Mulch and Fabric

clarksnackJune 26, 2012

I see so many people say they don't like fabric. I have used it in past primarily under rock and it has seemed to work really well. Would anyone mind sharing why there is so many negative comments about weed fabric in these forums?

I am getting a large property ready to be a long term rental. It was completely overrun with ivy and blackberries and I have spent 6 months trying to get rid of it all. I have segmented off sections that include some rock landscape, some grass, but a lot of kind of natural space under trees. I want to keep it kind of natural looking. I really just want to put something down to keep the ivy and blackberries from growing back. I had thought that I would put down a lot of fabric and cover with mulch (I hate the look of red bark). Could anyone comment on the pros and cons of my plan?

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woodyoak zone 5 Canada

If you're not intending to grow anything where you're putting down the fabric, it might work - for awhile. Where the weed barrier fabric is a particular disaster is when it is used in a planting bed. My observations of it in use is that it essentially kills the soil under it! While air and water can get through, soil organisms (e.g. worms etc.) cannot reach the surface to pull organic matter (e.g. fallen leaves etc.) down into the soil. So the soil organism move elsewhere. Once they move out, the tunnels they make through the soil start collapsing and disappearing. Those tunnels are a main route for air and water to move through the soil. So the soil becomes dense, dry and oxygen-starved. If there are plants planted in the bed, they aren't going to be happy with that! Leaves and organic matter will accumulate on top of the fabric since the organisms that would have drawn them into the soil are gone. As the oganic matter breaks down on the fabric, weed seeds are happy to germinate in it. Their fine roots find their way through the fabric so you now find yourself with weeds again - but now the weeds are harder to remove because their roots are entangled in the fabric.

So, perhaps the weed fabric will block the ivy and blackberries, but it's not likely to prevent new weeds from taking over eventually. Under a path, particularly a paved one, it makes some sense, but in the rest of the landscape it usually just ends up being more trouble down the road.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 2:21PM
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I aree with Woody's negative appraisal of it and probably feel more strongly against it than she does. With a couple of exceptions, I think it's a waste of money to put in and a PITA to get rid of. Some better quality landscape fabrics are useful--essential even--in some construction projects that involve granular-based walkways, and as a soil separator for stone mulch. When a person decides they've had enough of the stone, it's hard to clean up the area if it's not separated from the soil by a fabric layer. But it doesn't do a great job of controlling weeds over a period of time. I can certify that Ivy and Blackberries would just laugh at you. I think you would be better served to inquire generally as to more effective methods of weed control and management. But for anyone to answer questions about it, you'd need to provide information about how things are layed out. Is there a wall of blackberries and a floor of ivy at the yard's edge ready to rampage in as soon as you turn your back... or what? It would be helpful if you add a couple of photos and described the situation in better detail. And also say whether you would consider chemicals, or if they're out. Of course, if you say no to them it's likely that your options will be more limited. Also, say where you are and if the ivy is English Ivy or otherwise.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 4:03PM
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Thanks woodyoak and yardvaark. I uploaded a picture that was taken soon after I cleared the ivy and blackberries out of most of the flat surfaces. You can see there was still some ivy on the trees - I had only cut them at the roots at the time I took the picture. I'm still working on getting it all out of the branches of the trees. I think it is English, but I don't know for sure. It's a wider leafed ivy...the normal kind that you see all around in Oregon. When we bought the property all trees were consumed and we actually had to have two taken down.

The flatter main area towards the closer part of the pic will be lawn. There is a small berm and all the raised area at the back and right side of property is what I want to remain somewhat natural in looking - but again, eventually it will be cared for by a renter. Yes, there is some ivy and blackberry on the neighbor's side that could encroach, but not much and I kind of think now that I've cleared the jungle which caused it all, they will get rid of the little bit that was on their sides. So I wouldn't say their is a wall of black berries or a floor of's more that the roots are in the ground still and I'm constantly digging more out as I see new little green guys coming up. I don't know that the renter will be as diligent as I long term.

I use both RoundUp and a Blackberry and Vine chemical and don't have lingering guilt. In Oregon the tough part for RoundUp is that it needs to be a dry day over 60 degrees...those are hard to get. Soon I'll have more opportunity for success with RoundUp.

