration, the breakdown of mulch, plant debris, and other materials that blow into landscape beds can form a layer of compost on top of the weed block fabric. Weeds can take root in this layer of compost and, as they grow, these roots can poke down through the fabric to reach the soil below.

Cheap landscape fabric can tear when first installing. As you can imagine, if it tears easily, it’s not very effective against strong weeds that poke up through the soil and then the fabric. Thick landscape contractor weed block fabric is much more effective at keeping weeds from poking through. However, this high quality landscape fabric is costly and sediment still develops on top of it after a while.

If you have plastic landscape weed block, it should be removed as soon as possible. While plastic landscape fabric does kill the weeds below, it also kills the soil and any beneficial insects or worms by literally suffocating them. Soil needs oxygen to properly absorb and drain water. What little water is able to make it under the plastic weed block will generally just pool up from the lack of air pockets in the compacted soil below. Most landscapes do not have plastic weed block anymore, but you may come across it in old landscapes.

How to Get Rid of Landscape Fabric

Removing old landscape fabric is no easy task. Rock or mulch must be moved away to get to the fabric below it. I find it is easiest to do this is sections. Clear a section of rock or mulch, then pull up landscape fabric and cut it off with scissors or a utility knife.

If you choose to lay new fabric, use only top quality landscape fabric. Pin down the new fabric tightly, with no wrinkles, and then recover the area with rock or mulch. Continue removing rock or mulch, tearing out fabric, relaying fabric (if you choose to) and covering it back up with rock or mulch until all the sections of your landscape beds are done.

Be especially careful when pulling up landscape fabric around existing plants. Plant roots may have grown through the old landscape fabric. Without harming these roots, do your best to carefully cut away any bits of fabric around the plants.

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How to Replace Landscape Fabric

Professionally landscaped yards and gardens have a layer of landscape fabric, also known as weed-control fabric, under the plant growth. The fabric serves several purposes in support of growing healthy plants and vegetables. After a few years of exposure to rain and frost, the fabric will become compromised and not be as effective. When this occurs, the fabric lining will need to be replaced. While this task may take a considerable amount of time depending on the size of the area, the benefits to your garden and yard are well worth the investment in time and energy.

Step 1 - Measure the Area

Measure the area to be recovered. Once you have the precise measurements, visit a local garden supply store and purchase a sufficient amount of landscaping fabric to recover the affected area.

Step 2 - Clear the Protective Ground Cover and Old Landscape Fabric

Place and unroll the tarp outside the area to be cleared. Shovel or gently rake the mulch or other ground cover from the existing area onto the tarp. Discard the ground cover off the tarp into the trash, as it should not be reused. Once debris is cleared away, start at one side/edge of the fabric and begin pulling up the old landscape fabric. As you encounter a plant, work the fabric upward in a gentle manner over the existing plant to avoid any damage. Tear the fabric away from the plant or tear it away at the hole around the base of the plant. Discard the old fabric.

Step 3 - Prepare the Garden Soil

Use a garden claw and rake to loosen and aerate the soil. Extract all remaining weeds, rocks, mulch bits and other plant debris, then smooth out the soil so it is as level as possible. Spray an effective and safe weed killer—such as Preen—over the entire area.

Step 4 - Lay Down the New Landscape Fabric

Begin spreading the new fabric over the cleared area. When you come to plants, make a cut 6 inches in diameter over each plant you encounter. If you are laying landscape fabric pieces side by side, overlap the fabric edges by at least 6 inches.

Step 5 - Settle and Anchor the Landscape Fabric

Reach through the cuts and gently pull plants through the landscape fabric. If the plant is too big, increase the size of the cut and slide fabric over the plant. Patch a second layer of fabric over the enlarged slit. Secure the landscape fabric with the plastic or metal anchors all the way around the flowerbed, including across any overlapped panels.

Step 6 - Add Fresh Ground Cover

Pour a fresh layer of mulch or other ground cover onto the new landscape fabric. Cover to a depth of 1 inch so the landscape fabric is totally concealed. Taper the mulch layer near plant roots and tree trunks. Do not water if you have done so within 24 hours prior to replacing the fabric.

After replacing the landscape fabric, use a leaf blower frequently in autumn to clear away plant debris and fallen leaves from the mulch. Also keep lawn shavings cleared away from the mulch and landscape fabric on a regular basis as the debris is an ideal growth medium for weeds. Weeds will not penetrate the soil under the weed control fabric, but they will make your garden look untidy, and will provide homes for insect pests.

