A Gardening Oops: Landscape Fabric

We’ve reached the first of the month again. It’s time for me to share one of the blunders I’ve made in my thirty-plus years of planting, pruning, and in-the-soil gardening in Connecticut’s zone 6a. I call these first-of-the-month confessions Gardening Oops – or GOOPs for short. It’s a monthly meme I started more than two years ago. You can join this confessional. After all we all make mistakes. What’s important is learning from them. I share mine hoping you will learn something from my mistakes. After reading my GOOPs for June 2011, you can share a GOOPs of your own.

This month’s GOOPs involves landscape fabric and how it can/does become clogged with tiny soil particles.

A few seasons back my family built a manufactured block retaining wall extending on either side of a set of stairs. In a section off one side of the stairs sits a long planting bed about 15 inches wide and 3 feet tall. Following the recommendation of the block manufacturer, we installed crushed stone and perforated pipe over-layered with landscape fabric at the base of the planting bed and behind the upper portions of the higher wall. The landscape fabric is to prevent soil from filtrating into the rock and clogging the stone/perforated pipe which carries heavy water loads out of the base of the wall. About a foot of soil sits atop the landscape fabric in the planting bed and in the planting area along the upper wall.

The problem? We now have water-logged soil in the lower planting bed. The heavy snow pack from this past winter compacted the soil in the planting bed and the heavy rains of this spring kept the soil unusually moist. But the landscape fabric at the base of the soil does not allow moisture to easily drain from the bed leading me to believe it is clogged with tiny soil particles. Last spring I replaced half the soil in the bed with peat-based potting mix which seemed to help. However, this spring the soil remained too wet to accommodate the seeds I planted there. Lettuce seeds never sprouted, though seeds from the same packet sprouted well in a container on my deck. 

My suspicion that the landscape fabric was slowly becoming clogged was backed up by information provided during the Northeast Organic Farming Association Organic Land Care class I took this winter. Apparently the clogging issue has become more noted as the use of landscape fabric has become more popular.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA In my case the ultimate solution may be removal of all soil from the lower bed to refill with crushed stone – unless any of my incredible readers offer a better solution. But I’m in no mood, and have no time, to tackle this project this year. So my current remedy involved sinking clay pots into the planting bed (I dug out enough soil, down to the fabric level, to create a depression that holds each pot). The pots hold eggplants, peppers, and smaller-growing tomato varieties. I hope clay will keep the soil in each pot at a more growth-friendly moisture level.

I don’t know what our alternative to landscape fabric would have been in this situation, but I wish I had known of the clogging potential going into the project. I would have created a super fluffy soil blend to use atop the fabric.

Do you have a landscape fabric tale of woe or any other GOOPs to share?

Leave a comment below or share your GOOPs tale on you blog and leave a teaser comment to lead us to your Gardening Oops.

Happy gardening. May my GOOPs prevent you from making a similar blunder!

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18 comments for “A Gardening Oops: Landscape Fabric

  1. June 1, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Landscape fabric seems to create more woes than it cures. Edges curl up, weed roots take hold in it and can’t be torn out, and now you point out it clogs and won’t let enough water through. Eeesh. I like your temporary solution with the clay pots.

    My oops this month also involves too much water and is on my blog.

  2. June 1, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Joene, I think you’ve found a perfect solution to your [problem. Won’t the clay pots wick the water from the ground? It seems like a perfect marriage. Funny you should write about landscape fabric. I’ve spent the last several weeks researching this as I need something that offers years and years of durability and will keep weeds out in a bed mulched with stone and rocks. Based on everything I’ve read and gardens I’ve visited, the problems tend to grow exponentially when organic matter is placed over the fabric. Thank you for sharing this….

  3. June 1, 2011 at 9:39 am

    The stone manufacturer of our veggie garden raised beds suggests using the fabric agains the stones, but we decided not to. Having read your story, I am glad we did not. I don’t use landscape fabric that often, but this will surely make me think twice….thanks.

  4. joenesgarden
    June 1, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Laurrie, I don’t have to worry about your type of water problem, but what you encountered is very common. Thanks for sharing your GOOPs.