All that said...I welcome suggestions. Other chemicals that might be better? No fabric, but just mulch the whole area? Or for this application, given I'm not anticipating plantings, would you recommend fabric?


    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 4:48PM
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Being a fellow PNW'er, I can tell you from years of experience that weed cloth is no match for either blackberries or ivy, particularly if you are still battling with roots and/or seeds of these thugs remaining in place. They will root right through it and weasel their way up at any edges or seams and are even more difficult to remove once that happens. And no mistake, any plants growing in the general vicinity will find their way into your garden via birds and other creatures. That's how they are taking over this part of the world!

Try a good thick layer of wood chips. They can be obtained for free from pretty much any tree service. You will still need to be attentive to any potential invaders but they will be far easier to remove. And far less likely to seed through the chips.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2012 at 5:20PM
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I will concur with gardengal - those blackberry roots will just laugh at weed cloth. Since you plan on renting this place out, you'll have to be careful with your tenants. My next door neighbor (who rents) is cultivating a large bed of himalayan blackberries so that she can have free fruit.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 12:47AM
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No blackberries or ivy here, but I just did a combined area(60'x20)w/landscape fabric. It's supposed to be the 'better one', more prone to keeping out weeds longer. Soil was put down, then the fabric, followed with a heavy layer of mulch. I will be adding plants such as shrubs and larger growing perennial flowers here and there, and am aware I'll have to make a slit in the fabric for planting. Is there anything else I should do to insure healthy growth, or am I asking this question too late? ; o)

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 4:08AM
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gardengal48's suggestion as a source of mulch is a good one if you can get. Mulch will help keep the weeds down for a while, but as it decomposes it will support them. Using pre-emergent herbicide such as Preen to control germinating seeds and spot spraying to control existing weeds will manage them pretty well. The mulch will need to be freshened up annually, adding another chore to the list. Establishing a durable groundcover is the alternative that ends up being the lower maintenance choice in the long run. (BTW, if that dip in the ground is what you're calling a "berm" ... it's a swale.)

You could make a positive ID of English ivy from pictures on the Web. It has deep green, waxy leaves that are roughly similar in shape to a maple leaf, with lighter veins. If you're trying to kill it with spray, you must have sufficient foliage available for it to work. You can't first pull up the ivy and then spray the ermerging sprouts. If doing it that way, re-growth will never end. It's better to allow an area to fully leaf out and then spray the entire area (meaning 100 s.f. contiguous patches, or larger; smaller sprays or "edge" sprays will just temporarily "burn" the foliage but without killing.) Be prepared to spray again later if (when) it returns. As soon as the foliage is FULLY out, hit it again. It'd be wise when spraying it to use a higher allowed concentration of Round-up... which means you cannot buy it in the ready-to-use formula. It will be helpful if you have a back-pack type sprayer. For a better kill, I'd combine a 2nd herbicide that includes 2,4-D along with the Round-up.

To remove it from trees, cut the ivy stems with hand pruners, or a pruning saw if they are large, at the base of the tree. Make a second cut and remove a small section, if needed, to prevent the cut stems from rejoining. For a 3' radius around the tree, spray the ivy with herbicide (again, requires the foliage to be in existence) so that new sprouts are discouraged from approaching the tree. Include spraying the freshly cut ends. Don't waste time trying to remove attached ivy from the tree as it will be impossible. After a while, the brown leaves will fall off and over the course of a couple of years, all the stems will fall from the tree.

I'm not well-versed specifically in blackberry control, but with weeds that have live underground roots, in general it's nearly futile to dig or spray each little piece that pops up. As with the ivy, you need it to let the growth flush out and then spray the whole lot of it. Many weeds return after the first spraying which is one reason I use the 2 chemicals together. (Also, for general weed spraying, there are many weeds that Roundup is ineffective on.) If you need to make successive sprays, each time the growth flushes out it will be less. Usually three sprayings over a period of time will take care of most weeds even if they were firmly entrenched.

