Not the good kind of weed.
August 5, 2009 8:07 PM   Subscribe

I have a quarter acre of weeds I don't want to tend.

I just purchased a home last Friday that has a much bigger lot than anything I've dealt with before. Unfortunately what was once a lawn is now completely overgrown and in sorry condition. It's been mowed recently (as in a week) so it's not out of control.

Two questions:

1. We have big plans but it's going to take time to develop them. In the meantime I don't want to spend hours every weekend just mowing these weeds. What I'd like to do is basically turn the back yard into a great big dirt pile. What's the most cost effective way to do this in the next week or two? I've had suggestions to rent a front end loader and just scrape the ground or rent a tractor/tiller.

2. Eventually, we'll be planting grass/laying sod along with a gravel/rock play area for the kids. We're also considering a good amount of mulch and my wife wants to consider rubber mulch. Any thoughts on the rubber mulch or other low maintenance options for a good chunk of the land?

3. I know I promised just two but this one is easy. Does anybody have recommendations on a Metafilterish website where I could ask questions like this specific to home improvements/landscaping?
posted by Octoparrot to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think Garlon 4 is the herbicide you want, dunno where you could buy small quantities though.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:25 PM on August 5, 2009

You really don't want to scrape off the topsoil just to get rid of the weeds. Similarly, tilling it will just mix the weeds into the soil. Unfortunately, you will need to go chemical to quickly and effectively remove the weeds on such a large plot.

You can rent large sprayers and you can buy Roundup concentrate at a big box like Lowes. Pick a sunny day (preferably a day with no rain forecast for the next 24 hours) and spray thoroughly in the morning (once any dew has burned-off.)

I know a lot of people are going to hate the suggestion of Roundup. And, normally, I'd agree. But, given your timeframe and the size of the job, it's the quickest and most thorough way, in my experience.

The weeds should show signs of distress within a day. They should be toast a few days later.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:32 PM on August 5, 2009

If you do go with a chemical solution, make sure there's no chance that you inadvertently poison nearby wells, streams, and ponds.
posted by balls at 8:51 PM on August 5, 2009

Goats or sheep?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:51 PM on August 5, 2009 [8 favorites]

You can also rent a sod-cutter. I would recommend a gasoline-powered one for that size of area. It will cut up the turf in neat little strips that you can roll up and stack in a corner of the yard until they break down.

Meanwhile, after you have your strips of weedy lawn all cut up, you could have a load of river rock or mulch brought in to cover the area. You can spot-control weeds that pop up with Roundup, which is better than drenching the whole area in the chemical. You could also plant low-maintenance groundcovers, such as Blue Rug Juniper, thyme or even buffalo grass (which does not need to be mowed).

I would NOT use rubber mulch, especially if you live in an area with hot summers. As rubber mulch heats up, it releases toxic gases such as volatile organic compounds. (VOCs) and another class of chemicals called polyaromatic hydrocarbons. Here's a study on the effects of rubber mulch.
posted by Ostara at 8:55 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

May I suggest you plant all or part of the area with indigenous plants, not grass, which will give it a naturally attractive look and not require any care at all.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:13 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite] has a bunch of decent forums. They're broken down by category. Not nearly as huge as Meta in terms of feedback, but still pretty comprehensive.

And, yes, you really can rent goats and sheep to eat down/maintain your yard depending on where you live.
posted by dancinglamb at 9:15 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. If you want to kill it, but leave it in place, why not mow it as close as you can get, then cover with sheets of polyethylene or tarps? No chemicals, kills the weeds dead. Looks like crap, sure, but it doesn't sound like you're too concerned about that part.

On the other hand, the rental price for a front end loader will also buy you many lawn mowings from a neighborhood kid.

