I’d like to turn part of my yard into a Japanese garden. Can I use old carpeting or rugs as underlayment beneath my pea gravel? -Ken
Old carpet and rugs are popular choices for underlayment when building ponds and water features, so it stands to reason that it could also function as a weed barrier and padding underneath pea gravel. However, I’m a little prejudiced on this one.
Not only am I believer in organic gardening, but I’ve also rehabbed several yards that were landscaped with buried carpet, plastic sheeting, and numerous other unexplainable pieces of debris. Years later, bits of slimy material continue to work their way to the surface, usually to be hit by my lawn mower or yanked using thick gloves. It’s been the source of some of my most creative grossed-out grumbling!
Nonetheless, here’s what you need to know about recycling old carpet in your yard:
On The Plus Side:
- The price is right: Old carpet is cheap, and you can even find roadside freebies.
- Ease of use: It’s thick, sturdy, and easy to handle (if a bit heavy).
- It works: It will suppress weeds growing up through your gravel while still allowing water to drain.
- Recycling is good: Synthetic carpeting can take thousands of years to fully decompose in a landfill – recycling is the very least we can do!
On the Other Hand:
- The “Ew” Factor: If you’ve ever pulled old carpet out of a house, you know that it’s a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. After a couple of years of rain and soil, “Zen” is not exactly the term that comes to mind!
- Soil Contamination: Synthetic carpet is made of petroleum products that have been treated with chemicals and cleaners – do you really want this leaching out into your soil?
- Nothing Lasts Forever: Even though synthetic carpet is veeeeerrry slow to decompose, it will fall apart (especially if the binding is organic) and will be hard to remove. And if weeds do grow on top of your carpet, their roots will twine through the fibers, making them nearly impossible to pull.
- Is It Necessary: If you’ve properly prepared your gravel bed, with a tamped-down base material and thick layers of gravel, you don’t really need any underlayment at all.
Choose natural fibers.
If you want to use underlayment, here are some ideas that are more environmentally friendly:
- Carpet or blankets made of 100% natural fibers such as wool, cotton, or jute
- Pieces of cardboard
- Thick layers of newspapers
You may need to replace these in a few years, but your soil will be much less contaminated. If you have old synthetic carpeting to dispose of, check around – recycling programs are spring up all over the place to turn old carpet into building and paving materials, insulation, new carpet, and all sorts of useful things!