If I could look into my crystal ball, I'd guess that the renter is not going to keep up with the yard to your specs. They usually don't have the equipment and interest. So there might be a chance of it reverting to a similar state as you found it... especially with a "natural area" waiting in the wings. If that happened, presuming some ivy returned, I'd consider trying to make it into your friend and have a nice groundcover which would be lower maintenance in the long run than mulch. You're probably an ivy hater and that's why you ripped it out in the first place, but now you're creating in its stead, an area that will need regular attention to keep from becoming weeds. Once ivy is established and weeds are controlled, ivy is very low maintenance. Spraying it at the base of trees as I described above, or even cutting it annually (a quick, minor chore) is sufficient to keep it from climbing. Annually spraying a 3'-wide swath of it at the back and side of its perimeter is sufficient to keep if from exceeding the lot line. For a rental, where it meets grass, the lawn mower will keep it from working very far into the lawn. My saying anything nice about ivy will probably bring the ivy-haters out to counter any praise I give it, but I've lived with ivy for many years and found it to be one of the lowest maintenance plants... if not THE lowest maintenance large scale groundcover. My 1/4 acre of it required much less time to care for than did my 20-minute lawn. And it makes a nice, lush-looking lawn substitute in the shade. I've written a good bit about it previously. If you want to know more you could search the forum for it in conjunction with my name.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 8:34AM
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Yard - your SE regional bias is showing. To maintain ivy as a nice, low groundcover in Oregon requires a lot of work. A lawnmower will keep it out of the grass but that's weekly maintenance. An annual spraying is not enough to keep it contained. An additional problem with attempting to let an ivy patch be is that it would quickly get infiltrated by the blackberry. You'll have to trim it back regularly to keep it low and to keep the blackberry under control.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 1:21PM
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It is also important to note that ivy laughs at most herbicides :-) The waxy leaf cuticle that makes the foliage so shiny also deflects penetration by herbicides. In fact, cutting back the topgrowth and foliage and applying the herbicide to the cut stems IS the recommended chemical method of approach or pretreating the infestation with pelargonic acid to increase herbicidal penetration.

FWIW, we are pretty darned experienced up here in the PNW on the confinement/control/removal of both English ivy and Himalayan blackberries :-) They are rampantly invasive species pretty much anywhere west of the Cascades in both urban and rural settings.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2012 at 1:47PM
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Thanks everyone. I did see mention by Yard of the herbicide 2,4-d. Any other PNWers have success with this in combination with RoundUp against Ivy. I think it is English Ivy...waxy leaf, yellow veins, larger in size. If you've had success where do you source it? I don't believe I've seen it at Home Depot or Lowes. I'm curious to learn if others in Oregon have used it and where they have found it to purchase.

Thanks again everyone for the helpful advice.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 10:43AM
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@ tanowicki... "Yard - your SE regional bias is showing...."

The condition upon which my recommendation rests is that English ivy ALREADY exists on the property and that attempts to remove it seem to have faltered or failed. So it's only a question of choosing to manage it, or be it's victim if one wishes to give up on the eradication efforts. If it's true that Hedera helix is 100% unmanagable in the PNW, then any suggestions I make about managing it are futile. I have to take into account that every claim made about how terrorizing ivy is in the PNW is also made in the SE, where I know for a fact that English ivy can be managed with great success if people would employ more effective techniques. Surely one can understand why I maintain skepticism after having had so much success with it while crossing paths with others who are terrified of it and claim it to be unmanagable. I've also seen them trying to spread their fear and lack of success as though there were no possible alternative. Though it's possible that the recommendations I've made might have already been tried, it would seem unusual as they're not the normal run-of-the-mill weed control practices.