2. Meh, rubber mulch. My father in law is a landscaper and he really likes the dyed hardwood mulches.
posted by electroboy at 9:21 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could lay down cardboard, newspaper, weed matting or tarps if there is no rush for them to actually be dead. You may still have weed issues when you do landscape if they have gone to seed or are rhizomes, otherwise it will serve as green mulch and the paper will be a soil improver.
posted by arruns at 9:22 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Goats or sheep?

posted by Violet Hour at 9:24 PM on August 5, 2009

Cover in black plastic, modestly cheap and easy to weigh down.
posted by edgeways at 9:27 PM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Call the Cooperative Extension Service; they''' either have expertise or a booklet you can get. Bare dirt erodes in the wind, and chemicals are nasty, and would have to be reapplied. I'd sow seeds for clover or some other beneficial but not too hard to get rid of later plant. Clover is good for the soil. In Maine, a lot of public land(ex., next to highways) is now planted with meadow plants and wildflowers and is mowed 2x/year. Looks great. Mowing tall grass may require a landscaper-size mower, but 2x a year wouldn't be crazy expensive.
posted by theora55 at 9:30 PM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: I seeded my bare front yard with white dutch clover and then watered a lot to get it started. it grows really short so you don't have to mow it and it will crowd out all but the most dastardly weeds

If not clover I would mow it all down and put down road fabric or similar and either leave it like that til you get around to landscaping it or cover it with gravel

I care about my kid's health so I would never use poison just for aesthetics only to grow food if I had to. (and I wouldn't have to because organic gardening has been very successful for me)
posted by cda at 9:57 PM on August 5, 2009 [7 favorites]

Belt it with Roundup. Wait a week. Check your local paper for 'free fill' and get tens of cubic meters delivered. Get them to deliver it in a small truck that can move around the yard, dropping the soil in long lines or scattered piles. Get yourself a couple of soil spreaders and a friend, then spread it all out. Once a week, walk around and check to see if anything pops its head up. If it does, belt it with Roundup or pull it out by hand.

Alternatively, belt it with Roundup, wait a couple of weeks, then turn it all over with a rotary hoe. Work some gypsum in there if there's a lot of clay, and a little lime to make it sweet for the turf to come.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:23 PM on August 5, 2009

Please don't use round up or other herbicides, it isn't harmless and it doesn't go away as fast as they like to claim.

tarps, cardboard, old sheets, landscaping cloth will smother the plants. Goats and sheep if you can get them, or I just have the old guy down the street bring his riding lawn mower over. He is cheap.

As for the mulch, be careful of bark as it gets stuck in kids feet, but I second beware of rubber mulch, there are a lot of indisclosed chemicals in most sources of rubber and you have to take your chances. I personally like something they call hog fuel, which is big chuncks of bark and pieces of wood.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:56 PM on August 5, 2009

Nthing the goats.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:23 AM on August 6, 2009

Work some gypsum in there if there's a lot of clay

Gypsum works to break up saline clay soils and hardpan by displacing the sodium molecule on the clay and allowing the sodium to leach away. It doesn't do anything in non-sodic soils (or soils in areas where there is no drainage) to break up clay. The only thing you want to add to help the texture of clay soil is organic material. No gypsum, no sand.

Octoparrot, the weeds are helping your soil, believe it or not. Their roots improve drainage and increase water infiltration. Organic material helps build the soil. There are more toxic ways to destroy your soil system, but removing all the weeds by constantly spraying Round-Up so that you have bare dirt will do it (I'm not even talking about the Round-Up part). If you don't want the weeds, cda's suggestion of clover is very good. Clover will help provide nitrogen to your soil, essential if you're going to plant a lawn. Till it into the ground before seeding your lawn; a properly prepared and planted seed lawn is more robust than sod, generally speaking. Mostly because 1) people who lay sod don't bother with the proper prep 2) sod grasses are not usually the best for a given situation, they're only the best at being grown and transported as sod.

Rubber mulch smells foul (toxic offgassing), and has no place in a garden. It is never good for anything else, except the trash. Getting all those little pieces out of the soil when you decide you want to grow stuff is a pain in the ass, as is hauling it away. Plus it's flammable, in spite of what many manufacturers claim. Possibly not a problem if you live somewhere wet, but it is not recommended in many places here in California.

Organic mulches are extremely beneficial for your garden. It is low maintenance because it helps you use less water, fertilizer, pesticides, maintain a steady soil temperature, and is non-polluting. You just have to replace it once in awhile, as it breaks down to enrich your garden.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:45 AM on August 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Torch it.
posted by headnsouth at 3:26 AM on August 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

After you remove the weeds (goats sound _great_), may I suggest planting a bunch of trees for a low-maintenance plan? You might have to clear out around the trees for a couple of years, but once they get going, you'll have some nice shade and little undergrowth. You might eventually get to plant some moss, if you want, but the shade will discourage brush growth.