Landscape fabric has many other uses besides being a deterrent for weeds. Other uses include helping the soil around garden shrubs retain water, permit air in the soil, and allow nutrients to seep through and saturate the soil. If you choose to use organic mulch as a cover, the landscape fabric slows down the decomposition of the mulch, so it lasts longer. You can also use it when first transplanting cuttings. The fabric helps in supporting plants to grow strong and disease-free prior to planting in their designated flowerbed.


Where is the Best Place to Start When Redoing Your Entire Landscape?

I love my new home, but the landscape is a mess. Part of it is overgrown with shrubs, small trees, and vines. Other parts of the yard haven't been touched. Where and how should I get started on this enormous project?

Landscaping -- done well -- adds greatly to your property's value, but it should also suit your needs. Rather than starting with things you can add to your landscape, begin by removing the detractors. Then you can move on to adding landscape components that bring enjoyment and value to your home. Here are a few suggestions for breaking the task into workable steps:

Trees. Mature trees are a tremendous asset, but if branches are dying, rubbing against the roof, or threatening to fall in a storm, pruning or removal is in order. For work on tall trees, call in a professional.

Safety concerns. Does anything pose a safety hazard? For example, look for obstacles on pathways, foliage that blocks sight lines from sidewalks or driveways, crumbling retaining walls, drainage problems, or a blocked view of the front door.

Existing beds. Examine plants to see if they are healthy and uncrowded. If you notice disease problems, determine whether they are due to an environmental condition, such as compacted soil or poor air circulation.

Lawn. Is there an apparent problem with disease or weeds? How difficult is the terrain to mow? Is there too much lawn or not enough?

Curb appeal. Step across the street and look at your house for a few minutes. The front entry, and access to it, should be easy to see and look inviting. The trees, shrubs, and other plants should frame the home, make it look attractive, and not overwhelm it.

Professional help. Even if you're on a limited budget, consider getting professional landscaping help. The more difficult and expensive the project, the more likely you are to need someone trained in this field. A good landscape architect or designer can make suggestions at differing levels of expense. The expert can help you prioritize what needs to be done first and figure out which parts you can do yourself.

Mapping it out. Before you dig or plant, have the yard marked for utility lines, property lines, an irrigation system, or a buried pet fence. Avoid damaging the root systems of existing trees by digging too closely to them or compacting soil with heavy equipment. Check local regulations about planting near streets and sidewalks and about requirements for water gardens.

Anchoring plants. Trees and shrubs are usually the biggest plant investments in your yard, so choose carefully. Have some idea of what you want before you go shopping. Your cooperative extension service will have good information about plants that thrive in your area.

Hardscaping. Patios, decks, retaining walls, garden structures, and pathways can make a difference in how much you enjoy your property and can create more outdoor living space.

Flower beds. Adding flower beds can be a simple and inexpensive way to increase curb appeal. With any flower bed, soil preparation is key. Planting the right plants in the right soil is the first step toward that goal.

After you've made changes in your landscape, remember to take pleasure in it. Disappointed in what you see? That's all right you can change it again. Most gardens are a work in progress. The important thing is for you and your family and friends to be out there enjoying it!


How to price removing mulch, replacing landscape fabric, and spreading mulch.

Sergman89

LawnSite Member

I just started last year and this year is my first FULL year.
I would like to know what everyone suggests I should charge for replacing mulch and landscape fabric.

I know that if you double lay landscape fabric weeds dont grow through so fast and rarly at all, but will that strangle the plants?

They have a few flowers, shrubs, and trees inside the mulch area.

Its about 1500 square feet and I know that requires 10 cubic yards (read a few threads looking for the answer to this) but Im going to go with 11 cubic yards in case I make it to thick in a few places and also to look good.

I have no idea what a good price for this would be.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”

LawnSite Member

I wouldn't worry with the fabric nonsense if you're going back with mulch on existing mulch.

11 yards - material cost me $12/yard. I buy in bulk tractor trailer loads. Price to customer is 40/yard delivered. Labor we charge by the hour - gonna need to estimate how long you think it'll take to finish the job. This would have variables such as slope and ease of materials to job site, etc. However alot of guys price the materials and the labor into a $/yard of mulch - meaning they sell the customer the yard, truck it, and put it down for $x/yard.