The questions about English ivy will never be settled here because this is not a place for clinical trials. We can only talk about it and put forth what sounds logical and reasonable. I have to question the counter-arguments that " maintain it [ivy] as a... low groundcover takes a lot of work." Ivy only grows to a certain height and no more so there's nothing to be done at all to keep it at that height. All the work is at its edges. And since mowing a lawn is already a weekly chore, that ivy happens to be next to it adds no extra effort at all for it to be simultaneously trimmed. While the blackberry might add complication, neither is it immune to all methods of control. Established ivy can withstand spot spraying fairly well. Since it doesn't withstand mass spraying well, I question the claim that if properly dosed and applied, annual spraying for the purpose of rough edging, is without effect. It is a powerful "growth retardant" at minimum; in many areas where ivy grows rampantly, it works well. I'm not making the claim that all the methods I've used will work when applied somewhere else as my field experience has not reached that far. I'm suggesting that if someone has not tried those methods precisely as described, it's well worth a shot given how much success I've had with them in spite of the skepticism around me. Neither am I trying to convince those who have their mind made up to the contrary. I'm only appealing to those who are open to alternative methods of control.

@ gardengal48... "...In fact, cutting back the topgrowth and foliage and applying the herbicide to the cut stems IS the recommended chemical method."

What are the particulars... what chemicals? ...dose? ...frequency? ...application method? There are innumerable variables that would make a difference. Without knowing the details, this sounds like a method guaranteed to fail.

@ clarksnack... glysophate is the active ingredient in Round-up. It's sold by different companies under various trade names and in a variety of strengths. For best savings purchase a concentrate that is 50% glysophate rather than one of the weaker formulations. (I can buy a quart of it from the local farm store for $30-some.) 2,4-D is the another active ingredient that can be found in a variety of herbicides. Weed-B-Gone would be one example, but if you check the ingredients you'll see it in others. Per the instructions of each there is a range of rates that can be mixed depending on need. Select a stronger solution if you're up against a tough job. When you mix combined, mix according to the quantity of water in the sprayer, ignoring the fact of the other chemical. (If you mixed equal size batches of each chem. separately according to the directions and then combined them, you would have, in effect, each at half strength. Instead, mix full strength relative to the amount of water.)

    Bookmark   June 28, 2012 at 1:24PM
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Just want to make sure we're talking about the same low-growing groundcover.

The numbers are feet.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 4:33PM
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Yes, I think that we're talking about the same stuff. I took a picture of a small area I haven't gotten to yet. My ivy looks a little darker than your picture, but I think we're talking about the same thing.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 5:10PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Saying that ivy only grows to a certain height and no more so there's nothing to be done at all to keep it at that height. All the work is at its edges. . Is like saying the world is flat.

The Christopher Columbus syndrome sails again.
_______&______________ splat.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 6:07PM
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It is extremely clear to anyone living in the northwest and dealing with English ivy on a day to day basis that advice from elsewhere in the country and from those who fail to see/won't admit that English ivy IS a problem - and a significantly large problem at that - is pretty much useless. They aren't going to realize or recognize the issues involved to be able to provide any meaningful advice.

clarksnack, the OSU extension service is probably the closest thing to a global authority on English ivy and has reams of info on its removal and control :-) I've attached one very helpful link.

And just to be clear - ivy is NOT just a "low-growing groundcover" nor will its growth stop at any predetermined point. It is actually a vine and while it will spread on the ground (and root as it goes), it can climb to 50 of the reasons its presence in this area is so problematic. It can easily grow up to the top of our large native conifers, making them top-heavy and depriving them of sunlight. It can also grow over any smaller plant or stationary obstacle in even its creeping, groundcover format and then produce adult foliage, flowers and fruits. Do not underestimate this plant in this climate.

Here is a link that might be useful: OSU - English ivy control

    Bookmark   June 29, 2012 at 8:09PM
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@ tanowicki... One thing that came up in the big ivy argument from not too long back is that many people on the west coast have ALGERIAN ivy which is the larger-leaved, bigger, and more rambunctious cousin to English ivy. I make no claims about it one way or the other as it's outside of my experience. But it SEEMS (from pictures) that is has the ability to heap up --almost as if it's growing on top of itself-- and create mounds. Personally, if it's true that it behaves this way, I find that feature undesirable. Maybe a need could be seen for Algerian ivy--somewhere, somehow--but I don't know what it is. It's not the urban environment in my opinion. In your picture, tan, it seems that maybe it's Algerian ivy as the color is yellowish and there appear to be various mounds and the height reads --according to your measuring stick-- in the 15" to 16" range. Here, the OP could easily locate an area where the ivy is growing over nothing but the ground itself and measure the ivy's height from the ground to its surface. If it's in the 8" to 12" range, then it's different than what your picture is showing.