Much nicer than concrete...

Also, since you're in Denver and it's relatively dry, you might also try putting rocks and sandy soil on part of the lot and making a succulent rock garden. Make sure this part is elevated, so that water won't run into it and it stays dry.

Good luck.
posted by amtho at 4:03 AM on August 6, 2009

Umm, I realize this is all new to you and a quarter acre sounds like a huge yard. It's not. You should be able to mow a quarter acre with a push mower in under an hour. Just keep it mowed until you are ready to deal with renovating it. Do it yourself for the exercise, or drop a $20 on a neighborhood kid every week to do it. When mowed, even a weedy yard doesn't look that bad. I guarantee you it'll be a lot less work than taking care of quarter acre dirt pile.
When you are ready to deal with with hit it with Roundup. Roundup has to absorb through the leaves to do anything, it's inert on dirt. Once the lawn browns over, cut it as low as you can, rake it really good, overseed, put down of layer of straw to help hold in moisture, and water twice a day until the grass comes in.

If you want to quick, easy, but expensive solution, look into having somebody hydroseed the yard for you.
posted by COD at 5:47 AM on August 6, 2009

No offense, but a quarter acre is tiny, particularly if you have a rideon mower.

Goats are cool, but frankly goats suck: they tend to be violent and they'd much rather eat your trees and your washing than weeds. Goats do not like most weeds any more than you do and they will generally ignore them in favour of anything (probably valuable) that you might possibly not want them to eat. The only thing they're good for is dense viny/thorny/woody stuff, which it sounds like you don't have.

What you want to do is replace the weeds with clover. The approach you take will depend on what the weeds are and how many of their seeds are in the soil, so whatever you do, do not allow the weeds to go to seed. If they look like they're flowering, mow them or pull them out by hand. Yes, that is a boring job.

Garlon is for woody weeds (usually tall stuff with thorns), whereas the fact that you have mown yours tells me that you have small or leafy weeds that garlon will not affect at all. You need Roundup or one of its rebadgings. Don't spray it liberally, spray it very carefully onto individual weeds with minimal overspray; the weeds will die and the grasses will be fine. Once the weeds are dead, either pull them or hoe them in and spread clover seeds and follow whatever directions the clover seed packet gives you. You could use grass instead of clover, but clover is better because it's a legume and will fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil, which is required for other stuff to grow.

If you get weeds coming back after you've killed them, you may have a lot of weed-seed in the ground. If this is the case, that's where the black plastic comes in because it's used to make all the weeds germinate at once so you can kill them in one fell swoop. At the beginning of spring, mow a big area, hoe it in and cover with black plastic. Leave it there for probably a couple of weeks until a whole bunch of stuff has sprouted - it should come up real dense - then kill all the weeds with small quantities of roundup or by pulling them up. If you did it right and everything germinated, you should have it pretty much under control from that point onwards.

Yardwork sucks, but you can be smart about it.
posted by polyglot at 6:20 AM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Regarding the use of goats, it seems the city of Denver already uses a herd of goats for this sort of thing:

Natural Areas Staff - Gayle Weinstein, Kaye Reed, Libbe Lucero, Mary Lucero, Michelle LeMahieu, Darrell McHone, Felipe Romero, Ruby Montelongo, Charles Whigham, Tim Garcia - This team leverages resources and partnerships, including dedicated volunteers, to protect indigenous species and improve Denver’s outdoor environment with minimal use of natural resources such as irrigation on over 3000 acres. Innovative use of goats and hot water steam minimizes the need for pesticides.

You should contact the city's Department of Environmental Health, Community Outreach & Support office at 720-865-5402. Maybe they can get you in touch with a local goatherd.

posted by General Tonic at 6:59 AM on August 6, 2009

A yard service can come in and mow once a month, with their riding mower, for not a whole lot of money.

