Help with Plan: Massively Overgrown Yard

whiteRhino(8b)February 5, 2013

My backyard has been severely neglected for years and I have recently begun the process of reclaiming it. I'm looking for a little help/advice on the best way to go about this, taking into account what I'd eventually like to do with the space. It's approximately 65' x 65', north facing and very sloped, rising about 12' from the base (at the back of my house) to the edge of the property line 65' behind me. There's one flat area (full sun) at the bottom, and a second mostly flat area about halfway up (light shade). I'm working in zone 8b (North Florida).

The entire yard has been overgrown with thousands of small shrubs and trees (up to 12'), miles of thorned vines, weeds and very sparse grass (unknown type), clover and ferns beneath. I recently spent two weeks with the chainsaw and clippers meticulously removing each and every tree/shrub so that now I can actually walk the property, the only problem being literally thousands of 1/2" to 2" stumps everywhere, plus the miles of tangling ground vines. I started with a mattock yesterday and cleared an entire area of stumps, just over 100 in a couple of hours, and have no problem continuing this until all of them have been cleared. But what I need to figure out now is what to do to prep the soil for whatever comes next. I can't begin to imagine trying to weed this whole space by hand.

My yard appears to be entirely composed of clay (my neighbors tell me tillers don't work here) and after clearing an area of trees and stumps, it's left almost entirely barren save the endless systems of subterranean roots (some 2-3" thick!). At this point I don't know if I'll want to plant grass here later or some other ground cover like clover or ivy. Because of the extreme slope of the yard it's not very conducive to play activities so grass seems to make less sense. What I'm most concerned with is killing the tens of thousands of small weeds and vines and preventing them from coming back. Doing some research into this is when I discovered the idea of sheet mulching.

Sounds good, except that I'm still working with a total area over 3600 sq. ft, on a strong slope. I can get my hands on enough cardboard to cover the area, but trying to mulch 3" on top of that doesn't seem to be within the realm of human possibility. Bulldozing is not an option due to the spacing between houses.

I've attached a picture of what I'd like to eventually do with the space (rough draft), with the idea that I could install the raised vegetable beds as phase one (next 4 weeks), then get at least a handful of citrus trees planted in additional raised beds built into the lower sloping section of the yard this year. Ideally, I would get all of the trees planted this spring to get them growing, and then work on the space around them over the coming year to prepare it for ground cover.

So...what are my best options? Can I cardboard mulch, minus the actual mulch, just to kill some of the crap on the ground? Is sheet mulching even appropriate for large areas on which you intend to install ground cover rather than garden space? What else can I do?

Forgot to mention that I have a large, centrally placed Southern Magnolia on the upper flat terrace, plus a large oak (70') and multiple smaller oaks lining the rear property line, all of which shade the back (upper) portion of the yard.

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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Do you want to get rid of the Japanese maple, citrus, and veggie beds, too? Or is that the future plan?

Too bad you cut the trees down before asking for advice. Although after thinking about it for a few, there is something you could try that would solve all your remaining problems at once. Check out the device on the back of the tractor in this picture.

The tool is called a box blade or landscaper's blade. That guy has his ripper tines lifted up so you can see them clearly. He can drop them down into the soil to loosen hardpan, lift rocks, or dig roots. It would take about a full morning to clear your lot and leave it as pristine as you see in that picture. If you did not have the roots it would take about 20 minutes.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 12:45AM
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With a 65'X65" yard it sounds like the OP is in an older city neighborhood, there may not be access for that large of equipment.

OP: Go down to Harbor Frieght, Wallmart, etc. If you watch you can get fairly large plastic tarps cheap. a couple dollars (11' X 11' for $8. on sale even less.) Use the wood you cut down to hold it in place. Later when you start painting you can use it for drop cloths.

OR you can get a roll of the sheet plastic that is used for drop cloths and again cheap that you could re use.

To remove the stumps and work the clay you need a Mattock. Great for removing roots and planting in clay.

I could not plant any thing without it. I use it to make holes in our Carolina clay that seems about 10% quartz.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 8:34AM
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@dhcall - Sorry, the blue boxes (maples, citrus, etc.) are my current idea for what I'd like to do in the future. The red stripe at the bottom represents the edge of the house, the green is the extent of the magnolia's canopy.

As far as cutting down "all" of the trees, they were almost entirely small saplings of mimosas and other invasive species and shrubs. I actually left a dozen or more well-developed two to five year old trees of other types intact, but they're higher up under the shaded grey area on my yard map so they don't really figure into my rehab plan. It's too shady from the numerous tall oaks up there to do much so I'll just let those small trees continue to develop underneath them.

As I mentioned in the OP, mechanized solutions are unfortunately a no-go due to limited spacing between houses (and landscaping).

@knuttle - I've thought about the sheet plastic "cooking" method, but it seems that many people report mixed success with that technique, plus it's going to remain relatively cool in this area for another two months or so. Wouldn't a bunch of wet cardboard essentially perform the same function as the plastic before the spring heat cranks up? There's also the added benefit of cardboard being free for me, while enough plastic would get moderately pricey. If plastic however is going to be a smarter solution, I'll spring for it.

I do have a mattock and have been plugging away at stumps for a couple of days now, I'll be keeping at that over the next month or two until they're all out.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 9:18AM
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I did not pick up that you had a free source of Cardboard. Free is always better than buying any day.

However I believe the cardboard would take longer than cooking them out.

If you have not already realized it the mattock is also a trenching, leveling, similar non standard use tool. I use mine to level slight raises in the yard. and trenching projects to improve drainage. As I already mentioned for digging into the clay and quartz we have in our yard.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 12:42PM
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PKponder TX(7b)

We mulched a slight slope(5' rise over 15' width) by pinning old leaky garden hoses in terraces across the slope and mulching over it. We spaced the hose about 18" apart and pinned it down with landscape fabric pins or staples. After a hard rain, we do go out and re-cover some of them, but so far it's holding up for about a year. We used the cardboard on bottom to smother weeds and so far, we only have weeds coming from areas where we should have overlapped the cardboard more.


    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 4:48PM
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