Landscape fabric - safe for organic garden?

tootickyFebruary 23, 2008

I'm planning on building wooden boxes, a la Square Foot Gardening, to grow veggies in.

I was thinking of using scrap wood to do this - untreated wood pallets. Because they are somewhat irregularily shaped, I'm thinking they won't form a very good seal, and soil would escape.

So then I thought I would line the boxes with landscape fabric, before filling them with soil.

The question is: does landscape fabric leach any unwanted chemicals into my organic soil?



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Landscape fabrics will not "leach" any inwanted substances from what the fabric is made of in to your soil, just be careful and do not get the newer ones with a built in plant killer. If you can get enough newspaper would be a much less expensive media to do what you want.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 6:43AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

g'day erin,

you can do it without fabric as has already been said use newspaper and lots of it.

check our site for pics and ideas.


Here is a link that might be useful: len's garden page

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 1:04PM
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Dont mean to steal this thread. I have a similar question along the same line.

Iam done dealing with weeds in my veggie garden. Last year it completely inundated my 10x10 veggie garden. With new babies in the house, I dont have the time to handpick weeds. My plan is to cultivate, add compost etc and then cover the surface with landscape fabric. Then plant the seeds at selected spots cutting the fabric.

Could experts here let me know if I am out of my mind taking this approach?


    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 10:06PM
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You aren't out of your mind, but you may not get the results you are hoping for.

Let's divide all landscape fabrics into 2 types. There is the thin, woven stuff and there is the thicker, more plastic like stuff.

There are different grades (thicknesses) of each.

If you use the heavy stuff then water won't penetrate except at the plant holes. The good news is weeds won't grow through it, but watering/fertilizing is a real chore unless you put each plant in a depression so the water runs to the depression. Problem with that is during a heavy rain things can get over watered.

If you use the woven stuff you will probably find enough sunlight gets through it that weeds still grow. They run under the fabric and find the holes you cut for your plants and poke out. I tried this one year and just walking on the stuff tore it and where it tore weeds came through. Removing weeds is impossible without removing the fabric.

If you really want to beat the weeds for good, stop using the ground that naturally grows them. Use containers where practical (an example would be a container of herbs near the kitchen door for ease of harvest and use) and raised beds for larger plantings. It's not that you won't get any weeds rather you will get so few they aren't much bother to deal with.

If you want to go the landscape fabric route be sure to cover it with a mulch weeds won't like growing in to prevent sunlight from passing through it and sprouting the weed seeds.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 12:15AM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

I have found that landscape fabric eventually gets weeds and it acts as a barrier for macro fauna like worms and pill bugs that help till the soil naturally. I have also found that the two types of weed barrier slow down water and gas exchange in the soil and creates an almost sour and anerobic smell at the soil level underneath it. I don't use it except in places I don't want anything to grow like around my airconditioner with gravel on top. I personally do not think it is a good way to go. Regular mulching and a little weeding is much better for the garden in the long run.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 12:29AM
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Any garden can get weeds at any time. Simply covering the soil with a landscape fabric and some mulch, or even newspaper and some mulch, may not totally solve the problem, because "weed" seeds float around on the wind and settle in, germinate, and grow where conditions are conducive to do that. I do use newspaper (keeps any "weed" seeds in the soil from germinating) covered with a good, thick mulch (helps prevent the "weed" seeds floating in the air from finding someplace to germinate). Since the newspapers are recycled they are essentially free while you need to buy some landscape fabric, an unnecessary expenditure, and unless that fabric is a really good, thick, tightly woven fabric is will not do the job it is supposed to. Landscape fabric will not add anything of value to your soil while newspaper will.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 7:19AM
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Thanks for the response. My soil is nicely prepped. The fabric is a woven material. Vegetable garden is on the backyard where esthetics is least of my worries.

Cant I just cover the prepped surface with the fabric and then plant the seeds on top and skip the mulch part? I know I wont beat the weeds completely, but I was certain I could stand decent chance of fighting them this way. I did not want to cover the fabric with mulch layer for 2 reasons.

1. At the end of the season, I want to remove the fabric and allow the bed to breath.
2. Mulch degrades over time and weeds can use that as a medium to grow.

Am I wrong?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 8:43AM
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david52 Zone 6

For the past 10 years, I have been using black, woven polypropylene weed barrier that I get from the Soil Conservancy district, it comes in rolls of 300' by 4 or 6' wide. This allows air and moisture in, although I use gravity irrigation that generally goes under it.

I would suggest not cutting holes in it - although that works, it shreds easily and within a few years, there are annoying strands of plastic everywhere. I've found it far easier to just lay out a 4' wide section, leave an inch, and lay out another, planting between the two. Most of the beds have vertical cattle panels, so I can grow stuff upright.

