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Green Landscaping: Greenacres


Wild Ones Handbook


"The efforts expended to maintain a lawn can be used instead to plant and restore the native vegetation of your part of the country. Gardens, unlike lawns, create experiences that uplift our spirits, expand our visions, and invigorate our lives." - 

Stevie Daniels

Removing Vegetation

Removing Vegetation
by Neil Diboll

On small areas of a few thousand square feet or less, smothering is simple. Smothering involves covering the surface with black plastic, old plywood, a thick layer of leaves, or any creative resource available (old pool liners, carpeting, etc.). This should be left for a full growing season to kill the plants beneath. 

If you use herbicides, chose a low-toxicity, non-persistent herbicide, read the label, and follow the manufacturer's instructions. The best is a glyphosate (i.e., Roundup, Ranger or Kleenup). 

If you prefer not to use herbicides, a variety of equipment can prepare your soil by cultivation.

Lawns. The quickest way is to remove the top three inches of grass and soil using a rented sod-cutter. This usually creates a nearly weed-free site ready for seeds or transplants. Be aware that the area will be lower than the surrounding lawn after sod removal. If using herbicides, apply in fall or spring, when lawn grasses are actively growing. Cultivate after everything has turned brown to prepare the seedbed for planting (usually about two weeks). To remove a lawn by cultivation, cultivate two to three times, about a week apart. If rhizomatous perennial grasses such as Quackgrass or Johnsongrass are present, a year-long tilling program may be required.

Old Fields. An old field usually requires at least one full growing season to prepare the site. This may seem long, but a little patience at this stage is essential for a successful planting.

To herbicide, mow in early spring. This will encourage new growth. Apply a glyphosate herbicide three times -- once in mid-spring, again in mid-summer, and finally in early fall -- unless no plant growth is visible one month after the second spraying. This allows you to attack weeds which have peak activities at different times.

Using cultivation only, cultivate every two to three weeks from spring through fall at a depth of five inches. Be religious about this. If you are fighting rhizomatous, perennial weeds, waiting longer than two or three weeks will allow these weeds to recover. For some species, such as Quackgrass, cultivating in intervals greater than two weeks may actually increase its density.

Agricultural Fields. To prepare with herbicides, spray once mid-spring for spring planting, or after crop removal for fall planting. The seedbed may be prepared without herbicides using cultivation as you would for any other crop. If rhizomatous perennials are present, work up the soil all year, same as for old fields. Once all vegetation is removed, the final seedbed should be prepared by tilling or disking, followed by dragging or raking.

Do not plant flowers in fields treated with Atrazine within the last two years. While some grasses can tolerate some Atrazine, prairie flowers cannot tolerate any. A smother crop o  corn or sorghum will hold your soil and control weeds while the Atrazine breaks down.

Erosion-Prone Sites. To avoid runoff and soil loss, the site should not be left unvegetated for any length of time. Cultivation should be minimal. Preparing your site solely by cultivation may create erosion problems. The site should be planted immediately following soil preparation. Use a nurse crop of oats and a cover of mulch, stabilized with netting. If you are unable to plant immediately, the site may be stabilized by planting oats at a rate of four bushels (128 lbs.) per acre. Till the oats under when ready for planting.

A Final Tip. After the existing perennial vegetation is eliminated, weed seeds still lurk in the soil below. These seeds will germinate and compete aggressively with your flowers and grasses. Weed density can be greatly reduced by a final treatment  of the surface soil just prior to planting in late spring or early summer (this will not work in late summer or fall). Start with a prepared seedbed. Allow weeds to germinate and grow. Apply herbicide when the weeds are two to three inches tall. Wait 10 days, and then till the soil one inch deep. Tilling deeper will bring up more weed seeds. Plant immediately.

If you prefer to avoid using herbicides, similar results can be obtained using well-timed, careful cultivation. Start with a prepared seedbed. Till the soil one inch deep five to seven days after the first good rain. This will kill weeds after they germinate but before they come up, without bringing up more weed seeds. On sandy soils, a drag can be used. A very light disking is usually more effective on heavy soils. Plant immediately.

If you'll be plugging in transplants, a weed-free site can be created by putting down a 12" layer of leaves or 10 sheets of newspaper (you can check with the publisher to make sure they use vegetable-based inks) topped by a couple inches of quarried sand (beach or dune sand might contain weed seeds). This mulch will deny light to existing vegetation and weed seeds.


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