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Weed membrane is a tad controversial. There are a lot of different names – weed fabric, weed barrier, membrane, landscape fabric – but they all refer to the same thing.
Landscape fabric is a bonded plastic or textile product that is layered on top of the ground (around established plants) to prevent weed growth. This is achieved by preventing sunlight from reaching germinating weed seeds whilst also inhibiting the growth of scattered seeds through the top of the membrane.
So if it’s such a good idea, why all the debate?
Detractors argue that weed fabric is both environmentally unfriendly and unfit for purpose, pointing out that weeds often do grown both underneath and above the fabric. Those on the other side say that fabric is a much better alternative to loading the soil with weed-killer and that unwanted growth is a result of shoddy products, not the idea of weed fabric itself.
Personally, I’ve had good results with landscape fabric. In this article I’m going to look at some of the pros and cons of using the material in the garden. I’ll also make my top five product picks for 2017.
What is a Weed Membrane?
There are two types of landscape fabric: woven and non-woven. Products are usually made with polypropylene, a type of durable plastic that is also used to make tough weatherproof rope (see the picture on the left).
Woven fabrics are made from weaving plastic fibres together so that they resemble cloth textiles. Because of this, they are very strong and durable.
Non-woven membranes are made by bonding materials together, usually under high heat. They tend to be more permeable than their woven counterparts but break down faster.
What to Look for in Weed Membrane/Landscape Fabric
Permeability: Landscape fabric tends to be used in one of two circumstances – either on flowerbeds under a layer of organic mulch or on paths and driveways underneath gravel. If you’re buying for the former situation, then permeability will be a big factor and you’ll want to opt for a “non-woven” product. Woven membranes tend to be slightly less porous than non-woven membranes. If you’re intending to underlay a gravel path or drive, then a heavy-duty fabric (which usually won’t allow water and nutrients into the soil as well as its permeable counterparts) is the way to go.
Durability: There are two reasons for making sure that your membrane is durable. The first, obviously, is that you don’t want it to break down and let weeds through. The second, less obvious reason, comes from the need to change it every five to ten years or so. If you apply a mulch over your membrane then it’s eventually going to break down and provide a nutritious layer of soil for unwanted weeds (if you’re using gravel it’s a different matter). So you will need to replace on a somewhat consistent basis. If the fabric has broken down in the ground this becomes more difficult.
Our Top 5 Best Weed Membrane Picks for 2017
***Full Disclosure – Where appropriate, I’ve linked product images to commercial sites. If you buy from these sites, I earn a small affiliate fee, which helps me keep Urban Turnip going.***
1. Easy Gardener Landscape Fabric (USA)
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Easy Gardener is an interesting company. They’re one of the largest suppliers of landscape fabrics to the US market and seem to have a strong focus on creating environmentally friendly products. Their paper-based and corn-based landscape fabrics are interesting in regards to sustainability.
This nonwoven fabric will last for up to five years and is designed specifically for use in planting areas (not those with high footfall). The good thing about this particular product is that it’s inexpensive (it comes in at 3ft by 25ft) so it’s great for sampling or if you only want to cover a small area.
2. DeWitt Weed Barrier (USA)
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If you’re after a permeable fabric for low-traffic areas but want something longer-lasting than the Easy Gardener product then Dewitt’s nonwoven barrier is a sure bet. It’s good for 12 years and has been specially treated to limit degradation from sunlight. Special effort has also been put into preventing unravelling around the areas where the material has been cut, so there shouldn’t be a problem with making holes for plants.
As far as strong but permeable fabrics go, this offering from DeWitt is really up there. It’s also very well-priced for what you’re getting (this one comes in at 4ft by 50ft).
3. DeWitt Heavy Duty Weed Barrier (USA)
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If you want some heavy-duty, effective weed fabric for your garden, then one piece of advice that you should always heed is not to buy the cheap stuff from DIY stores and garden centres. Go with an “industrial level” product. This woven fabric from DeWitt is designed to withstand direct sunlight and watering. It can be used in commercial greenhouses and outdoors for up to five years (remember that’s when it’s directly exposed to the elements).
Because of it’s durability, it’s also suitable for using under paths and gravel.
4. Nutley’s Weedban Fabric (USA and UK)
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Nutley’s membrane is good for up to fifteen years and boasts a high degree of durability considering the fact that it’s nonwoven. It’s intended for light-traffic growing areas and is designed to allow water and nutrients through accordingly. That said, it is strong enough to use under paths and patios (just avoid driveways). It comes in at 10 metres by 2 metres.
If you’re looking for a good balance between durability and permeability then Nutley’s Weedban is a good way to go. As I said, of all the nonwoven fabrics that we looked at, this was one of the longest-lasting in terms of durability, so it’s perfect for those flowerbeds that you want to plant and forget about.
5. Yuzet Heavy Duty Fabric
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This woven fabric from Yuzet is heavy-duty enough to be used for everything from pathways to drivewaus. In terms of laying in growing areas, it does allow the passage of water and nutrients but not to the same extent as the nonwoven options on this list. That said, if you’re really struggling with tough weed growth in a particular area, then it will definitely do the trick.
What are your thoughts?
So there you have it! What are your thoughts about my selection of the best weed membranes? Have you tried any of the suggestions? Drop me a line via the about us page and let me know!
Garden Myths – Weed Barrier Cloth
Washington State University – Landscape Fabric
Root Simple – Landscape Fabric Mistakes
American Nettings – Landscape Fabric Tutorial