Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Taming the weeds

This is what happens when you try to write a post too quickly and are tired when you do it. This post was supposed to be published yesterday, but I guess I forgot to hit "publish" after I checked it over. Whoops! Oh well, it's not a terribly exciting one anyway, except for the possibilities for future plants. Cheers!

I have one bed in the garden that has extremely good soil. It was built by connecting several tree stumps with stone walls, and one section of log that was left behind when we had the trees cut down. The resulting bed was then filled with a potent mixture of compost and a purchased "soil" composed mainly of decomposed bark, sand, and fine gravel. Unfortunately, the time when this bed was first ready to be planted was when I was jumping between college and various internships each summer. This bed fell by the wayside, even with a plan drawn up and a list of plants written down, as life inevitably went about its business.

The "plan" for this bed. This design replaced a previous one I had for the space, and now it, too, has been tossed in the compost bin, so to speak, as I brainstorm other ideas for this bed.

I could go on ad nauseam about how this bed slowly filled up with plants that were "temporarily" stored there until they could find more suitable homes, or how it inevitably filled with weeds, including the horribly difficult-to-control Canadian thistle, but I'll just leave it at saying that those things happened. I'm choosing to focus more on reclaiming this bed for the garden, rather than its unfortunate past.

Back in April, when I first moved home. Even then, this bed looked more like an elevated section of lawn than a garden bed. Yuck!

Here you can see the rhododendrons and the daylilies in the center. At this stage the monkey flowers are barely emerging from the ground, but I've been told (I haven't been home to see them since they took off) they will grow to over 5 feet by the end of the summer in this soil, and they spread rampantly. They are much better behaved in poor soils like clay or rocky sites, though they still reseed.

The landscape fabric sticking up out of the rocks was put in as a liner of sorts to prevent soil from spilling out from between the stones and to prevent weeds growing between the stones into the bed. Guess that was a bit pointless! Obviously the exposed fabric will be trimmed down below the rocks so it isn't an eyesore.
I finally got around to moving the "temporary" plants to more suitable homes. These included several rooted branches of large rhododendrons that would have eventually overtaken the entire bed, daylilies that grew too lushly in the rich soil, and Mimulus cardinalis, a monkey flower we (mostly affectionately) call the monkey weed for its rampant growth in that soil.

These daylilies are the same as the ones I recently featured in this post, but in the rich, well-drained soil of this bed they have far too much vegetative growth. The plants are huge and flower later and less profusely than those growing in harsher conditions, so they've been moved to another location at the edge of the dry creek bed.

These two Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' and Acer griseum are the only plants currently in this bed that are supposed to be here. I think one of them is too close to the maple, but that's a problem for another day.

The next step was to tackle the weeds. Normally I avoid using chemicals, but the weeds had developed to such an extent that there was no other way for me to control them by myself. The thistles, especially, would have been an ongoing battle if I tried to remove them by hand alone. Some of the thistles had grown up from the original ground level (over two feet deep in places), having blown over from the neighbors shed and taken root shortly after the area was logged. Digging them was out of the question. So I confess to using a glyphosate herbicide to kill off the weeds.

After the weeds had died down, I covered everything with cardboard (mostly leftover from my move) and covered the cardboard with more soil. Unfortunately I ran out of cardboard partway through and resorted to using the scraps of black plastic I've been tearing up from around the house. In retrospect, I could have used multiple layers of newspaper, but the plastic is already down and covered. I'll just have to removed it before I plant anything.


Laying cardboard over the dead weeds will help to prevent future weeds from getting established, but more importantly it will help prevent any surviving thistles from poking their evil little shoots into the light. 

Unfortunately I ran out of cardboard. The remaining areas in this photo were covered with black plastic I removed from a bed near the back deck. Thrifty gardeners use what is available to them. Hopefully by this Fall the thistles will have exhausted their depleted energy stores and I can remove the plastic without fear of a thistle resurgence.

