There has been recent speculation in trade journals that landscape fabrics, while doing an excellent job of weed control, may have a detrimental effect on ornamental plant growth. A study is in progress to investigate the manner in which hardwood mulch and applied landscape fabric affect soil temperature, soil aeration, and water content over 18 months. Two experiments are in progress, one with compost incorporated at 50% soil volume, the other with no compost incorporation. The experimental design is a randomized complete block with four treatments (mulch, fabric, fabric plus mulch, and control) and four plants per plot. Each plot has been planted with herbaceous perennials so as to allow analysis of treatment effects on plant growth. Soil temperature within plots is monitored on a continual basis. Soil aeration is measured every two weeks using installed oxygen tubes. Water content is measured using time domain reflectometry 24 and 48 h after a significant rainfall event. Preliminary results suggest that hardwood mulch and landscape fabric are similar in their effect on soil water content 0 to 48 h after a significant rainfall event. However, after 48 h, hardwood mulch increases soil water retention compared to landscape fabric.
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