Landscaping question
February 28, 2017 8:23 AM   Subscribe

My front yard looks like crap. We bought the house a year ago and the front yard had been covered in some kind of landscaping fabric/paper substance, then mulched with a thin layer of wood chips. Now the weeds are growing through the landscaping barrier and through the mulch. It looks like this. Now what?

My goal is a low maintenance front yard. It's pretty small, and my plan for now was to sheet mulch, plant a fruit tree, and then put in more plants through the mulch as I get the time and energy. However, I don't know what to do with what's there now? I can't figure out if I can salvage any of the existing mulch, if I should just pull everything out including the old sheet mulch barrier? It isn't really working anymore, but it seems too late to just throw a bunch more wood chips on top as grass and weeds will just grow up through everything. I need a plan that I can carry out on weekends only. I live in the SF East Bay area if that helps. It's been an extremely wet year but I would anticipate drought and increasing temperatures in the future.
posted by latkes to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can you take a whole weekend to do some really hard work? If so, yeah, pull out all that paper and rake out the mulch. I wouldn't worry about being a perfectionist, but get what you can. Then you need to get rid of the weeds and grass. (If you really just want to sheet mulch that is.)

If you live in a crunchy area and people would be ok with it, lay down a thick mat of newspapers (seriously) wet it down and leave it for months (seriously). It will bake and kill all the weed seeds without using poison. You can add a layer of mulch for looks if this just would not fly for you.

If that is not a plan that will work for you, consider renting a sod cutter from Home Depot, Lowes or such. Rent a truck with it. Get a strong friend to help and cut off the top layer of your yard. Hopefully all the weeds and grass come with it. (Sod cutters are more heavy and cumbersome than I imagined, btw. Get help seriously.)

Then you can start fresh and weed free regardless of what type of landscaping you pursue.
posted by stormygrey at 8:31 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


Hmm, well I've volunteered with a community garden that has converted large swaths of grass into garden. Here's how they do it:
--lay down two to three layers of burlap sacks
--cover it with 6-12 inches of compost (deeper is better)
--plant whatever you want

They don't want for the sheet mulching to kill stuff, they just go for it. And it works. The burlap sacks disintegrate slowly and join the soil. (They get them from a coffee roaster.)

If you do this, you'd definitely want to remove the existing landscaping barrier first. You might want to rake up the mulch too, depending on how big the wood chunks are. When you're doing the sheet mulching, leave a space clear of burlap if you want to plant the fruit tree right away. Though peeling back the sacks when you dig down to them wouldn't be that hard either.

I think this would be a 3+ weekend project:
1. rake up mulch and pull out old barrier
2. lay down layers of burlap
3. have truck(s) of compost delivered and spread it around
4. plant a fruit tree and whatever else you select.

Many herbs are low maintenance and drought tolerant: rosemary, lavender, sage.
posted by purple_bird at 9:58 AM on February 28, 2017


Because you do not mention your tolerance for manual labor and your landscaping background, I would suggest calling a few landscape contractors. Pick their brains and get some estimates.

I suggest this because I also had a crazy yard that required a massive overhaul (weeds poking through 200 square feet of mulched yard) and I pretty much burst into tears whenever I imagined having to clean it up, having no idea how to prep the land or what to plant. I talked to a few professionals and one came in, cleaned the whole thing out, gave me great ideas what to plant and when, and now I have a decent yard.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:44 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Are you resistant to just using ornanmental ground cover? Now is a great time to plant since the ground is wet and even drought resistant ground cover needs to get enough water to set root. Lots of ground covers are going to thrive in low water conditions once they are established.

Mulch sort of an ongoing bother to keep it looking nice. If it runs off it can clog your drainage system (ask me how I know!). Ground cover is more of a once and done. We used different covers for different areas (lantana where were needed some height, creeping thyme to nestle between rocks, lilyturf to border, verbena where we wanted color).

There are enough microclimates in East Bay to make ground cover selection something that needs local knowledge. I'd spend one Saturday getting a few photos of the yard at different times of day to capture when you have light and shade. Then take those photos to your local greenhouse (not Home Depot or similar, a real greenhouse). Nearly all of them have a garden advisor on staff who can give you a plan for planting. Also, some have a groundskeeping crew that you can pay to do your planting.

Once you have a plan, then you can drop in plants as you have time/energy/$$$.
posted by 26.2 at 11:12 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


*Sorry, typo I can't fix for some reason: they don't WAIT for the sheet mulching to kill anything before planting, they just go ahead and plant.
posted by purple_bird at 11:38 AM on February 28, 2017


Can you tell if the weeds are growing through the barrier or just on top of it? I live in the same area as you and I have weeds that grow on top the weed barrier. The good news is that they're way easier to pull out if they're growing on that fabric than if they're growing in soil. I'd weed the fabric, but leave the fabric installed.

I'd spend a day weeding the fabric, add more mulch to what you have and maybe plant some trees. When planting in a fabric covered area, I cut an X in the fabric to allow me to dig an appropriate hole and then cover my planting again by folding the X-flaps back into place. With trees, be sure to plant so that the tree's soil level is a bit higher than the ground you're planting in so that you don't smother the trunk when placing the fabric and mulch back after the tree is planted.
posted by quince at 4:35 PM on February 28, 2017


Weeds are definitely coming up through the barrier.
posted by latkes at 4:55 PM on February 28, 2017


I suggest this because I also had a crazy yard that required a massive overhaul (weeds poking through 200 square feet of mulched yard) and I pretty much burst into tears whenever I imagined having to clean it up, having no idea how to prep the land or what to plant. I talked to a few professionals and one came in, cleaned the whole thing out, gave me great ideas what to plant and when, and now I have a decent yard.

Agreed on hire a team to come, pull the landscaping fabric, weed, mulch, and come back again and do it in September. The removal of the angst is worth it. I think there is something about being a new homeowner in particular that makes this kind of thing oddly stressful. Maybe have them plant a sea of some annual or another just for the pretty, but it's hard to make good long term decisions when you're feeling hounded by expectations of your own and your neighbors/friends and your own desire to not do what feels like an endless task (and I say this as someone who does a ton of gardening and landscaping -- the formal area in front of our house is my least favorite to deal with. It's like cooking in someone else's kitchen.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:16 AM on March 1, 2017


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