The cardboard and plastic were covered with a couple inches of new soil, mostly to weigh them down but also because some of the areas were a bit low and needed more soil. The black plastic was left slightly exposed at the edges to make it easier to find and remove it when the time comes.
Working on this bed again has really brought home the opportunity I have here. The soil has much better drainage, higher nutrients, and probably higher pH than anywhere else in the landscape. The only similar soil is in the vegetable garden, and that's staying a vegetable garden. I love home-grown vegetables! 

So with the richness of this soil newly in mind, I'm re-evaluating my plant list for the bed. This would be the perfect bed to grow those finicky plants that require rich, well-drained soil and full sun. The trouble is, I've never paid much attention to those plants because I never thought I'd have a place for them. I've spent most of my time learning about plants for either organically-rich soil in shade (to go with my rhododendron craze) or plants than can survive left alone in poor soil and full sun (like Arctostaphylos and Ceanothus). I must admit, this bed is a bit outside my ken and I'm having to go back to the books to find plants that might grow suitably in this bed without becoming monsters like the daylilies and Mimulus. I'm now having a field-day pouring over books and websites, looking for candidates for this bed. Naturally I'm amassing a list far too long to fit into the bed, and will have to whittle it down to those that are deer-resistant, at least somewhat drought tolerant, and those that won't grow too well in the rich soil. I don't want anything turning into a floppy disaster or growing itself into an early grave like Ceanothus and other natives of poor soils can.

If all goes well, I'll finally be planting this bed in the Fall. Back to the books!

13 comments:

  1. Glyphosate can be handy and sometimes it's the only practical solution to a weed problem. Can't wait to see what you'll plant in your newly reclaimed bed!

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    1. I can't wait to see, either! Seriously, I'm just gathering ideas and don't really know yet what it's going to turn into now. lol

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  2. Hooray! More opportunities for plant shopping! I thought of you yesterday when my nose and I found a Rhododendron polyandrum in bloom. What a heavenly fragrance! I seriously considered buying it but it was a huge specimen and would be difficult to drag inside in the winter. WWED (What Would Evan Do?)

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    1. Oh, dear, let's not start asking what I would do. But I would have loved to see (and smell) that rhododendron! Sadly I would have left it behind as well. Someday when I have a greenhouse...

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  3. Must feel good to have the icky part behind you and the fun part (plants!) ahead.

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    1. So good! And I'm having a blast researching plants for this bed. Sometimes I think I have more fun doing that than actually having the plants. Then I get the plants and the previous thought flies out the window.

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  4. I enjoyed looking at the old plan you drew for the bed. How meticulous. And the joy of gardening is never having to stick to the plan. I went back and compared the daylilies in the older post. It's amazing how different they look in the dry creak bed: smaller and skinnier leafs; like a different variety all together!

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    1. I'm getting better at gardening on the fly, rather than adhering strictly to the plan. I think I've got a bit of OCD and I'm very into "plans". I can't believe myself how different those daylilies look depending on the soil they grow in! The ones pictured in this post got even bigger before I moved them. The leaves were probably twice as long as in the picture above.

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  5. Congratulations on wiping out the weeds. Enjoy the planning process!

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    1. Thanks! It's a good thing I have the planning to keep me occupied. It's hard waiting until fall to actually plant this bed!

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  6. Do you need more cardboard? I have loads and loads. When we first moved here five years ago from Massachusetts, I thought I was going to have to make all my new beds via the lasagna method, so I saved a bunch of our moving boxes. I still have them in our shed. Let me know, I'm sure we can figure out a way to get them to you.

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    1. Thanks for the offer. I don't need more for this bed, but there are a couple other areas I kind of want to convert into garden areas as well. I'll let you know. It kind of depends on whether I can get my parents to pitch in a bit on these particular areas.

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  7. Oh, to be more of a planner, like you. Seat-of-the-pants is more my style. It's fun to get in on the ground floor of this project. I hope you will share your plant list when you get it all figured out.

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