Friday, June 1, 2012

Lawn, Begone! An Update

Lawns can be a soothing, oasis of green. However, lawns can be a water hog and a time usurper (mowing, fertilizing, weeding). And time is something we all could use a bit more of. And frankly, if one has a large lawn, why not remove one-third of it and put it to a better purpose, while reducing water use and increasing free time?

This was our goal for 2009. And by Memorial Day weekend of 2010, Mission Accomplished! Here's what we did, along with a 2012 recap of the successes and failures in that area:

June-July 2009: Kill off 1600 square feet of our 5000 square foot lawn, an area dominated by every gardener's perennial nemesis, bermudagrass. Because of the surrounding trees and shrubs, as well as possible adverse health effects using an herbicide weed killer such as glyphosate (Roundup), we chose to organically rid ourselves of that lawn, using soil solarization (complete instructions at that website). 

A piece of advice, learned the hard way: yes, you could purchase a clear plastic drop cloth from the paint aisle at the big box store, and it would work...for a couple of weeks. After that, it deteriorates in the sun to the point where it becomes confetti-like, ripping and flying in the slightest breeze. Choose a clear plastic that has been treated to withstand UV rays.

September 2009 (hey, I never claimed to be a fast worker): After much discussion asking ourselves the question, "now what?", we bring in the professionals for design ideas. We would choose our own plants; design, though, is not our strong suit. Landscape Designer Colleen Hamilton from Bloomin' Landscape Designs drew up the plan, along with landscape contractor Dave Rhodes from Rhodes Landscape Design, who did the installation.

November 2009: The destruction/construction process begins. The crew from Rhodes Landscaping used a sod cutter to remove the root area of the bermudagrass. The pathways, brick patio, lighting and garden fountain are installed. 

After the crews left, we wheelbarrowed in 15 yards of compost, and topped that with 10 yards of an organic mulch, walk-on bark. And then we wait to see how the area drains after a heavy rainstorm.

February 2010: Glad we waited before planting. There were a couple of puddles still standing in the area, 24 hours after several days of heavy rain. Digging a sump (a deep hole, lined and filled with river rock) in those two small areas solved that dilemma.

March-April 2010: Retrofit the sprinkler irrigation system, and convert it to a drip irrigation system. Cap off three of the five sprinkler heads in the area; convert the remaining two with drip irrigation adapters. Lay half-inch drip line in the area where we plan to plant.

April-May 2010: Choose plants! Mostly edible ornamentals. An excellent resource for this information is Rosalind Creasy, who has written several books on the topic. For the blueberries, which required excellent drainage and very acidic soil, we brought in three cattle watering troughs, with large holes drilled in the bottoms of the containers. Several varieties of citrus were planted directly into the ground. Ground cover along the pool walkway included varieties of oregano.

June 2010: We watch it grow, while using a lot less water! Best of all, the bermudagrass hasn't showed its ugly head...yet.  Now, about that patio furniture...

June 2012 Update: Impressive.This soil solarization project , in combination with the addition  of compost and mulch, has mostly thwarted the return of the bermudagrass. On the rare occasion some slinks through to the surface, it pulls up easily.

Biggest mistake of this project...Forgetting to install a drainage system. Oops. The wet winter of 2010-2011 turned the area into a shallow lake, with the mulch threatening to float into the pool. The addition of a sump pump, resting on plywood, kept the mulch in place during rainstorms later in that winter.

So....Rhodes Landscaping returned in December 2011 and installed solid drain pipes that led the water far, far, away.

 This past winter? No problems!

And, of course, some plants did not take kindly to this revamped area...specifically, the citrus, which froze to death. A post mortem of the oranges, pummelos and mandarins turned up this interesting fact: that area gets four degrees colder than the garden area just 25 feet away. That was just enough extended cold (22-24 degrees, for four or more hours), to kill off most of the citrus trees.

We've replaced the dead citrus with some beautiful edible ornamentals that are dormant in the winter, including this Garden Gold miniature peach. The sole surviving citrus, a Centennial kumquat, is on the left side of the picture. Also thumbing it's nose at winter in the kumquat container: the cascading Shock Wave Coral Crush petunia, which survived the cold.

Oh, and notice the new patio furniture!



  1. Great looking revamp there, Fred. Too bad about the citrus, but that peach tree looks cute.

  2. Love the petunia and the preach tree, and the layout of the new garden...beautiful! It does appear that you still have huge water use, and about that "forgetting to install a drainage..." Really?

    Thank you for sharing, everything; very much appreciated!

    1. Water use in that area has declined dramatically. Typical summer usage to keep the bermudagrass alive in that area was approximately 1500 gallons a week (6 impulse sprinklers, 2 gpm heads each, for 2 hours). Now, with the drip system, which runs 30 minutes, twice a week: less than 200 gallons per week. The fountain recirculates the water. And yes, we really did forget about drainage for the new area. There was never a problem with overflow in the bermudagrass area. But compaction during the construction process, along with removal of the bermudagrass (whose roots allowed freer drainage) changed the percolation rate dramatically. Both myself and the contractor were kicking ourselves for overlooking this.

  3. Holy moly! That's one amazing makeover. The amount of lawn you removed is bigger than my house! =)

  4. We are having difficulty finding UV resistant plastic to sun solarize our back lawn (approx. 20’ x 60’) that comes in the recommended 2 mil thickness to treat for 6 + weeks to kill Bermuda grass infestation. We will also treat the walkways around our raised beds where our fruit and vegetable garden in planted.
    We are only finding thicker plastics (6mil) which they ( advise to use only on “smaller areas.”
    Can you suggest a few places where we can purchase the needed material for this project? We live in Concord, CA.
    Thank you very much!