Friday, July 30, 2010

Lawn Replacement: Battle of the Grasses

We began this summer with the lofty goal of replacing much of our lawn. We took advantage of free leaf mulch from Fairfax county, diligently dug up sod, laid newspaper, and covered bare areas. We planted mazus and thyme to fill in spaces between stones and added native perennials to new beds. 

Alas, the summer’s record heat and alternate wet and dry spells created a haven for weeds. The mazus filled in beautifully, only to be interrupted by spiky crabgrass and sprawling chickweed.

There’s not much to do at this point but pull weeds by hand. It’s a sad fact of gardening, but it must be done. The good news is that crabgrass is a warm season annual and will die off in fall. The bad news is that it self-seeds and will return with a vengeance in spring. So how can we prevent it?

Timing is of the essence. Crabgrass germinates around the same time lilacs bloom. Seasoned gardeners tell us to apply pre-emergents sometime after the forsythia stops blooming and the lilacs start. We could opt to apply a chemical pre-emergent weed barrier, such as Dimension or Tupersan, but we’d rather have weeds than a toxins.  Corn gluten is an organic herbicide that helps prevent weed emergence and improves soil composition, but it’s not 100%. We'll use corn gluten abundantly in spring and fall, mixed in with leaf mulch in all of our beds. 

No matter which method one choses, it’s important to water promptly after applying herbicide. Mow high to allow grass to fill in. Seed or plant any bare areas promptly, and irrigate deeply. A healthy landscape is the best defense. 

We’ll just keep pulling and planting. To quote Reginald Farrer, “I am fonder of my garden more for the trouble it gives me.”

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