GeneralHow to

How Weed Barriers can Improve the Quality of Your Garden

While permaculturists strive to live sustainably and limit their impact on the environment, it can be a challenge to manage garden pests without the use of harmful chemical sprays. Weeds dig their roots into your soil and steal nutrients, water, and sunlight from other plants – while expanding its own system to disperse offspring throughout your garden.

Using a weed barrier can help you fend off these frustrating intruders without turning to sprays that will cause harm to the environment by blocking sunlight, water, and oxygen from getting to the weeds – either killing them or stunting their growth and preventing them from reproducing.

There are several types of weed barriers that you can install in your own garden to help control your weeds.

Natural weed barriers

Gardeners have been taking advantage of natural prevention techniques for centuries – using peat moss, straw, leaves, mulch, or other organic materials to block weeds from establishing themselves among your desired vegetation. Since these materials are biodegradable, you will need to check your barrier periodically to ensure it remains effective, and likely replenish it at least once a year.

Some of these materials may contain weed seeds, which can worsen the problem. If your barrier is too thick, you might also prevent your cultivated plants from receiving sufficient water and oxygen.

Homemade weed barriers

These barriers are made with materials like newspapers, cardboard, garbage bags, or other household products. Most of these materials will filter through air and water, and will still eventually decompose into the soil. However, they can give your garden a bit of an unsightly appearance and can be blown away in strong winds if they aren’t well-secured.

These barriers are an inexpensive way to block weeds from establishing themselves in your garden, though, and are a great solution to recycling discarded products.

Fabric weed barriers

These barriers can be purchased from a garden centre, usually sold in rolls. With a synthetic, geotextile material and a layer of laminated black polyethylene, a barrier made with landscaping fabric can be even more effective than using herbicides. Weeds will be starved of sunlight thanks to the dark color of the fabric, but the mesh still allows water and oxygen through to reach the soil.

This barrier is often used to coat the entire garden area, with slits cut through to allow for cultivated plants to emerge. It can be quite expensive, especially for a large garden, and can require replacing after a few years.

Plastic weed barriers

Using a plastic barrier is a very effective way to suffocate weeds – even mature, established plants. This black plastic material is spread out over weeds, keeping them from receiving any sunlight, oxygen, or water, while absorbing sunlight and warming the soil to enhance the growth of the surrounding desired plants.

These barriers are quite durable and are generally more expensive than most other options. However, the versatility and efficiency of this type of barrier makes it a solid choice for longer term projects like trees, shrubs, and developing flower beds.

Fabric and Plastic barriers should not be first on the list of go to items, but, every site is different so just make sure you use these products in appropriate places.


  1. I’m surprised this article doesn’t discuss using living plants as a weed barrier. I have had excellent results using lemon grass between a lawn or pasture and cultivated beds. The chemicals it secretes seem to repel running grassing trying to get through. As a bonus you can slash it for mulch several times a year. Spider lilies (Hymenocallis) are also excellent but a bit slower to propagate and establish, but last forever once they get going unlike lemon grass that dies out after a few years. I also have used vetiver and purple feather grass (Pennisetum purpureum) with good results.

    1. I also was expecting other plants to be the solution. :) Plants that the weeds in question don’t like, or don’t allow through, somehow.

  2. I live in Brisbane. I have found betel leaf also makes a great weed barrier, even in quite poor soil. Once it is established it is Very Hardy. However, if you want to remove it, cover it with wood chips, leave it for a few weeks and then pull. It is great in the compost.

  3. My weed problem is not with my garden but with my neighbors yard. They let their weeds go to seed and the “seed drift” is horrible. After putting in a deer & rodent fence I was given some acrylic panels, about 20 inches in height and 4 feet long. I anchored these with recycled bed springs to my lower fence, the springs worked great! This year the weed seed sprouts are way down. I have been training Marrionberry, thorn-less Blackberry and climbing roses to grow on the fence and had left the lower areas open so my kitties could see through and watch the deer & bunnies, they now require booster seats.

  4. We use living mulches heavily, specifically bush peas. Because they tolerate cold, wettish soil, we can seed early before the weeds are up. Once they are up, it’s almost impossible for weeds to grow because of the shading of the soil. Where we can, we leave them in place all season. Planting veggie starts is no problem. We simply cut the pea plants down (not pull out) so that the veggie starts get light and air circulation.

    We get nitrogen fixing, composting in place, weed suppression, protection of the soil from rain compaction and direct sun, fresh peas for blanching/freezing, dried peas for seed and soup.

  5. Clear plastic sheeting – If you have purchased a new “white good” appliance, or a mattress, these items are quite often delivered with a clear plastic covering. If you properly anchor the plastic (bricks / rocks / lumber) over a proposed garden bed during early Spring (or late Winter), you will have a warmed and weed-free plot – “ready for planting”. The plastic may be used a number of times, and is also re-cyclable. ^00^

  6. I’ live in Eugene Or. where we have abundant moss growing on just about everything. The heavy sheets that can be “harvested” are sometimes 8 ft ling. For the first year I am placing theses sheets of moss between rows in my vegetable garden to prevent weeds. We’ll see how it works. Sure looks nice.

  7. Please do not use plastic or fabric weed barriers. They’re so bad for the soil (hence bad for the entire ecosystem) and are horrendous for the later property owners. Someone put two layers of plastic weed barrier over our entire back yard. Apparently (?), rather than replacing the first layer after the weeds grew through and around it with a vengeance, they added another layer on top of the first layer plus many inches of soil. So, the roots of the poor birch trees and other plants that have survived the weed barrier weave between the two layers, making it more-or-less impossible to remove the lower later and extremely difficult to remove the upper layer (which, of course, is also beneath 2 or more inches of soil). This stuff is only used by lazy, unthinking people with no respect for soil or the plants and creatures, including ourselves, that depend upon it.

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