The Nasty Truth About Weed Fabric. It Doesn’t Work.
Another problem with weed fabric is that it not only creates a barrier for weeds (theoretically) but it also creates a barrier for the roots to grow deeper into the soil. As our Facebook reader Prudently Frugal Homestead says, “I never understood it. Plants have roots that go several feet down, so if planting in a raised bed, if it works, it seems it would hinder your garden plants.” That’s exactly right. If you misjudge the depth of your bed the roots will have nowhere to grow and you will have the same problem you would have with a container, your plant will become root bound. The barrier also seals off all the good things in the soil that your plant needs, which we will discuss in a moment.
So What Is the Answer?
Actually, the answer is even more simple than weed fabric (if weed fabric worked like it should). Wet newspaper or cardboard. That’s right. Newspaper or cardboard. It works better than weed fabric and it is beneficial to your garden. By laying down cardboard or newspaper just as you would weed fabric you will create a weed barrier that is biodegradable and will breakdown and feed your garden. *
Make sure that the newspaper you use it not the glossy kind and that you use pages with minimal color ink as color ink has heavy metals which will be released into your soil.
Bonus Reader Tip: Another great option, in addition to newspaper and cardboard, is to use paper feed bags cut down the side, opened up, and laid out. Big thanks to our Facebook Follower Star B. for this tip.
How to use it.
Ideally, this would be done in the fall, after you have pulled your dead plants up for the winter. That way you could lay your soil/compost over the top to breakdown over winter. Then next spring, simply plant in your garden and add a new layer of newspaper, cardboard, feed bags, or paper grocery sacks. Cut a slit in the material and sow your plant or seed through the slit. If you are starting in the spring as I am, place your soil over the newspaper or cardboard, then place a new layer on the top just as you would if you had prepped the bed the previous fall, plant, and mulch. The bottom layer will eventually break down. Then each year as you pull up your plants, you continue to layer over more cardboard, newspaper, kitchen scraps, leaves, and anything else that you compost. This will allow you to compost right in the bed over the winter months, cover with a new layer of barrier and repeat the cycle. You will likely notice that your plants are in far better shape than the year before and if you have any weeds pop-up, you will be amazed at how easy it is to pull them from the rich, loose, compost soil. Some people prefer to till the beds each year to help break it all up, but I am of the mind that I don’t till. If you till too deeply you can actually disrupt all the wonderful things occurring in the top few inches of soil.
A bonus benefit.
When using the lasagna method I described above, you not only get the benefit of very few, if any, weeds, but you will also not create a barrier between the plants and the soil below where you have been creating a perfect environment for:
- mycorrhizae fungi – ” ‘Mycor’ and ‘rhiza’ literally means ‘fungus’ and ‘root’ and defines the mutually beneficial relationship between the plant and root fungus. These specialized fungi colonize plant roots and extend far into the soil. Mycorrhizal fungal filaments in the soil are extensions of root systems and are more effective in nutrient and water absorption than the roots themselves. More than 90 percent of plant species in natural areas form a symbiotic relationship with the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. (Dr. Michael Amarathus)” (The Dirt Doctor)
- worms – Worms are beneficial in several ways including “tilling” the soil by constantly tunneling and turning it. Worms also leave behind castings (which is just a fancy way of saying worm poop) which are great for your garden. In fact, there are entire set-ups that homesteaders use to grow their own worm farms so that they can collect the castings for their garden.
- beneficial bacteria – along with mycorrhizal fungi and worms, certain bacteria are important to the health of your soil and are necessary for healthy plants.
Wait! Don’t throw away that weed fabric just yet.
It isn’t completely useless. I have the perfect solution for you if you’ve already purchased a roll and now you’ve decided that it isn’t for you. It is perfect for creating pallet planters like our vertical pallet planter which will be getting a whole new crop of herbs very soon.
I hope that this year you will consider saving the weed fabric for some pallet planters, keeping it out of the garden, and rounding up some cardboard, newspapers, paper feed sacks, paper grocery bags, and compost for your garden. Your soil will thank you and your plants will love you. Have a great day and God bless!