Master Gardeners: Downsizing the lawn
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — First, my yard had too little lawn. Flowers galore and a variety of ground covers but no grass. After a few years of successful seeding, there was too much lawn; mowing is not my thing.
So this spring, I downsized my lawn and expanded the garden area. It turned into a fun adventure, thanks to the advice and help from my friend Karen Vail.
Removing a lawn can be a daunting task. It can be accomplished by digging, a back-breaking chore that may awaken dormant weed seeds and damage the physical condition of the soil or soil tilth. Another option, using chemicals, is not a choice for organic gardeners like me.
Smothering the lawn by laying plastic or newspaper is a third option. Plastic successfully kills the lawn but also will kill beneficial bugs and any underlying tree and shrub roots. I took the gentlest path — smothering with newspaper or, in my case, cardboard.
The many ways to remove a lawn are discussed in the Colorado State University Extension Fact Sheet 7.234: Xeriscaping: Retrofit Your Yard. Since I didn’t need to remove all roots — no plants were to be started from seed — using cardboard was a sound choice. I had also found success with cardboard a few seasons back when I wanted to contain an aggressive groundcover, smothering an area over the course of a winter.
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- Cut the grass very short.
- Lay cardboard — removing staples and tape first — over the area.
- Top with 3 inches of weed-free compost.
- Lay drip irrigation on top of compost.
- Water every other day for six weeks.
- Plant new garden.
During those six weeks, hungry worms did the work of breaking apart roots as they moved up through the cardboard and into the compost. The technique works best when the underlying soil is healthy and contains few weeds, as the weeds may sprout in the new garden. If the area is very weedy, smothering with plastic may be the better option.
While the worms worked, I followed the sun’s path across the garden — finding it shadier than I thought — and selected native plants from lists provided by Karen. Then one morning Karen and her assistant Allison Mecklenburg came by to arrange and plant rocks and flowers. A beautiful new garden was created in a single day. Amazing.
After two weeks of attentive watering, the new plants have settled in. My only chore is to check every so often for sprouting weeds, leaving me free to watch the variety of birds stopping by on their way south for the winter.
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.
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