"Getting rid of everything that doesn’t matter allows you to remember who you are. Simplicity doesn’t change who you are, it brings you back to who you are."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Smothering Works, But...

So I've been pulling Bermuda grass in the garden as you know from my last post.

Here's a shot of the garden this week. 

This will be an on again / off again job this Fall. Within 4 days the ground dried up to the point that I had to stop pulling.  Plus, there is only so much hanging upside down yanking on grass that a body can take.  So I nibbled away at it for a few hours everyday. 

Of course with all that blood rushing to your head you tend to think thoughts along the line of "What can I do so I don't have to do this again." 

And I've come up with a few thoughts I'd like to share so others can know what seems to be working for me.

Before there was a garden, there was a lawn. 

Our lawn was never fancy...lots of weeds but mostly Bermuda Grass which is the go-to fescue around here because it tolerates the heat really well.

We knew that controlling/killing Bermuda was next to impossible unless you went with the Round-Up "solution" and even then you didn't kill it, you just controlled it for a little while.

Leigh over at 5 Acres And A Dream lives a few hours west of me.  I've followed her for years now and I've always been interested in the problems and solutions she has with her garden assuming they would be similar to mine.  She was the one who turned me on to the idea of Smothering. 

The idea is pretty simple.  Cover the Bermuda up with cardboard or landscape fabric.  (I do both plus I toss pine bark mulch on top.  A triple layer.) 

The idea of course is that if the plant can't get any sunlight it will die back.  It's nice in theory but in my experience it takes a few years of diligent effort and a bit of $$ to reclaim the ground from the Bermuda Grass. 

You see, Bermuda Grass is like an alien life form.  You can cover it up for a year but it will continue to grow, waiting for an opportunity to find the sun.  The runners on these things can grow yards long in search of the sun.  And once they find the sun and you come along and try and pull it up, well you're yanking on something whose "mother" roots are 5-10 feet away.  Or the grass creates holes in the landscape fabric and pops up like usual.  It's one tough Mother...

So for me, smothering works but it works as a 3 step process.  Or maybe I should say a 3 YEAR process. 

What I noticed this week is that my oldest smothered areas didn't have much invasion from the Bermuda.  What was there pulled up very easily.

Why is that?  Well, my first year I had smothered the grass using just landscape fabric and mulch.  Ha.  The grass grew right through. 

By then I'd read about using cardboard to smother so early the next Spring, I raked back the mulch and pulled up the fabric and noticed that a lot of the grass had pale white runners on top of the ground.  The fabric had killed everything else.  So I took the time and pulled every single freakin last bit of runner grass I could find.

Then I laid down cardboard, then fabric, then mulch again.  And since then I really haven't had a problem.  I just pull random grass here or there.  Maintenance (Year 3).

The mess I have this year is because this is the brand NEW area.  It's only had it's first smother.  So I need to pull up the fabric/cardboard and yank the grass under it.

Then reapply everything one more time.

Now before you get too happy about all this please know that this smothering technique work best on your walk-ways. 

The grass is still IN the beds growing alongside your precious veggie plants.  I've got Bermuda in a few places growing IN my raised beds.   What I do about that is similar only in that it will take me longer to reclaim because I can only cardboard the beds if I'm not growing something in them.

Which means Winter.  And that's OK. 

Every Spring finds me pulling back the cardboard in the growing beds, yanking what I can, watching new Bermuda grow along side my tomatoes, pulling it again in the Fall...sigh...Rinse Repeat.

It may be slow, but I know it's working.  Every year there's a little bit less of it.

(I can see why Round-up is so popular though.)


  1. Excellent post Tami. Of course my experience dittos yours, as do my thoughts! It's taken over my strawberries for the third time (must love strawberries) and my asparagus too. I fret that even if I smother it to death, it will invade from elsewhere anyway. It's a gardener's nightmare!

    I can report that the beds that were really full, as in no sunlight on the soil, had relatively less bermuda growing.

    I've been reading Joel Salatin's You Can Farm and he mentions smother crops in passing. I'm not sure what he means and I'm not sure if it would work with Bermuda, but I plan to investigate further.

    As sorry as I am that you have this problem too, it's kinda nice to know I'm not alone in the war. :)

    Love your scarecrow BTW!

  2. Thanks for the post. I'm well south of you & Leigh but have a bumper crop of Bermuda. It's beautiful as a lawn but I want to garden where it lives (in 3 years). I will heed your advice & smother.