English ivy, as I know it does not display the same trait of heaping onto itself and creating mounds. (See the photo below.) It only makes a mound when it is growing over something else like a tree stump or old car that IS the mound. Unless it's given something to climb, its groundcover height is about 10" ht. in an open, running situation. In various conditions it might reach a couple of inches higher or lower. If the OP can identify this is NOT the case in this situation, then the plant is either not English ivy, or how I know it to behave here IS different in which case they could reason away from following my advice.

@ deviant-deziner... "The Christopher Columbus syndrome sails again." What an interesting way of trying to make a factual point... entirely avoiding anything that looks like proof or evidence of a claim that you don't even identify. Developing skills like that could make you highly desirable in the world of political spin so you might consider if a 'higher calling' is a possibility. ...?

@ gardengal48... If you're reading what I'm saying, you're not understanding it. I'm not claiming that ENGLISH ivy (not Algerian ivy) isn't or can't be a problem in the PNW. I'm not saying it can't climb. I'm not saying it can't spread out sideways. Can I make it any clearer than that? I'm agreeing with you on all those points! I'm saying that there are many people who BELIEVE that there is no possibility that it can be controlled WHERE I LIVE. In spite of that I have had great success, personally (and I've taken care of huge amounts of it) in controlling it so must believe that there is a campaign underway to convince people to give up before they begin. If the campaign which encourages 'giving up because it's futile' exists elsewhere, a person might appreciate hearing about an idea that encourages 'not giving up.' If it turns out that there is no possible hope of managing English ivy that is now present in the PNW, then it would mean that all of it is out of control and it's a hopeless situation and even my suggestions can't help. But if everyone in the Southeast, where English ivy grows rampantly, believed that, they'd be in the same situation for no good reason. It sounds to me as though you believe that all possible solutions have been tried and all have failed. Yet, an example to the contrary, getting ivy out of trees and keeping it out, is a relatively benign chore even if done only mechanically and only once per year. To cut (or scrape away with a machete) one-year old ivy stems takes only a minute per tree. (Please don't offer pictures of ALGERIAN ivy climbing a tree for 30 years while claiming how evil English ivy is!) If it's been allowed to grow into a tree for years, the initial cutting might take a few minutes presuming one uses correct tools and methods. But allowing it to grow "50 meters" over decades, one only questions "why?" It's like complaining that the lawn was so hard to mow after it had gone un-mowed for 5 years! Since nowhere in this thread have I recommended to anyone to ADD English Ivy by planting MORE of it (which is what your comments imply) then the ONLY possible consequence of my recommendations, if they fail, would be that the OP not advance his or her interests. It would not undo their work; it would simply fail to further it. On the other hand, the consequence of employing my recommendations and achieving some level of success in managing ivy would bring a multi-fold benefit. I cannot figure out why someone would be against trying something unless it had already been tried and proven wrong. You may have tried various methods of control, but I seriously doubt that you or others have attempted the exact advice I offered as your mindset likely wouldn't permit it. But neither am I suggesting that YOU try what I'm recommending. I'm offering it to someone else who might not yet be completely convinced that all is hopeless.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 10:32AM
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Forgot the photo representing typical English ivy showing how it lies at uniform, relatively low height on smooth ground... when it's not climbing over obstacles. Noting that the closest visible trees appear not to have ivy growing on them, it seems that someone has devised a way to keep it off of them. It can't be that difficult!

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 10:46AM
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OP - the link gardengal gave you is a good guide on how to get rid of it. You may have to do some work this winter and be vigilant to make sure your rid of it and the blackberry.

When choosing plants to put in the space, be extra careful with those with english in their name. Our climates are similar enough to make the plants very, very happy. But, whatever keeps them in check in England is missing here and they can become aggressive and a problem (e.g. english ivy, english holly, english laurel).

Since you're getting the property ready to be a long term rental, you may want to screen renters about yard work. With the rental market the way it is, you should have your pick.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 2:56PM
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