Sergman89

LawnSite Member

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”

Lukemelo216

LawnSite Bronze Member

talk to you supply yard and as if they have contractor pricing. You might just need to simply get an account with your supply yard. Anyways generally speaking most people mark up product (mulch) 50-75% some people can get away with going higher, but since youre paying so much, you probably cant sell the mulch only for 60$. My crews can generally spread 1yd of mulch per half hour. That number sometimes is a little lower if we have to travel farther, but really its only 3 wheel barrows (we use 10cuft). That doesnt include detail work (weeding edging, etc) That is simply load the mulch, dump the mulch, and spread.

The thing to consider it, how much existing mulch is already on the beds? Is it very minimal or is it 2 inches all around? You probably will need a tractor and a dump truck since your taking that out. What I would do those is try to sell them on the fact that, the weed barrier isnt going to help them at all. Yes it will prevent weeds from coming in slightly from below, but once they start cutting the grass and some weed seeds land in the flower beds, they will just grow on top. Plus, that fabric is harmful to the plants roots. You would be better off simply spreading some snapshot 2 times a year on it, and just hand pulling weeds as they come up.

For the mulching alone with the price you stated for the mulch $30/yd I would be at $45/yd ($495) materials , and then $330 for labor. So $75/yd. Now that doesnt include edging pre-emergent or weeding. Those are additional costs and I dont add them in to the mulch cost.

To do that other stuff, if theres a decent amount of mulch, youre probably looking at easly 1/2-3/4 of a day with two people and a tractor. But we need more information about how you plan to do the job before we can assist you further


How to Plant Vegetables With Landscape Fabric

A layer of landscape fabric can block the growth of weeds while allowing water and air to reach the soil beneath. Used in a vegetable garden, landscape fabric will reduce the amount of time spent controlling weed growth compared to vegetable gardens not using landscape fabric. Landscape fabric can be 3 to 6 feet wide and 50 to 100 feet long. There is a simple technique to follow to plant vegetables with landscape fabric.

Prepare the soil of the vegetable garden, applying fertilizer or compost if desired.

Partially unroll the end of the landscape fabric parallel to any side of the garden. Secure the end with rocks, bricks, soil or landscape anchor pins. Landscape anchor pins are 4-inch-tall, U-shaped metal pins used to hold landscape fabric in place.

  • A layer of landscape fabric can block the growth of weeds while allowing water and air to reach the soil beneath.

Unroll the fabric across the garden and secure on the opposite side. Cut the fabric. Toss soil periodically along the length of the fabric to hold it down.

Start the second strip of landscape fabric parallel to the first. Overlap the layers about 2 inches. Weigh or pin down the beginning and end of the strip. Cut off the excess and continue the process of overlapping strips and weighing or pinning down the ends. Toss soil as needed on top of the strips to hold them down.

  • Unroll the fabric across the garden and secure on the opposite side.
  • Toss soil periodically along the length of the fabric to hold it down.

Place container vegetables on top of the landscape fabric in rows, properly spaced apart according to the vegetable planting guidelines, like 2 to 3 feet apart for tomatoes.

Use a utility knife to cut an X in the fabric at the location of the plant container. The X should be large enough for the container to fit through. Turn under the corners of the cutout, exposing the soil. Use a hand spade to remove soil, creating a hole large enough to fit the plant pulled from the container (pull the plant from a plastic container with peat pots, leave the plant in the container).

Plant seeds by measuring the planting distance according to the seed pack, like sweet corn planted 10 inches apart in each row. Cut an "X" 2 to 3 inches tall in the landscape fabric. Fold under the points of the "X" cutout and then push the seeds in to the proper planting depth.


Is Landscape Fabric EVER Not Horrible?

No holiday post from me – but I bet you’ve seen plenty lately and anyway, this post has been sitting in draft for ages.

From video by Land Designs in Connecticut

Because I watch so many gardening videos, I’ve naturally come across a few about landscape fabric, also called weed cloth. Though we associate its use with landscapers – bad ones – landscaper John Holden in Connecticut asks on video “Should I Have Landscape Fabric?” and answered with a resounding NO (so resounding, I added “NO” to the title when I embedded it). His point is that yes, it will prevent weeds for 3-4 years but he’s agin it because:

  1. It’ll form a “nice layer of soil on top, which will grow weeds in it.”
  2. The nice soil can’t mix with the soil below because of the fabric barrier (photo above).
  3. It’s a pain to work with – hard to move or add new plants because the roots get mixed up with the fabric. “Just gets messy.”
  4. Rhyzomes from the lawn can creep under the fabric and spread. “Just really nasty.”

