If you’re debating whether plastic or fabric is best for landscaping, you are likely curious about what sets them apart. While most people have seen sheets of plastic or landscape fabric in somebody’s garden, they are not entirely sure why they’re there, what they’re for, and which is the better choice for what job.
Plastic sheeting is used in landscaping to smother weeds and increase moisture levels in the soil. Landscape fabric is a woven porous material and is typically used to prevent weed growth. These materials differ, and they each have advantages over one another in specific scenarios.
In this article, I will explore using both plastic and fabric in landscaping, paying attention to what makes them different and the advantages and the drawbacks of using each. In the end, I’ll compare the two to see which is best.
What Is Landscape Plastic Sheeting?
Landscape plastic sheeting is a thin black continuous sheet of plastic, typically used to kill weeds and plants or retain additional water in the earth. This material is inexpensive and effective at killing weeds, but its thin nature makes it vulnerable to the elements.
The plastic sheeting used in landscaping is typically very thin and comes in a roll. The plastic sheeting is available to buy from most local gardening centers and some online retailers like this Poly Sheeting Heavy Duty 6 Mil (link to Amazon).
How Landscape Plastic Sheeting Works
Landscape plastic sheeting works by heating up plants and weeds trapped underneath them in order to kill them. Therefore, using plastic sheets to kill patches of land relies on strong sunlight and warm weather. As a result, this method of killing plants is only effective in warm climates or during the summer months.
Landscape plastic sheeting requires six to eight weeks in most instances to kill a patch of grass or plants. This is because the plastic causes the soil to warm until it’s too hot for plants to grow and develop, which takes time.
You can also place plastic sheeting beneath the soil or earth where you intend to grow plants. Having the plastic sheet below the ground prevents water from passing through the soil and away from your plants. The water instead gets caught by the plastic sheet and retained in the soil above.
Plastic sheeting is used to increase the water levels in soil in dry climates. If you’re attempting to grow certain varieties of plants that need more water than your climate offers, plastic sheeting may very well help with this.
Plastic can be used in landscaping as edging for flower beds and landscape rocks. This is an easy and inexpensive way of adding borders to different parts of your garden so you can control weed growth.
Benefits of Landscape Plastic Sheeting
When assessing whether landscape plastic or fabric is best for your garden, you should weigh up the advantages of using each kind of material. So what are the benefits of using plastic sheeting in your garden?
Effective Weed Killer
Perhaps the most significant advantage of using plastic sheeting for landscape is its efficacy as a weed killer. Provided the weather is warm enough, the plastic will heat the soil underneath the weeds. This process is excellent for clearing parts of your lawn or large patches of weeds growing on your property.
Plastic is an incredibly inexpensive material to use. Plastic is all around us for this reason. The cheap nature of the plastic settings makes them great for use over large areas in your garden. On top of that, you can afford to make mistakes when you’re using inexpensive materials as replacing them won’t be too costly.
If you want to increase the amount of moisture in the soil in your garden, plastic sheeting is the best way to do so. Placing plastic sheeting underneath or on top of the soil around plants will trap added moisture. This has numerous advantages for your plants’ health and development.
Plastic sheeting to retain water in your soil has many benefits for the plants. However, a primary benefit of good moisture levels in the soil is healthy root growth. Roots can grow long and thick when there’s sufficient water present. This offers plants more structural integrity and helps them live for longer.
Easy To Install
Plastic sheeting is a suitable material that you can use when landscaping. Depending on what you plan to use it for, the application may vary slightly. However, in most cases, you simply roll out the sheet over the area you want and pin it down using pins or heavy objects.
Potential Issues of Using Plastic Sheeting
It’s not all good news when using plastic sheeting for landscaping purposes. There are some risks and drawbacks that you must be aware of before you can start using it on your property. See below for a breakdown of the potential issues of using plastic sheeting.
Can’t Kill Weeds in Cold Weather
If you plan on using plastic sheets to kill plants in your garden, but you live in a cold climate, you’re not going to see much success. Using plastic sheets to kill plants only works when there is direct sunlight and warm weather for a period of six to eight weeks. If you can’t rely on two months of warm weather where you live, this material is useless for killing weeds.
Degrades in Soil Quickly
Landscape plastic sheeting is made from fragile layers of plastic. One drawback to this material is that the thin layer of plastic degrades quickly, especially when buried in the soil. As a result, it can only last for a couple of days when planted in the earth before holes and damages start to appear.
