How to fix my dumb landscaping mistake?
July 19, 2013 7:47 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend got a chimenea for Christmas and we figured we'd create a safe little area in the backyard for it. Problem is, we just dumped the gravel over the existing grass, and you guessed it - the grass and weeds are now growing up through the rocks. It looks completely insane.

What's the best/most efficient way to fix this? Rake out the gravel, and then pull/dig up the plant life? Tarp over the whole gravel/weeds mess to kill the grass, and then pull up the dead stuff or spread more gravel on top and pretend it never happened?

It can be a slow burn solution... it's summer in Texas so we won't be using the chimenea for months. We have dogs so I'd like to avoid chemicals if at all possible.
posted by marshmallow peep to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Roundup will certainly take care of it. If you'd rather avoid glyphosphate, you could also try very salty water or vinegar. I have an inlaw who has one of these Weed Dragon thingies and he says it's a ball to use, but I've never tried it.
posted by jquinby at 7:52 AM on July 19, 2013

Oh Lord - please, please avoid roundup. Vinegar is good for driveway cracks but will not do much in a bed of living earth. Just rake up the gravel, dig a firebed, line it thoroughly with landscaping sand (a few inches deep), ring it with rocks or firebrick, lay the gravel back over it, and replace Chiminea.
posted by Miko at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Any chemical solution will be temporary (and toxic). You've got to back up and do it right. What Miko says.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:04 AM on July 19, 2013

You could also rake the gravel flat, add a layer of "paver base" and then get some big stepping stones -- the biggest ones you can get for fewer cracks -- and make yourself a little patio. It will be much easier to control a few weeds coming up through the cracks between the stepping stones than it will be to continually battle them in a bed of gravel.
posted by Ostara at 8:05 AM on July 19, 2013

Roundup = bad. Bad for everything except the company that makes it.

A cheap, biodegradable weed control solution is cardboard. Snag some out of a recycling container. It'll take some work to move the rocks, lay down the cardboard & replace the rocks, and will likely be an ongoing issue as the cardboard breaks down.

Another option might be to replace some portions of the yard with native drought resistant succulents & grasses.
posted by yoga at 8:07 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Whoops I misread the question, sorry. It sounded like the whole backyard was covered in gravel. So yeah, what Miko said. And roundup is still bad.
posted by yoga at 8:09 AM on July 19, 2013

For clarification - thank god we did not gravel over the whole yard. It is a little semicircular area with a diameter of about 6'.

It sounds I'll be digging up the area and doing it right this time.... once it's not so damn hot out. Thanks, y'all!
posted by marshmallow peep at 8:25 AM on July 19, 2013

posted by leotrotsky at 8:32 AM on July 19, 2013

oh please Roundup is not anywhere near as bad as the sorts of insecticides used on any non-organic crops and the LD50 is like 5000 mg/kg compared to like 300 for Copper Sulfate which many organic regimes permit. Acetic Acid is more toxic than RoundUp.

So yes, you can use roundup to kill the weeds - but the problem is they'll come back. The right way is to rake the gravel out of your spot, use a hoe or something to remove the top layers of soil, then either put a layer of sand down and then your gravel, or just your gravel.
posted by JPD at 8:35 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

You may also want to add a layer of landscape filter fabric and compact the soil (subgrade) when you do it right (before adding the new gravel). I would recommend using 2" of #89 stone. (It makes for a great, walkable gravel surface.)

And to really do it right, I'd add some edging to the ring.
posted by Kronur at 9:03 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Baking soda will work; it makes the soil too alkaline for most plants. Get a big sack of it at a restaurant supply store (or a Costco-type place), it's really cheap in bulk. Then you just sprinkle it on where you don't want anything to grow. It works very well on things like brick patios and paths, rock bases around birdbaths or chimineas, etc. It washes out of the soil in 3-12 months, depending on your soil and your rain (and how much you apply, I guess), so most people apply it spring and fall, or every spring.

Digging it out and doing it again is definitely the most thorough method. But when you start having weeds come in the rocks in a year or two (which they will eventually), baking soda will solve that problem.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:22 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Roundup will kill the weeds, however it won't do anything to the seeds lying fallow in the soil. They'll come up next year. I'd rake off the gravel, roundup the existing weeds you don't want, put down a layer of landscape fabric to block future weeds, and then replace the gravel.
posted by COD at 9:24 AM on July 19, 2013

Yes, Roundup breaks down quickly in the environment and, in the quantities you'd be using, is not toxic to anything but plants and amphibians. It is widely used because it works extremely well and is much safer than most alternatives. If you'd rather not support Monsanto for some reason, well, the last relevant US patent on glyphosate (not "glyphosphate," BTW) expired a dozen years ago, and there are now many other companies that make it besides Monsanto.

There do exist herbicides that will keep an area free of plant life for a year or more. These are more dangerous; I wouldn't use them.
posted by kindall at 9:36 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, you do need to start from scratch, remove the gravel, add in that filter fabric Kronur recommended or Kimo's solution. This is the only way you will not encounter more weeds every. single. season. Ask me how I know.

For temporary solutions, you can pull weeds, try the dragon torch thing, but you are just essentially prolonging the agony of what should be a low maintenance area.

Salt, DO NOT USE SALT. Bad idea. The salt stays in the soil and essentially you will have a dead zone, nothing will grow there forever. If you want that, okay, but run off from that area in the next rain will spread it everywhere.
posted by nanook at 9:55 AM on July 19, 2013

Yes to raking up the gravel temporarily.

No to herbicides, unless you plan to repeat this at least twice a growing season.

No to paver base and paving stones, unless you're really prepared for that level of expense.

Yes to cardboard. It will last A Long Time, killing everything beneath it. If you want to spend a very little more, landscaping cloth - but it doesn't last that much longer than cardboard, frankly - weeds will poke through it in a few years.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:35 PM on July 19, 2013

Will baking soda kill the earthworms, too?
posted by feistycakes at 2:26 PM on July 19, 2013

feistycakes: "Will baking soda kill the earthworms, too?"

I'm not sure. I use it on my brick patio and it does kill or drive away the ants that like to be between the bricks, but three inches away from the last brick join, the earthworms and other bugs are busy in the grass and other plants that come right up to the patio. And I wasn't super-duper careful about not getting baking soda off the edges. A little bit of stray baking soda seems to be fine for plants and insects; it took a couple of applications to kill off all the weedlings between the bricks.

Its attraction seems to be that it's cheap, easy to apply, and very low toxicity. The problem is it doesn't last very long and it's best on "hardscape" (bricks, concrete, stones) where you don't want ANYTHING growing and can just kinda dump it on.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:19 PM on July 19, 2013

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