In the fall, I roll it up and store it somewhere else, and add what ever needs adding to the strips of soil where I'll plant next year. If I leave it out, it deteriorates from the winter sun, and with the winds we get around here, tries 'a Dorothy' and fly to Kansas.

There are some weeds that come up through the gap, but they are a lot easier to control, and that part can be mulched. There will be some stuff like purslane that will grow on top the weed barrier, but thats pretty easy to control. I really like the system, it makes it easy to walk up and down w/o getting muddy, I can move a cart along between the rows, and the vertical panels allow good plant concentration.

Check around for prices. The Soil Conservancy sells this stuff for far less than any commercial outfit.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 10:41AM
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the_virginian(Zone 7 NoVA)

Using it seasonally is better if you have to use it, but using it all year round is IMHO and experience a bad idea.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 2:06PM
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The inexpensive "weed barrier" fabric you buy from the neighborhood hardware or big box all in one general store is so thin that you can see through it, and that will do little to stop "weed" growth unless heavily covered with some mulch material, aside from the aesthetics.
If you buy the slightly more expensive landscape fabric that is tighly woven and very difficult to see through you can use less mulch material to hide it, again aesthetics, because the tight weave will do much better controlling "weed" growth.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 6:36AM
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the one I bought was quite expensive. 20$ for 3x100 I think. Anyway just had a second thought.

Ive decided to abandon my poorly designed 8x8 bed and build two 4x4 square foot garden. The more I read about it, the more I am enamored with the idea. Fact that it offers the best weed control option, excites me. My recipe for the soil is from Glen Sq Foot Gardenening tip

3 cubic ft. bale of peat moss to 3 medium sized bags of vermiculite
1 large bag of composted (very dry) manure.
1 bag of ''Miracle Grow'' potting soil, 1 pound of bone meal and 1/2 pound blood meal.

Will post as I build it.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 9:35AM
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So, after you cover your soil with polypropylene, and its embedded colorant and UV stabilizers, do you still intend to call your garden 'organic'?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 10:07AM
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david52 Zone 6

Yes. Putting down cardboard or newspaper or magazines might contaminate the soil with leaching trace amounts of formaldehyde. bleach, and other products used to make the paper, and for what I know, the soy-based ink came from GM soybeans.

The use of plastic gauze row covers, with their UV stabilizers, held up by PVC hoops, prevents early summer flea beetles and other insect pests. Some people even use plastic covered bread bag ties to hold up plants on painted t-posts, and carry their produce to market in (gulp) plastic boxes.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 10:26AM
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My newspaper mulch is precisely why I don't call myself an organic gardener. If I used a petroleum based mulch instead of an organic mulch, I guess I wouldn't feel like I was using organic methods.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 12:27PM
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While bleach is used to make the pulp white, so the paper will be white, there is none in the pulp when it is put on the paper machine to make the paper, the bleach is all washed out. In my 39 years of paper making I have not known of the use of formaldehyde in the paper making process, it was used in one process as a releasing agent, but there was none used in making paper. Since most all of the soybeans grown have been Genetically Engineered to be resistant to the glyphosate products that is in the soya based inks, as well as most of the foods you eat today, because most of the corn in food products also has been so engineered.
There will not be much of any foreign material that an organic grower need concern themself about in newspaper or cardboard. If you were to use paper from books and magazines that would be different because of the process of making those items.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 12:43PM
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paulns(NS zone 6a)

39 years of making paper! What an interesting person you are Kimmsr. I hope you're right about the newspaper because I've used a lot of it, under sawdust, for garden paths.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2008 at 4:32PM
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We made fine paper where I worked, the paper that magazines such as Architectural Digest was printed on. Newsprint is made from ground pulp, not the digested pulp we made and is treated much less with anything that might cause harm to your soil and cardboard is treated even less.
Many paper manufacturers that do bleach their pulp today are switching over from the chlorine based process to one using Hydrogen Peroxide instead, but for the most part that bleaching process is a 4 step process that involves washing the chlorine and caustic soda out of the pulp because they hinder the binding of the fibers when paper is made.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 8:03AM
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Stephen Carmona


    Bookmark   March 4, 2015 at 6:36PM
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Natural or synthetic?

    Bookmark   March 5, 2015 at 3:00AM
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Look at a commercial grade fabric. Try Sunbelt by Dewitt. It's a 3.2oz woven poly fabric that lets tons of water and air through. Around $70 for 3' x 300'. Burn holes in it using a torch, then lay it out and plant your plants through the holes. When the growing season is over, roll it up and save it for next year.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2015 at 5:56PM
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