  5. joenesgarden
    June 1, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Wendy, I hope the clay pots will help wick some of the moisture from the soil. Of course I’ll know better as the season progresses. If it doesn’t work I’ll have another GOOPs to post about.

  6. joenesgarden
    June 1, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Sage Butterfly, I think all stone manufacturers suggest landscape fabric to prevent soil from leaching through the cracks. I’m beginning to believe there was no actual testing done before hand to determine how well this works. ONe of my frustrations is that we used quality landscape fabric … not the cheap plastic stuff.

  7. June 1, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Joene, The only place I have used landscape fabric is under my back walkway (where it is covered with sand, gravel, and pavers, not garden soil), and so far I’ve had no problems with draining. But yours is not the first tale of woe about landscape fabric that I’ve heard from a gardener; it makes me think that Laurrie is right — landscape fabric creates more problems than it solves.

    • joenesgarden
      June 1, 2011 at 9:05 pm

      I had not previously heard of any landscape fabric issues, Jean. But now I advise not using landscape fabric except for situations such as under a walkway, as you noted. I guess the bright side is this experience provided a GOOPs post … and it has caused me to analyze methods to remedy the moisture issue. Gardening is always a learning experience.

  8. June 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Joene, We’ve used landscape fabric in the past, mainly to suppress weeds, and while we’ve never had drainage issues we still get weeds!. They definitely grow in the mulch or soil on top of the fabric. I’d be interested to see if the landscape fabric that is supposed to decompose over time actually works or not.

    For the past few years we’ve used newspaper to suppress weeds in new bed rather than the fabric. It seems to work just as well and it definitely decomposes before too long.

    • joenesgarden
      June 3, 2011 at 10:17 am

      Debbie, I’ve used newspaper and corrogated cardboard to suppress and kill weeds in areas where I plan to create a new planting bed. If covered with about 6 inches of compost/soil blend you can plant small perennials right on top. We’ve only used landscape fabric on our property because of the block manufacturer recommended doing so to prevent soil from clogging the stone/perforated pipe drainage associated with the construction of retaining walls.

      There’s no doubt that landscape fabric covered with mulch still needs weeding. I’m also curious about how long the decomposing fabric lasts, how well it works, and whether it is worth the cost. I think newspapers/corrogated cardboard might work as well and cost nothing.

  9. Jeannie Rodman
    June 6, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    I loathe landscape fabric and wonder how it came into such wide use. Weeds simply grow down into it, and when you try to dig a hole somewhere it’s been used you just about break your back tryng to get a hole through the cussed stuff. It does not work, period! And it creeps back up and sticks out to boot! I never use it anymore. I curse the weeds, pull them, and lay down cardboard and mulch.

    • joenesgarden
      June 6, 2011 at 10:01 pm

      I’ve have it help in some situations but it is not ‘the’ solution to weeds in all situations, Jeannie. Thanks for sharing your experiences … I like getting different opinions.

  10. Heather
    June 7, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Have you considered using weeping tile (the pipe with holes) with a ‘sock’ and then covering with granular, and then soil?


    • joenesgarden
      June 7, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      Heather, we did use the pipe with holes covered with a sock and then with stone – just as the block manufacturer suggested. They also suggested landscape fabric between the stone and the soil. The areas atop the landscape fabric hold more moisture than areas without buried landscape fabric.

  11. June 7, 2011 at 9:09 am

    You just haven’t been using it correctly. Weed fabric can be quite useful.

    • joenesgarden
      June 7, 2011 at 11:25 pm

      Dear Weed Fabric Commenter: We used the landscape fabric exactly as suggested by the block manufacturer. I acknowledge there are certain beneficial uses for landscape fabric – or weed fabric as you refer to the product you sell on your website. But gardeners should be aware, as your web advertising states, that using this fabric causes a rise in soil moisture. In certain situations, such as mine, this moisture retention may alter the usefulness of the planting beds. I have clearly stated how we used landscape fabric and that we followed the directions of the block manufacturer. Your assumption that we did not use it correctly is false, but thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. Cheers.

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