We are occasionally asked for yard advice.  It’s true!  We have very few hard and fast rules, but if there’s one that we all agree on it’s that the black plastic weed barrier is only going to give you headaches.  For a long long time.  Here’s why:

  1. It’s slippery.  Unless you are putting a good three or four inches of bark, mulch, or other material on top of it, you are going to watch it all slip off at some point.  If it’s on any kind of hill, this is guaranteed to happen.
  2. It kills the weeds. And the good stuff too.  Along with weeds growing in your beds are lots of microorganisms and earthworms that are doing what they should be doing to your soil.  Healthy soil is alive.  It’s what makes your plants, trees, and garden grow.  There’s a great blog about this here: http://www.northcoastgardening.com/2010/10/why-i-hate-landscape-fabric/
  3. It never goes away. Because it’s plastic!  Over time it will start to crumble and then it looks like this:Black Plastic Weed Barrier
  4. You’ll need more than a 2″ layer to cover that up.  And 2 inches is what we recommend every 18 months to 2 years.  You could put down the plastic, wait for it to look like this in a few years, and then either pull up the plastic or put six inches of bark on top of it.
  5. Weeds will still grow. The customers we have who are considering this route are planning on covering it with an organic mulch.  The weed seeds will still grow in the mulch.  In fact, they may take root through a crack in the plastic.  When you go to pull up the weed, up comes the plastic too.

So what are your alternatives?  There’s a black landscaping fabric that is more like a fabric, which allows some sunlight to penetrate it and not everything will die beneath it.  You do run the risk of weeds coming up through it and the mulch you’ve put down, making pulling weeds even more arduous.  What we recommend most is to lay down recycled corrugated cardboard and cover that with bark or mulch of your choice.  This will smother the weeds and also break down into the soil over time.  Fall is a great time to do this as A Way to Garden points out here.  Keep up on your mulch application each year and you’ll have fewer weeds, and happier soil.

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