Q: My husband and I are disagreeing about whether to add weed cloth to my tree and shrub beds. What do you think?
A: Well, first I am glad you did not tell me which side you were on, that makes it easier for me to answer your question without prejudice and I sure hope no money was riding on this. Weed cloth does a fair job of keeping out weeds, but only a fair job. The real “bad boy” perennial weeds such as nutsedge, Florida Betony and dollarweed are able to eventually find their way through this stuff.
The true weakness of this product is in what it doesn’t do. It does not allow fertilizer to reach the root area effectively, which is where it needs to be applied. It has a tendency to compact the underlying soil, which can be a real problem for trees and shrubs that need oxygen to develop strong roots. Mulch is generally added on top of the weed cloth, which can compound the soil compaction problem. In addition, weed cloth does not allow for the enrichment of soil if you add organic matter or use natural mulch such as pine straw or oak leaves.
So, the best answer is to use natural yard wastes such as leaf debris, pine straw, and grass clippings in your shrub and tree beds. If a weed pops up, pull it or paint it with an herbicide that contains glyphosate (Round-up) – don’t spray it. If you spray Round-up the herbicide can drift to other plants you want to keep. Then take the money you would have spent on weed cloth and buy another plant.