Beautiful Permaculture Yards in 30 minutes or less per week
July 1, 2012 6:57 PM   Subscribe

My suburban yard began as a permaculture project but is overrun with invasive grass. What can I do?

Okay, the long story. We bought a house in a somewhat rural but still basically suburban neighborhood. We had a permaculture plan drawn up by some locals and planted quite a few fruit trees, raspberries, peach, apple, cherry, and so on and so forth.
In the meantime, the lawn continues to creep, grow and extend its feelers into everything. We don't use weed n feed so it's full of weeds.

As I look around our neighborhood, I see variations on a few themes. There's the weed n feed lawn with tree, shrubs and planting areas with barrier to prevent grass getting into them. That's the majority of homes. There are a few homes that do some cultivation in raised or regular planting beds, some fruit tree cultivations and so forth. Then there are a few very cool homes where they've totally eliminated the grass and have landscaped with all plantings, bare earth or stonework defining paths.

So, our house is the poster child for permaculture run amok.
I've started to install that awful weed barrier stuff to make a firewall around planting areas and then clean them out, a defensible barrier as it were.
Given that I don't want to spend 8-10 hours of every weekend working in my yard all summer, where can I find good common sense solutions for running this scenario? Forums, sites, books?
Hipster's Guide to the Care and Maintenance of the Organic Permaculture Surburban Yard?

- what can I use instead of this cheap weed barrier stuff?
- how do I effectively reduce, remove or reuse the trimming and plant material we are piling up over time?
- how can I manage grass and over time eliminate it or reduce it?
Really I need lots of solutions for doing this artfully. Anyone encountered this and found ways to do it right without becoming a yard serf? I'm not willing to pay people to do this, I enjoy the beauty, the food and the greenery, it's just we need some common sense solutions for managing mom nature in our front and back yards.
posted by diode to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Look into sheet mulching. Here's a pdf. When we did this at a permaculture design course, we used lots of cardboard and newspaper, which supposedly creates a weed barrier for blocking the seeds in the soil's seed bank.

If your weed seeds are blowing in, that's a different story. I think the theoretical permaculture answer to that is going to be to plant a cover crop and / or have an animal (geese?) do the weeding periodically. That may be impractical since you didn't mention your flock of geese. You may also be able to learn what conditions are best for the weeds that you're most afflicted by, in hopes of changing the conditions enough that your soil is unwelcoming to them.

So I guess I'd try to sheet mulch my way to a good cover crop and then, yeah, weed it occasionally. First, I'd research what sort of mulching works with your trees to make sure that too much mulch, or the wrong kind, won't damage them. Hot compost might steal nutrients from them that they need, or a thick layer of mulch could block air from reaching their roots.

(This knowledge is from books, so hopefully someone with more practical experience will be along.)
posted by slidell at 7:20 PM on July 1, 2012

I've had good luck with weeding the heck out of the areas under my apple trees, and then spreading a thick layer of wood chips (5 or 6 inches, from a pile that's sat for about a year) once or twice a year. Maybe you can call your county's landfill, and see if they offer mulch for pick up? Or call a local tree trimmer and offer to let them dump a load of wood chips in your yard? Maybe wood chips would work in combination with slidell's advice about laying down cardboard first--though I myself would put cardboard only over the grass, and not right up to the base of the trees. (I do cardboard/grass clippings in my garden and it has SUBSTANTIALLY reduced the time I spend weeding.)

Don't forget that your county agricultural extension may have advice too.

You might consider renting or borrowing a wood chipper if you're trimming a lot of branches and using the result as the green waste portion of a compost pile.

I don't know much about orchard maintenance, but I have heard that fruit trees benefit from clover.

This is all seat-of-my-pants advice, and I'll be following the answers here from those who are more experienced with orchards and weed reduction.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:46 PM on July 1, 2012

I've done sheet mulching, but I need to warn you: If you do it, it looks like *absolute hell* until well after everything is planted. Imagine taking newspapers and cardboard and covering your yard with it.

Your neighbors may not be supportive of such an experiment.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:04 PM on July 1, 2012

posted by goethean at 8:23 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not defending sheet mulching, but the way I was taught, you end up with 10-15" of mulch above the cardboard, and you plant into that mulch with soil plugs. I have seen people do just layers of cardboard, and yeah, that's what it looked like.
posted by slidell at 9:23 PM on July 1, 2012

chooks are your best friend here.
posted by wilful at 9:34 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

My most successful weed avoidance technique was the following:

- Collect crappy local newspapers.
- Mow weedy bit. Put multiple sheets of newspaper over mown weedy bits.
- Mow lawn.
- Dump clippings on newspaper. Spread out a bit to hide newspaper.

This would keep the worst of it at bay, whilst only adding a few minutes to my lawn mowing.
posted by kjs4 at 11:56 PM on July 1, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips. We don't have any geese, don't know where that reference came from, just a standard suburban lawn converted to a permaculture kind of environment. One thing my wife tried was getting a pile of sheep manure and spreading it as a form of fertilizer, which had the net result of spreading invasive grass seed all around. What I keep recommending to her is for us to make defensible barriers around planting areas, then you fill the interior with deep piles of chip matter. It makes the planting area easy to weed, the grass and weeds can't get deeply rooted as easily, plus you can see clearly what needs to be done. One way I'm thinking of doing this is to make a 6" wide trench, line it with landscape cloth and fill it with gravel, perhaps embed a drip irrigation artery in there. That way there's a wide moat for grass to cross. With the cheap weed barrier you buy in hardware stores, the grass is over that in a few days so back to the barricades. I wish I had a better solution for .
Anyhoos, chipper rental - check. Going to do this. Guess I really just need to get out there and make my firewalls, make a few 'hardscape' areas for beauty and to reduce the grass and maintain as needed.
posted by diode at 5:17 AM on July 2, 2012

One weed management tactic is also to pour boiling water on them. Less physically taxing that digging them all out.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:04 AM on July 2, 2012

Could you get a sod cutter and cut all the weed/lawn part out? Then you could lay down some sod, or hardscape, or whatever.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:17 PM on July 2, 2012

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