Overgrown beds -) Converting to river rock? (w/pic)

vaaccess(Virginia)March 31, 2013

Hey everyone. My wife and I moved into a home that had some great landscaping originally, but the previous owner(s) let everything go nuts and we're going to start over from scratch.

The beds have a ton of ground cover and vines and grass and bulbs and...just an over-abundance of growth. Living in Central VA with lots of trees (and bugs) we've decided (at least for now) that we want to convert everything over to 3/4" (?) pebbles/river rock and then plant new stuff within it.

I was originally thinking that I would spray everything with weed/grass killer, install landscaping fabric, then dump the rocks over the top. Then I was reading that landscaping fabric is the enemy of the world so now not sure how to do it. Was considering using rolls of paper...?

There are a few shrubs and an awesome Japanese Maple that we'll keep. There's even some good Hostas mixed in, but, I'm not 100% sure how best to save them considering how overgrown everything is. There's also some Rhododendron that grew to the size of trees and have completely ruined the look of the beds.

I've included a shot of the featured landscaping area in the front of the house, but we have a LOT more along the sides of the house, out back, etc. I didn't bother trying to clean out the leaves from the beds since things already looked awful, but, once we reset I would blow everything out on a regular basis as needed...

Anyway, curious to hear thoughts/ideas/feedback. Maybe rock isn't as awesome as I think it will be?


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I'm not sure many would consider that to be "wildly overgrown" - at best it may be described as somewhat neglected but certainly not unmanageable to the point of using a scorched earth policy and starting over. Not to mention the unnecessary expense of either bringing a bunch of rock or replacing with new plants. btw, planting into rock or gravel is a maintenance nightmare, so I might rethink that plan.

I'd take some time to clear out visible weeds and identify the plants in place and then prune those appropriate into proper shape. You may well decide to remove some and replace with something smaller or more to your liking but a wolesale clean out seems like overkill to me.

If you feel the job is beyond your means and experience, there are qualified professionals who do just this sort of service. Or who can help you to do it yourself.

Also, rhododendrons take to pruning very well. THey have a rather unusual feature called advantitious budding which allows them to to produce healthy new growth when cut back anywhere along the stem, even to the base. It may take a few seasons before they look wonderful with that severe of a trim but they will eventually be lush but scaled down versions of their former self.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 3:58PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Ditto what gardengal says.... You would greatly regret putting down rock - it'll only make the situation much, much worse. Find an experienced gardener or landscape company to help you do an initial clean-up, including pruning/cutting back shrubs. Take some time first to think about what sorts of things appeal to you and which don't, which will help you to define and shape the work that needs to be done to turn that garden into one that is YOUR garden instead of the previous owner's garden! Your reaction to that garden is likely the one a subsequent owner of our property would have to our garden.... I created a maintenance manual (on-line version can be found via the link on the 'my page' info ...) to help a subsequent owner modify and cope with this garden. I fully expect that a subsequent owner would make subtantial changes, but ripping it all out to a minimal lanscape would be 'throwing out the baby with the bath water'.... There are undoubtedly treasures in the garden there that you would come to regret losing, so modify the garden to meet your needs and level of comfort with maintenance but take the time to do it thoughtfully, with some knowledgeable assistance.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 4:20PM
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Oy...Well, I am glad to have posted and glad that I asked here before I took too much of an extreme measure. I already did some things I might regret...

I guess the best approach is to find someone to help...

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 4:57PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

Definitely a better approach....

I just realized the link to my maintenance manual is gone off the 'my page' info and I can't find a way to put it back. See link below if you're interested....

It occurred to me that perhaps the reason this garden looks neglected or overgrown to you is that you are used to garden beds with plants more widely spaced, with visible expanses of mulch between them. That is not a style that appeals to me - and clearly not to the previous owners! The 'no bare ground' approach can be quite attractive and low maintenance as the plants become their own mulch and are quite efficient at choking/smothering weeds. A lot of weed seeds need light to germinate so shading the ground with plants helps deter weeds from getting a start.

