Landscape cloth yea or nay
What is the current advice on whether or not to use landscape cloth under decorative rock mulch( river stone type).
Kent County Michigan
I would say nay to both the landscape cloth and the rock mulch and I will give the reasons.
Landscape cloth: Although landscape cloth discourages weeds; is long lasting and allows some water to reach plant roots, there are many reasons not to use it. It prevents natural nutrients to reach the soil; restricts the movement of soil organisms such as earthworms and insects which are constantly moving through soil, mixing in organic matter and other nutrients; it compacts the soil over time and so stops air and water from reaching plant roots which then grow through the cloth and break it down allowing light in for weeds to grow.
Mulch: Mulch provides several services in your garden. It prevents weeds from germinating; cools the soil and retains moisture; natural organisms like insects and earthworms break down the mulch and provide valuable organic matter and nutrients to be mixed with the soil. Shredded hardwood, pine straw, coco hulls, grass clippings, shredded leaves all provide this. The benefit of river rock is that it never needs to be replaced because it does not breakdown. It does nothing to nourish the soil.
If your aim is to prevent weeds from growing in the bed, you will discover that weed seeds germinate quite well in landscape cloth where soil and sand has blown in between the rocks. Pulling those weeds is a tedious job and hard on gardening gloves. If you apply herbicide, unsightly dead plants lie on top of the rocks. Also, river rock is almost impossible to dispose of should you ever decide to have it removed.
A more organic method of preventing weed growth under mulch is to apply paper—either 3-4 sheets of newsprint or ripped up layers of yard waste bags—damp it down with water and apply a couple of inches of mulch (not river rock) on top. The paper will break down over time (it seems worms read newspapers).
I hope this helps you make your decision. Good luck with your garden.
Thank you for your question.