However, if your goal is to kill the grass and weeds, and reserve your options for future uses, I agree with the suggestion of black plastic. I have done this myself. After a year in place, the weeds were dead and their seeds were cooked in the hot Texas sun. After that, I landscaped with Pampas grass, which needs no care.

The amount of work for other methods suggested is a lot greater than the plastic. You will want to get 6 mil plastic, in the widest sizes. The wind is going to want to take it away, so weight it down and spike it in place. I used railroad spikes. Take care walking on it, as you can make holes that will allow individual specimens to flourish.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 7:34 AM on August 6, 2009

I agree with the above comment, too. A quarter-acre is not that much, and it's not going to require that you give up your weekends. You should be able to cut that in under an hour - probably closer to a half hour if you don't bag the clippings. It's pretty manageable.

You could also look into doing some xeriscaping, which can be quite beautiful yet requires very little maintenance. In my experience, coneflowers and black-eyed susans self-seed to the point that they will crowd out weeds.
posted by Ostara at 8:07 AM on August 6, 2009

Dave's Garden is an excellent resource, it's a big community of gardeners.

I am a landscape architect, and the above solutions are mostly all pretty good.

Don't go with shredded or ground rubber mulch. You will never be able to remove it, it's not cheap, and it's just plain nasty.

Call a weed abatement service or a landscape service and have them mow it with weed abatement tools (gas powered string trimmers, large ag mowers, etc.). That will bring the weeds down to about 3"-4" high, looks kinda yucky, but if you don't like the weed look, that's what you get. It's cheaper than actually trying to remove the weeds.

Of course, you could live with the weeds. In California we call them "native plants" :)

You can hand seed some wildflowers after mowing. The seeds will have to compete with the established weeds, so it won't be entirely successful, and you'll have to water some until the seeds germinate and start to get established. You'll have more success if you till the weeds under first.

One things we do is called a "grow and kill". Till the weeds under. Water them for 2-3 weeks, let them return. Apply Roundup before they can go to seed, wait a couple of days for the Roundup to set in, then till them under. This will be dependent on the time of year you are working, depending on your climate. Of course, if you don't like the idea of Roundup, then don't do it.

You can apply hand broadcast seed afterwards.

Some folks have suggested applying black plastic over the area you want to get rid of weeds. This works really well for small areas, but a quarter acre is probably too big. Plus, you'll have to dispose of the plastic afterwards.

You may be able to get wood chip mulch from your local tree company. In Southern California, the wood chip recyclers charge the tree companies to dump clean wood waste, so the tree companies love to have a place to dump for free. Look for tree companies in your neighborhood, running a chipper blowing chips into the tree truck. Stop and talk to the foreman, tell him what you want. Make sure they aren't doing weed abatement, you don't want a bunch of weed seed in your mulch.

You want 2"-4" of wood chip mulch over the whole area. That's a lot of wood chips. The mulch won't really suppress weeds, but it will make it a lot easier to remove weeds that germinate in the chip layer, and the mulch is really good for the soil. Plus, you can walk on the wood chips after it rains without getting your feet muddy. Don't buy all-bark wood chip mulch, it's pricey, and not necessary, though it is the most attractive.
posted by Xoebe at 9:19 AM on August 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

For a selective, non-chemical, low effort weed control solution (and one that can also cook out weeds seeds in topsoil, thus reducing or preventing resprouting), I recommend a weed burner kit and a 20 lb. propane grill tank (possibly bungee corded on a roll around cart), or perhaps a smaller, 10 lb. tank and burner kit, hung in a backpack. You can do a 1/4 acre easily in a couple of hours, the effects are immediate, there is no chemical residue, and some people think it is fun to play with their own mini-flamethrower.

Keep a garden hose at the ready, and don't burn weeds on windy days.
posted by paulsc at 12:41 PM on August 6, 2009

Gypsum works to break up saline clay soils and hardpan by displacing the sodium molecule on the clay and allowing the sodium to leach away.

He's in Colorado, right? High salt soils are pretty common there, so it might not be terrible advice. Which brings up another thought, you should probably have the soil tested just to see what's going on with it and what you really need to add to it. Can't really go wrong with organic matter though.
posted by electroboy at 5:43 PM on August 6, 2009

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