Here is a link that might be useful: garden maintenance manual

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 7:31PM
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You don't say WHY you've chosen gravel mulch as a solution to your landscape problems. Frequently, and mistakenly, people choose it as a panaceac weed control. It is anything but. Weeds grow just as well in gravel mulch, whether or not there is "landscape fabric" below it. If using gravel mulch, one of the few acceptable uses of "landscape fabric" is to keep the gravel separate from the soil. This aids greatly when removing the the gravel at a later date. I put "landscape fabric" in quotes because much of what is sold at the retail level doesn't qualify. It's worthless membrane. One would need a landscape fabric that cannot be torn, now or later. It must have tensile strength or it won't do the job of helping to remove the gravel mulch. As far as "rolls of paper" as a separator below gravel mulch, forget it. It would have no ability to help later separate gravel from soil.

I'm not opposed to gravels that are used for soft paving. But as a mulch for plants, usually, it's the wrong way to go. As others have said previously, it becomes a problem of its own. Unless there is some reason for desiring it that hasn't been explained, I'd reconsider the decision and consider instead, as mentioned by Woody, that covering the ground with plants that haven't been infested by weeds is a better solution to creating an attractive landscape. If you were to clear out all the "undesirables," mulch any bare ground with wood/organic material-based mulch, then you could improve the look of things, buy time and make a better assessment of what to do.

"There's also some Rhododendron that grew to the size of trees and have completely ruined the look of the beds." Before relegating these to the trash heap or severe pruning, I'd consider, with some judicious pruning, could these be used as small trees? If so, instead of being blamed for ruining the look of things around them, they might be praised for being outstanding specimen small trees. If you post a photo of them, it would help to determine if they're something that can be used in another way.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 8:48PM
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We were choosing rock because we didn't know better...thinking it would be better weed and bug control.

I feel like an idiot and must confess. While the Rhod stumps are not pulled, I hacked them severely when we moved in because thy were so large and blocking the front of the house. That said, some are sprouting from what I have seen so maybe they will recover.

Ok...confession #2...and am feeling like a complete moron. I sprayed a large portion of the bed I showed a picture of with grass/weed killer BEFORE I posted. Hating myself for doing it. I didn't cover everything and after doing it realized that doing it at dusk with rain following the next day before the sun came out may have made that effort pointless anyway. *big sigh*

I will post pics of the Rhod that remain soon and see whether they can be salvaged, which it sounds like they can be...which is good. This whole DIY started innocently with trying to save money, but it sounds like there may be economical approaches if we get the right help!

Thanks for all your intelligent and direct comments...appreciate the lesson and looking forward to learning more!!!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2013 at 11:28PM
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So much for the Rhododendron maybe being beautiful trees! The herbicide will have an effect if it was on the plants any appreciable time before rain came. Gravel mulch does not save money or prevent weeds. Don't know if bugs like it or not, but doubt if it will discourage them enough to make a difference.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 9:28AM
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Hey Everyone. Thanks for the comments previously. We decided to do a 12" rock border against the house and then mulch for the beds. We also left a lot of the nicer items/cover in the beds, picture attached. Happy to have it cleaned up and thanks for guiding me in the right direction...!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 9:56PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

I feel your pain! We are in your same boat, only our boat is 1.4 acres and was extremely neglected and overgrown.

We did much what you did but found the round-up just doesn't work very well.

We did hire some crews to come out and help us rip out all the vines and huge shrubs and a couple invasive trees.

Unfortunately some vines just keep coming back.

The house is on a private road, and one by one, the neighbors have expressed their appreciation for what we did and continue to do.

There is a big difference between an overgrown mess that is home to rats and other creatures, and a well managed garden.

Good luck to you!


    Bookmark   April 10, 2013 at 10:01AM
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