Oh, and even worse than actual weed cloth? He’s seen people too cheap to buy the stuff putting plastic bags and tarps under their mulch!

Another landscaper – Jim Putnam of HortTubejudiciously titled his video “Pros and Cons of Using Weed Control Fabric.” He agrees with the short-term help with weed control but notes the problem that “Birds drop seeds, your mulch breaks down, and eventually you’re going to have an environment where weeds are going to come up, anyway.” Though at least “when the weeds first germinate, if you get them right away they’re very easy to pull on top of the fabric.” But just wait: “If they get rooted into the fabric (as it gets old), when you try to pull them out it’ll rip the fabric up.”

Jim Putnam with landscape fabric

Back to the advantages, this one’s telling: If you put the fabric under gravel and have “gravel regret” – which he’s seen many times, with customers needing to have their gravel removed – “it’s very easy to remove if there’s fabric underneath.” Which may be a case of two wrongs making a right.

But he hasn’t finished with the negatives. It’s an additional expense for a short-term solution, and it prevents soil improvement.

Jim also challenges an advantage he’s heard touted for fabric – that it holds moisture – declaring that that’s actually a negative because when he’s pulled it up on landscape jobs the soil smelled terrible underneath it. That’s because the fabric is holding water in place, but not allowing enough air through it for the material underneath to break down properly. “Dead plant parts can’t decay properly and it actually just rots.”

One video suggesting an exception to the never-use-the-stuff rule is by Laura at Garden Answer, who uses landscape fabric in her video “Planting the North Pole Arborviteas”. From about 3 to 3:50 minutes she addresses the issue, saying there’s “definitely some room for landscape fabric,” though she doesn’t recommend it “in areas where you’re continually changing things up.” In its defense she reminds us that it’s “better than chemically controlling weeds.” Well, there’s that.

I’d run out of videos on the subject, so asked Google to weigh in and found that the industry claims that the fabric “stabilizes soil, retains moisture, saves on mulch, aids in filtration, and minimizes weeding.” An alert commenter was quick to suggest: “Please update your research. Landscape fabric girdles trees, makes weeding more difficult, and deprives soil of water and oxygen.”

In the industry’s defense, they may have come up with a pitch that actually makes sense: “Of course, weed control isn’t just for planting beds. It’s also needed under decks, patios, and other hardscapes.” Okay.

More research led me to “6 Reasons why Landscape Fabric is a Bad Idea” from a lawn-care company, including this additional negative I hadn’t heard yet: “The fabric contains petroleum and other chemicals. Most gardening experts advise gardeners to avoid using petroleum products or products with chemicals around plants. This is especially true for those plants that are edible.”

And another negative to add to my growing list: “Re-seeding is almost impossible. One of the joys of gardening is to see which plants have re-seeded themselves in your yard year after year. When you use landscape fabric, it’s very difficult for plants to re-seed themselves. In addition, bulbs can get pushed around and may not return.”

Friend of Rant Genevieve Schmidt of North Coast Gardening offers lots of reasons to hate the stuff, including the one that would top my own list: “The fabric is butt-ugly.” She’s so right that it eventually gets exposed by wind, digging cats, heavy rains and so on. “And a black plasticky moonscape is exactly what we dream of when envisioning our ideal garden, riiight?”

I’m illustrating that truth with the shot above taken in my town, in a highly visible location.

Finally, an industry publication asks “Landscape fabric: yay or nay?”and makes the claim that “Before groundcover or shrubs can grow into a hillside, landscape fabrics can be used to prevent soil erosion.” I’ve seen it used on hillsides but isn’t that just asking for the mulch to go downhill and reveal the ugliness underneath? Or does ugly not matter in a short-term situation like that one? Really, does anyone know?


Considerate Care

The purpose of landscape fabric is to control weeds, and it’s bound to do its job effectively for the first year or two—but be prepared to pull weeds that may sprout on top of the fabric later.

You may wish to apply a pre-emergent herbicide to the top of the mulch, such as Preen (view on Amazon), at the start of every new growing season to help reduce blown-in seeds from sprouting. A pre-emergent herbicide won’t harm established plants.

Add mulch as necessary. You’ll probably need to with organic mulches that degrade and thin out over time gravel and rock mulch remain pretty much the same as when first applied.


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