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Permeable weed barrier isn't so permeable

Tree mulch

Last year, we installed landscape fabric beneath most of our oldest row of high-density apples. The idea was to cut weeding work...but I'm afraid the plastic mulch also appears to be cutting vitality.

Apple branches

It's hard to be sure whether the fabric is at fault because I have several different apple varieties growing in this area and there's some fireblight in the mix. But the apples that were mulched with straw are thriving while those amid the landscape fabric have lost most of their leaves.

Leafless branchesI suspect water is the culprit --- or lack thereof. Summer rains tend to fall hard and fast in our area, meaning that a lot of that liquid likely runs off the landscape fabric despite the small holes meant to allow rain to soak through. In contrast, straw grabs and holds the liquid, topping up the trees' reserves slowly over the course of several days.

I've pulled back the fabric so I can topdress with manure, and I'll probably end up replacing it with a biodegradable weed barrier of cardboard coated with straw. If we had an irrigation system that hit these trees, the plastic might not be a bad idea. But, for now, I'm going to stick with what works.

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I've often wondered if the cardboard was shedding too much water away from my plants. Especially in times when it is very dry and I'm watering with a hose, it seems that much of the water just runs off the cardboard (under the hay mulch) unless I squirt it right into the hole where the plant comes out. Do you do anything special with yours to make sure the water gets through? Tear it into smaller pieces or anything?
Comment by Richard Wed Jul 27 09:58:30 2016
I had the exact same problem with landscape cloth a number of years ago. What a mistake! What awaste of money and time! It was really bad because it was wiregrass that poked on up through it in no time at all. The wiregrass did an excellent job of binding the cloth to the ground so that I couldn't pull the stuff up. Dan finally took the tiller to it (what a mess) and I hand picked all the little bits and shreds to throw them away. I'm still picking up bits and shreads - years later.
Comment by Leigh Thu Jul 28 06:11:31 2016

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