Reclaiming a Slope from Junky Stuff, Weeds

msa62001June 3, 2007

I posted last October about my hope to reclaim a slope in my backyard. It was covered in what I would call "junky stuff" and weeds, and my hope was to rid it of this stuff and create a bed in which we could plant desirable stuff (TBD). I asked about newspaper and mulch, and was given (more or less) a green light, so we gave it a go.

It looked great for about five months (I had used about five sheets of newspaper covered by several inches of mulch), but now that we're into growing season, stuff is growing back like I didn't spend the money (for mulch) and the time trying to stop it.

So what do we do now? Do we need to first get out there with a shovel and dig up the cruddy stuff first, and then newspaper/mulch it? Should we mow the junk back and cover with black plastic (perhaps covered by mulch, since we spend a lot of time on the back porch, and won't want to look at plastic for a year, or however long it takes)? Or what? We really want to reclaim this hill, and can be patient..we just moved into the new house we built and plan on being here a long, long time. Thanks.

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saypoint(6b CT)

You can add more paper and mulch. Or you can use roundup to kill whatever is coming up. It may take more than one application, depending on what's growing there.

I believe clear plastic works better than black if you want the soil to heat up. This will kill weed seed, pathogens, and microbes in the top few inches of soil. If you dig in it later, you will bring more weed seeds to the surface where they will germinate, so if you disturb it, mulch it right away to shade out the weeds.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2007 at 12:54PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think you might have been working with the false assumption that this - or anything - would be a permanent solution. But weed seeds blow around, and they land in and grow in mulch. On the up side, my guess is that the weeds you have now are less deep-rooted and less entrenched than the ones you had before (unless it was stuff like blackberry that is now growing through the paper, of course). So this time control will be easier.

What will reduce the weed population over the long term is (a) ground coverage by more desireable plants, and (b) vigilance. Even your beds, once you get them established, will need regular weeding for a long time, whether from the old weed seeds in the soil, or from new seeds blowing in. As your plants cover more ground, fewer weed seeds will germinate. This is why starting huge swaths of planting beds at once is not such a good idea - one new area per year is best, whatever amount of weeding you can keep up with.

Also keep in mind that it is now getting a bit too hot for new planting. You might focus on weed control for the summer, and then plant in fall.


    Bookmark   June 3, 2007 at 1:06PM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

What were you planning to do once you had the paper and mulch down? As Karin says - that is just the first step.

The newspaper rots away. The mulch will also, but slower. If left alone it will always revert to weeds.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2007 at 9:27PM
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We had a very thick, established cover of Bermuda grass around our joshua tree that we wanted to get rid of. If sprayed with roundup it would have taken a lot of applications over a considerable period of time because with the extensive rhizomes underground it would resprout (found this out the hard way). That would have been a lot of spraying so we went the plastic route.

First in our backyard we had tried soil solarization with clear plastic in a previous summer. It gets very hot here but it acted as a greenhouse and the grass grew profusely under it. So in this joshua tree corner we watered the area well in the spring and covered it with black plastic to exclude light. After a year when we pulled it off sure enough a lot of dead grass that has only sprouted back in a couple of spots.

That black plastic is as ugly as all get out though, putting mulch on top sounds like a good idea.


    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 12:29PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

mohavemaria--the black plastic works...but I HATED it when my next-door neighbor used it. Not because of the aesthetics...but because of the MOSQUITOES. Yes, the rain water that puddles in the plastic stays there long enough here in NC for the tiger mosquitoes to use it as a nursery.

Probably not an issue where you live--if I sussed out your user-name correctly!


    Bookmark   June 6, 2007 at 3:12PM
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juliaw(7b/Sunset 5 -- PNW)

I'd like to add that I had a similar problem when I started working on my yard 6 or 7 years ago, only it wasn't just a side hill filled with weeds, it was that AND the whole rest of the property. I'll tell you the story and maybe you can get something of value from it:

Of necessity, I did what Karinl said and it has worked well, even if it has turned out to be a lot of effort (but what worthwhile endeavor doesn't take real effort?). I picked one part of the landscape -- the front yard -- and mentally sectioned it into chunks and weeded, amended and planted small areas at a time each year until I thought it was presentable, if not truly finished.

