Still, you can see plants creeping in on edges of the pathway and under the concrete bench.
Unfortunately, mulch breaks down quickly making the area the perfect home for weeds.
And it is not just the weeds that are a problem. It's all the prolific self-seeders, like the forget-me-nots and the eggplant-colored geraniums, that I planted in the surrounding flowerbeds.
By mid-summer the forget-me nots and geraniums have self-seeded and the weeds have moved in.
The result is that I have a real mess on my hands in July and August! I can't tell you how many hours I have spent trying to keep this mulched area weed-free this summer.
The only way I think you could get mulch to work as a covering for landscape cloth is to rake it all up and replace it periodically through the growing season.
Money was tight when we came to doing the gravel courtyard at the back of the garden. We had moved in the year before and already had replaced the furnace, the roof and all the eves troughs.
So when we went shopping for landscape fabric, we favoured price over quality.
Compounding the problem, we made the top layer of gravel far too thin.
In areas, like the one under the two boys, the fabric has failed utterly making it easy for the weeds to move in.
With the top layer of gravel removed, you can see
clearly the sorry state of the cheap cloth underneath.
We are now looking at the possibility of having to redo the whole area.
If we do decide to move forward next spring, we will have to rake back all the gravel, remove all the old cloth in its ratty state and then lay new cloth.
What a nightmare!
Landscape Cloth: Does it really work?
In my humble opinion, landscape cloth laid correctly deters weeds best in the first few after installation.
Then it wears and seeds take advantage of even the tinniest pin-sized holes.
Even if you rake your gravel routinely, debris quickly builds up on the surface and then breaks down forming the perfect growing medium for sallow rooted weeds like plantain.
The weed Plantain has moved into this area where crushed limestone and flagstone sit on top of landscape fabric. Plantain (right) can easily withstand drought, so it is quite happy finding a home amongst the flagstones.
The Reasoning against using Landscape Cloth:
• It's not cheap. The rolls of good quality cloth (4' wide by 50' long) we've bought are $30-$40 a roll. Then add in the cost of the pins or fasteners you need to hold the cloth in place. Finally there is the cost of the pea gravel or other surface material to go on top.
• The descriptive name"cloth"or "fabric" makes it sound pretty benign, but in reality, landscape fabric it is a petroleum product. This is a disturbing fact that I learned only recently. I have always prided myself on the use of good organic practices. To think I have unwittingly installed a petroleum product, that could be leaching chemicals into my soil, is frankly horrifying.
• It is time consuming to install and even more time consuming to replace.
• But my number one reason against using landscape fabric is that it doesn't work all that well over the long haul.
Alternatives to Using Landscape Cloth:
If knowing landscape fabric has a questionable chemical makeup and is a potentially ineffective weed barrier makes you hesitate to use it, what are the alternatives?
Sadly nothing seems to present itself. Corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newsprint are temporary weed blocks at their best.
Truth be told, I find myself in quite a quandary as to how to readdress the areas where we have used landscape fabric.
What to look for when buying Landscape Fabric:
How can you spot poor quality landscape cloth apart from price? It tends to be thin and almost transparent. The fabric weave is uneven. The cheap stuff is guaranteed for 10 years or less.
Before you purchase this type of product, you have to ask yourself: do I really want to redo all this work ten years from now?
Most good quality landscape fabric has a 20 or 25 year guarantee. It's has a heavy weight and isn't at as transparent. Most importantly the weave has even, uniform quality.
The only drawback to this more dense fabric is that water seems to pass through it more slowly. When I removed the top layer of cedar mulch, I found moss growing on the surface of my landscape fabric.
How to Install Landscape Fabric:
If you are creating a pathway or courtyard, you will be covering the landscape fabric with another material like pea gravel. This top layer should be at least two or three inches in depth to both protect and hide the cloth underneath. To allow for the top covering, you therefore need to begin by digging out the project area to the proper depth.
Once the area is dug out, the ground must be levelled.
Next, prepare the area carefully removing any surface stones that might create holes in your landscape fabric.
Lay out the sections of your landscape fabric. Overlap pieces of fabric by at least 8". (In the how-to article referenced at the end of the post, they actually recommend a full 12" overlap.)
U-shaped pins are generally recommended for holding landscape fabric in place. We have found however, that the standard pins heave terribly when the ground warms each spring. (I trip over old landscape pins that have lifted out of the gravel every spring!)
In our most recent installation we switched to using spikes and washers. We find the 6" galvanized spikes don't heave when the weather warms.
Please make no mistake; these spikes aren't nails. Nails could be potentially dangerous! Spikes aren't as sharp as nails, and they won't rust, because they are galvanized.
U-shaped pins are sold in garden centres along with landscape fabric. Galvanized spikes and appropriately sized washers can be found in any big box hardware section.
Here is one last, but very important tip: landscape fabric tends to lift where two pieces of fabric overlap.
It is really important to use u-shaped pins or spikes at least every 3" or 4"along any join. This may seem like a bit of overkill, but trust me, the last thing you want to see is an ugly flap of landscape fabric where it has lifted along a join.
So what am I going to do about my sorry looking gravel pathways?
I haven't decided, but I do know that I won't lay any new areas with landscape cloth!
Read The Myth of Landscape Fabric by Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University.
North Coast Gardening: Why I hate Landscape Fabric: An Unfair and Unbalanced Look at Weed Cloth and Professional Tips for Using Landscape Fabric Right by landscape designer Genevieve Schmidt
The Landscape Fabric Weed Barrier Myth by Todd Heft on Big Blog of Gardening.
Lots of people will tell you to put down newspapers are a weed barrier. Before you consider it, read this: Is Newspaper Toxic for my Garden? by Peter Kearney of Cityfood Growers.com.
Garden Prep: How to Make a Bed, with Cardboard by Margaret Roach of the blog A Way to Garden.