Posted in Indoor Musings, Oh noes!, Progress, Stories

A personal rant about landscape fabric

Think of the future! 

More specifically, think of your future, especially if you’re the poor sod that will have to deal with the problems it causes down the road.

Don’t try to fool yourself for a minute about landscape fabric, folks.

This stuff degrades over time; it’s a nightmare to work with down the road; and is really, truly bad in its degraded form as far as what it’s leaving in your soil.  If you have well water, then it’s affecting that as well.  (More on that further down–and by the way, this is not a short post by any stretch.)

I have grown to know some of the above in a much more intimate fashion than I would like because I’m now in the process of removing it from the garage bed this year.  This is not my first tussle with the stuff.  I have encountered less degraded variants before, both with plantings and a mix of plantings and gravel/pebbles atop it.  The other times were a cake walk compared to what I’m dealing with now.

I would heartily like–and wish I was easily able–to drag whomever put this down in our yard back to our property and stand over them with a baseball bat until they get every last bit out of the ground.  No bathroom breaks allowed either–forget a snack or some warm water.  You put this down, you pull it back up.

I know to some that sounds like a jerk thing to desire, but as anyone that has ever had to deal with the aftermath of landscape fabric can attest as they nod and grimace or laugh bitterly, this is the least the offenders can do to make up for whatever time was wasted on attempts already made.

I know to others this may seem a pretty light weight revenge fantasy, but it is one I have revisited more often of late than I care to admit.

I am aware landscape fabric has become a standard go to for many for weed suppression as well as other reasons.  Some are lured in by the “maintenance free” jargon that I continually find to always be a lie about any product.  Oddly enough, many of those maintenance free products are made from a petroleum base.  Parse out of that what you will.

In theory, landscape fabric is a fantastic notion.  In execution, the idea is lacking due to the material chosen.  In practice, there are all sorts of problems it leads to down the road.  You can read many on the web, and these posts are written by folks with more practical experience and actual knowledge than I.  Below is my favorite quip about it from the bundle of links in the previous sentence.

One gardener asked about landscape fabric. Should she put some down before planting her new perennial garden? Heavens no. Though you see this stuff used by professional landscape companies all the time, landscape fabric (also known as weed barrier cloth) should never be used in an area where you want to plant living things.

Not only is it completely hideous (and some of it always winds up showing), it doesn’t allow water to penetrate the soil in the same way it would normally. It also prevents adequate oxygen from getting to plant roots where it’s needed. And just wait till the day you want to move a shrub or plant something new and you have to maneuver around that thick layer of yuck.

If you want healthy plants, skip the landscape fabric and use mulch instead.

, in “Slugs, landscape fabric, and blossom-end rot, oh my!”

As is probably evident by now, I have gotten to the point where I am unflinching in my disdain.  I am fully aware that many will continue to use this product for years to come as long as it is available, and that’s reality.  I do, however, want to get this rant out of the way now so it doesn’t sneak into other posts here and there because I just never let it all out at once.  In a way, it’s become a new disguised curse, much like safety glass.

I won’t even get into all the reasons why that are specific to it being made of plastic fibers.  The word microplastics is now a thing, and there are many others on the web that have gone into that issue in depth, so the facts are out there as well as–to me–the valid opinions about why landscape cloth needs to be banned as a product.  Sounds extreme, I know, but back in the day folks thought it unthinkable to ban DDT too.

Three things I want to touch on today though, is how it gets in our soil/compost, as well as our water, and what nature seems to be doing to correct our human error.  Plastic is still a relatively new substance, and is human made.  So to an extent you can argue it’s not natural which is why it doesn’t break down so good.  You can also argue it is natural because we are native to earth, hence earth trying to correct the imbalance itself.

Yet, as also pointed out in the natural correction link above, we don’t really know what the unintended consequences of that correction may or will be.  It could be the next Ozone Hole crisis.  Even if scientists are already studying the organisms and trying to help them along, I can’t help but worry this will be a new version of Hawaii with its mongoose problem.

To me, this stuff is a menace.  The worst headache I have with it right now is the garage bed.  Not only did the raspberry and strawberry runners get under it at certain points, but being that the bed itself is a spot that gets direct sun most of the day, the spot degradation ratio is outrageously bad and uneven.  There was apparently also a gravel walkway someone tried to put in throughout the bed at one point as well which I’m sure didn’t help the fabric’s integrity either.  So when you try to grab an edge–even if you oh-so-carefully brush off any dirt and plants on top–to pull it off the ground below, it will fall apart in more ways than seemed possible.

Now you’re dealing with scraps of plastic fibers you’re trying to sift and dig out of the soil.  To me?  That’s NOT FUN AT ALL–not even for a microsecond.  Especially if the spot is in shade because some plantings are still in the ground nearby.  Unlike stones, if you use a sifting screen, the fabric bits will just come through if they are small enough along with the soil.  Here I thought sifting safety glass out of a bed was my worst nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my enemy, and now I have a competitor for that category.

The featured pic above says it all in my opinion.  It can be argued that I could just hope the microplastic eating organisms of the world will eat up whatever I don’t get to someday so we don’t die from PET whatever disease down the road.  Yet even for this lazy gardener, that just seems wrong.  I have to correct this right as best I can even if the reality is what I’m pulling up from the ground now will go in a plastic trash bag, which will sit in a dump and eventually get back into the ecosystem anyway.  Ugh.  Never mind.

I still just want the stuff gone and maybe by the time we start digging up our dumps they’ll have this problem solved or we’ll all have destroyed our habitat before things get to that point so humanity will end and nothing I do for my now will really matter for those that came after me.

Worse for the short term, though, is I know we have more landscape fabric elsewhere.  In particular, as part of the underlay for the gravel in the play set area that has long since overgrown way beyond what you’ve seen before, and I’ll show you again now.

My beautiful picture
The big black piece you can’t miss is but one layer of underlay, but is rubber.
Yet it’s not the only thing lurking below the gravel, oh most certianly no.

Last year when I experimentally started pulling up one corner of rubber underlay which had rotted and the piece you see there came up in my hand, I noticed at some point someone had lain down patches of landscape fabric in a desperate attempt to patch the rotted rubber spots.

Now, of course, there is three or four more times of plants that have broken through.  Many are raspberry and blackberry canes.  So thorns too!  Yippee!  I sometimes wonder if we’ll even get that area cleared this year.

So now you know what I know, what I’ve learned that I could fit to share in here, as well as hopefully learned not to ever get this stuff if you haven’t already been lured into using it.  If you haven’t already bought this stuff but are considering it–DON’T.  You will do nothing but rue the decision when you have to deal with it later.

Don’t believe me?  Then stop on by Gardner any time this summer (and likely next spring summer fall too) and help us get what we have out of the yard.  (Please do give notice first so we can make sure to be around to welcome you.)  We’d love the help, and you’ll thank us for the lesson after you lose your mind and we talk you back down.  Hopefully you’ll stop before you reach that point, but I know some folks can be stubborn to the point of stupidity.

If you made it this far…thank you!  I know grumpy posts often aren’t a fun read.

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