Meanwhile, each year I either bought mulch or collected leaves and trimmings from neighbors and MADE mulch (can't afford to plop a lot of money down) and completely covered the back and side yards to keep the weeds down until I had time (and money) to address those areas (we have a lawn-less yard -- it's all either mulched or planted). I've never used any kind of physical barrier between the soil and mulch. I DID end up Round-uping the side yard several times in the past few years because the weeds there were more persistant and stubbornly grew right through a 5-inch layer of mulch; but otherwise, I've definitely learned the value of thick mulch and a scufflehoe. Also, the years of mulching the side yard have improved the soil there tremendously, and now that I've addressed both the front and back yard, the side is in excellent condition to start on.

The end result is that the amount of weeding I have to do now is minimal (and it was never overwhelming to begin with because I've been working small sections at a time) and I have a real landscape (except for the side yard, which I have yet to begin -- but it's mulched!). I highly recommend the "divide and conquer" approach. And since it's a grass-less slope that you're working with, don't overestimate the value of collecting leaves from your own and neighbor's yards to mulch with and help improve the soil -- it's like magic!

And as was hinted at earlier, short of laying down concrete, there is no such thing as a permanent solution in a landscape. You'll have to do some kind of maintenance every growing season -- that's just the way it is.

Sorry for the book. Hope it helped.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2007 at 10:13AM
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I just want to add my 2 cents on this one. We live on a large piece of property and much of it is sloped. I don't know how large your slope is but we had one slope that was about 5000 sq. ft that was covered with blackberry vines, grass, weeds of all kinds and was encroaching onto other parts of our property. IT HAD TO GO! The first thing we did was totally cleared the area of all growing things. We used a backhoe, but if yours is not that large, you can use another type of hand tool or whatever you find appropriate to do the job. Then we had delivered enough compost to put on about 4" over the entire area and spread it on. Then we planted some shrubs, perennials and trees, etc. After everything was planted, we had delivered enough medium bark mulch to cover 5"-6" over the entire area and around all the plantings.

This didn't totally erradicate all the blackberry bushes, so we are keeping a close eye and getting rid of any new plant that emerges, and after a couple years I am told they will die off. Other than that, we find a few weeds here and there and I still sprinkle Preen over it so the seeds that blow in from other weeds don't germinate. But, basically, we are very happy with the results.

As far as the bark mulch, if you want to stop weeds, you need to put on at least five or six inches.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2007 at 1:07PM
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Unfortunately, the 5 sheets of newspaper is not sufficiently thick to smother any undegrowth. Generally the recommendation in this type of situation is at least a section of about 1/4" thick. And thicker won't hurt. The mulch is generally used to to hold in moisture to help the newspaper breakdown and to prevent it blowing away. And depending on the mulch used, seeds can blow in and more weeds develop, but as mentioned, these are relatively easily pulled.

I'd try again, this time with a much thicker layer of newsprint (or even cardboard) under the mulch. If you want to go to the additional expense, you can always apply a herbicide (like RoundUp) first, then start applying the layers. During the growing season and the heat of summer, results will be faster than if you tried this method in fall. I wouldn't contemplate any permanent planting until that time, so have you have plenty of time to determine how and with what the slope will be planted once the existing vegetation is destroyed.

Solarizing the soil with plastic is an option, but for best results, you cannot cover it with mulch - this defeats the interaction of the plastic with the sun generating high enough heat to kill the undergrowth. Solarization also destroys the soil biology, which is never a good thing and will not be an issue with the newspaper/mulch combo.

Try searching under "lasagne gardening" for more information on this method.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2007 at 1:22PM
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