Stops Water Permeating
Many people mistakenly use plastic sheeting instead of landscape fabric. When this happens, the plastic collects water rather than let it pass through. This causes water to accumulate in the sheet, which can pose issues in some circumstances.
For instance, if you’re using the fabric to keep away weeds, retaining water will have the opposite effect.
What Is Landscape Fabric?
Landscape fabric is a porous sheet of woven material designed explicitly for landscaping purposes. Landscape fabric is primarily used to keep weeds away by forming a protective barrier beneath an area on your property.
The porous nature of landscape fabric allows water to pass through. This helps the fabric keep plants and weeds at bay as it prevents the water from pooling which facilitates plant growth.
See below for some landscape fabrics available to buy online from Amazon:
Botindo 3×100 feet Landscape Fabric (link to Amazon) is a great example. This fabric is affordable and ready to use. It also comes in various sizes with a durable and lightweight build.
How Landscape Fabric Works
Landscape fabric works by forming a barrier that helps prevent weeds and plants from growing. Landscape fabric also consists of intertwined materials that have small spaces between strands. These spaces allow water to pass through the landscape fabric.
Landscape fabric is placed underneath landscape features like stones or a walkway. The landscape fabric is installed beneath the features, and it inhibits plant life from growing below the rocks.
Benefits of Landscape Fabric
Landscape fabric is specially designed for keeping weeds away. This is not the only benefit of using this material to improve your landscaping, though. See below for a breakdown of some of the significant advantages of using landscape fabric on your property.
Saves Money and Time
Landscaping fabric is highly effective at keeping away weeds and plants from growing in between stones and bricks on your property. Removing weeds from these areas is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. As a result, installing landscape fabric can save you a lot of time and hassle in weeding your garden.
Landscape fabric is made of individual strands of fabric woven together to create a sheet. As a result, there are tiny gaps throughout the entire material.
The landscape fabric allows the water to pass through and into the soil providing moisture for the plants and facilitating drainage.
Another great advantage to using landscape fabric in your garden is the durability of the material used. Landscape fabric is woven, giving it extra strength and durability. As a result, the landscape fabric that gets laid on your property can last for years without tearing or degrading.
Helps To Keep Weeds At Bay
Landscape fabric’s primary purpose is preventing weeds. And it will help. But it won’t stop all weeds.
Potential Issues of Using Landscape Fabric
While there are so many advantages to using landscape fabric to manage plant growth on your property, there are some potential problems that I should address before proceeding. See below for more.
Higher Upfront Costs
Landscape fabric is much more expensive to purchase than plastic sheeting. A lot more materials go into landscape fabric and it’s much more durable, but this results in a higher cost. The high initial prices deter some people from investing in the landscape fabric in the first place.
Not a Permanent Solution
Another major disadvantage to using landscape fabric to keep weeds away from your property is the fact that it is not a permanent solution. Over time the landscape fabric can degrade and allow some weeds to pass through.
Similarly, the gaps between fabric can get backed up with dirt, not allowing water to pass through anymore.
In order for the soil your plants grow in to remain healthy, there are a few things that must be present. The soil must be rich in nutrients and water, but it also needs plenty of aeration.
Landscape fabric can limit the amounts of aeration in the ground, making it hard for plants to grow.
(Source: Dallas Morning News: Why plastic landscape fabric is actually bad for your plants and the soil)
Earthworms play a significant role in allowing air to pass through the soil. As the worms work their way through the ground, they leave behind little tunnels that improve airflow. However, when landscape fabric is used it can restrict that airflow.
Plastic vs. Fabric: Which Is Better for Landscaping?
Now that you’re fully aware of what each of these materials is, how they’re used, and the pros and cons, it’s time to figure out which one you need. Which is the best to use when landscaping, plastic sheeting, or landscape fabric?
Plastic is better for killing weeds and retaining moisture in dry soil than landscape fabric. However, landscape fabric is better suited to keeping weeds away from an area while allowing water to flow freely.
Landscape fabric is more durable and will last much longer than plastic sheeting. However, this added durability comes with an added cost. Nevertheless, both materials are made cheaply and relatively inexpensive.
Plastic sheeting and landscape fabric are both materials used in landscaping to cover large areas of land. However, plastic sheeting is primarily used to kill existing weeds and plants on your property. At the same time, landscape fabric is typically used to stop plants from growing back.
Landscape fabric is also porous, so it allows water to pass through.
In contrast, plastic sheeting is nonabsorbent, so it collects water and increases the moisture levels in your soil. This strengthens plants’ roots and helps your garden to remain beautiful year-round by trapping in extra water.