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Keep plants under wraps with landscape fabrics

In the categories of gardening "ins" and "outs," chemicals and plastic bags are "out" and environmentally friendly landscape fabrics are "in."

Just what are landscape fabrics and how do they work? The experts at Easy Gardener, manufacturers of WeedBlock, the most popular fabric on the market (used by both homeowners and professional landscapers), have the answer to that question, as well as other common queries.

What is a Landscape Fabric?

Landscape fabrics are barriers designed to prevent the growth of most broadleaf weeds. These fabrics are produced by weaving fibers together at right angles (woven) or by bonding short, or continuously spun fibers together through heat bonding, needle punching, spin bonding or other processes (all non-woven). The result is a fabric with the ability to block the light that weeds need to grow.

Is It Better Than Black Plastic?

Without question. Plastic sheeting or ripped-open black bags do a good job of blocking light; in fact, they do too good a job. Their impermeability also prevents much-needed oxygen, moisture and vital nutrients from reaching plant roots. This ultimately results in sour soil, which can permanently damage your plants.

Though landscape fabrics are more expensive than plastic, fabrics are more economical over time and they allow air, moisture and nutrients to penetrate the soil. Easy Gardener's WeedBlock is a synthetic fabric with thousands of tiny "micro-funnels." Tapered at the bottom, the fabric ensures that plants have every opportunity to receive all the nourishment they need, while the "micro-funnels" prohibit weeds from shooting through to the surface.

Will It Last Longer Than Plastic?

Unquestionably. Black plastic tends to tear easily and breaks down over time, exposing soil, which eventually will result in patches of weeds. Fabrics can last up to three years when exposed to direct sunlight and indefinitely if covered with a protective layer of mulch, such as gravel, wood chips or bark nuggets.

Where Do I Use It?

Anywhere weeds grow is an ideal place to lay a landscape fabric. For example, fabrics can be used around trees and shrubs, in perennial flower beds, beneath patios and even to line potted plants. They also may be used in vegetable gardens.

How Do I Use the Fabric?

When preparing to plant, first eliminate any visible weeds from the surface of the planting area. Cut the fabric to the desired size and cover the area with the rough side facing down. Then cut X's in the material and place plants through, into the soil. Most fabrics are easy to cut and will not unravel. If placing the fabric around existing plants, lay the fabric in strips on either side of them, or after using scissors or a knife to cut X's in the material, pull it over the plants.

In a vegetable garden, first till the bed, mixing in fertilizer and peat moss. Then lay down the fabric, using fabric pegs to secure the strips. X's or O's can be cut into the fabric and vegetable plants placed directly through, into the soil.

Can I Use Fewer Chemicals Then?

Absolutely. Used properly, chemicals can be safe and effective, but many homeowners today are environmentally conscious and want no chemicals applied anywhere in their yards. One sure way to a chemical-free garden is landscape fabrics, which, when laid atop the soil around plants and shrubs, eliminates the need for potentially hazardous herbicides and pesticides.

Do Fabrics Conserve Water?

Very much so. Fabrics both cool and cover the soil. Moisture passes through the fabric into the soil and evaporates very slowly, an extremely important benefit that takes on even more significance in drought-stricken areas. In fact, homeowners concerned about ever-increasing water bills and/or water conservation will be happy to know the use of a landscape fabric can reduce outdoor watering frequency by as much as 50 percent.

Why Haven't I Heard of Them?

Very good question. Landscape fabrics are a relatively new yard and garden product that employs modern technology. They're not an old stand-by like black plastic. However, times are changing and fabrics are growing in popularity. Landscapers, architects, park managers and other professionals were the first to discover the fabrics and their many uses.

How Do I Learn More?

Many gardening books, especially organic gardening how-to primers, now devote space to landscape fabrics. For additional information about fabrics and how to use them effectively to beautify your yard without wasting water, Easy Gardener has produced a free booklet entitled "Every Drop Counts -- Water Saving Tips for Healthy Gardens." Send a self-addressed, stamped #10 envelope to: Water Saving Booklet, Easy Gardener, P.O. Box 21025, Waco, TX 76702-1025.


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