Tomato garden using landscape fabric
ECO gardener

Landscape fabric comes in different types, and there are similar products on the market, so it can get a little confusing when shopping around.

Often, landscape fabric is mistaken for black plastic. These are two different products, and it’s essential to know the difference, especially for hardscaping. In this guide, let’s talk about the main differences between fabric and plastic landscape fabric, what product is best for specific purposes, and which one is best for your garden:

Landscape Fabric: This product suppresses weed growth while allowing water, air, and nutrients to reach the earth. It’s also used to enhance the garden’s look, especially when covered with a layer of mulch like gravel, lava rock, or bark. Landscape fabric will last for several years.

Plastic Sheeting: A thin, black plastic that's used to smother weeds and retain soil moisture. It's affordable and practical to use to kill weeds compared to herbicides. But since the material is thin, it will break down after a few weeks, especially in harsh climates.

How to choose between black plastic and landscape fabric?

garden using black plastic and landscape fabric

Your choice will depend on what you’ll use the product for. Landscape fabric is a solid plastic sheet made of woven fibers with perforated holes. It’s designed for different applications but mainly pest and weed management as well as for drainage, hardscaping, and irrigation. There are different types of landscape fabric - thick, heavy-duty landscape fabric for better weed control and thinner ones for optimum water absorption and air circulation.

On the other hand, black plastic is a plastic sheet mainly used to control weed growth. It can retain moisture and warm up the soil, but the lack of perforation blocks the exchange of water, air, and nutrients between the soil and the surroundings. This product is strictly used to smother weeds and not as a hardscaping material because it is too thin.

Can I use plastic as landscape fabric?

If you’re using landscape fabric simply to prevent weed overgrowth, yes, you can use plastic sheets as an alternative to landscape fabric. However, if you want to use this product under mulch like gravel, rocks, or other hardscaping material, you’re better off sticking to landscape fabric. Black plastic is only meant to be used for a few weeks or so; it will break down faster when exposed to the elements under mulch.

Black plastic isn't meant to be a permanent fix to your garden; you must replace it periodically to keep your garden weed-free. Landscape plastic traps heat, which can smother your plants in the summer.

Will plastic keep weeds from growing?

Yes, it will. In fact, that’s the primary purpose of black plastic for gardening, it smothers weeds. Since it’s completely black and free from holes, the plastic sheet blocks the sun completely and traps moisture and air -- the weeds just don’t stand a chance.

Landscape Fabric vs. Plastic: More Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Non-permeable covering like plastic sheets will interfere with the exchange of air, water, and nutrients between the soil and the atmosphere. This means the product will not only smother the weeds but will also smother the crops.
  • The plastic sheet could raise the soil temperature too much so cut slits for the plants. Don’t use plastic sheets if you live in a region that gets a lot of sun or at the height of the summer season.
  • You can slow down the breakdown of black plastic sheets by adding a layer of mulch such as bark or gravel over the plastic.
  • Landscape fabric won’t cause weeds to stop sprouting completely. You’ll still need to maintain your garden and remove weeds occasionally.
  • Sometimes organic mulch laid on top of landscape fabric will add nutrients to the soil and increase the chances of weed growth as they break down.
  • If the space gets too choked with soil, weeds, and debris, remove the landscape fabric, clean the area, then either reuse the old landscape fabric if it is still intact or replace it with a new one.
  • Stone mulch could be raked off or hosed down to remove dirt and debris. On the other hand, organic mulch has to be replaced every now and then. If the mulch is too thick, it will harbor weeds and be harder to maintain.
  • Landscape fabric, even those with perforated holes, will limit the moisture and air from reaching the soil. Always keep a close eye on your plants after installing the landscape fabric, just to see if they are getting enough water.

Which is better, landscape fabric or plastic?

The ultimate answer is: it will depend on your garden’s needs. These products are similar in many ways but these are two different products. Landscaping fabric is the more durable product between the two. It’s more expensive and the overall structure is tougher. Landscape fabric also comes in different types and each of these types serves a specific purpose.

Black plastic, on the other hand, is primarily used to eliminate weed growth. The material is thin, so it will only last for a few weeks. Yes, you can extend its life by adding a layer of mulch, but this will not stop the product from degrading because of the elements. It should never be used as an alternative to landscape fabric, nor should it be used as a long-term solution for weed growth.

Buy landscape fabric.

Shopping around for landscape fabric and black plastic? Our online store has these products, including black and white poly plastic sheets and heavy-duty perforated landscape fabric. Shop now and enjoy special deals on our bestselling products!

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