Controlling grass around fruiting trees and shrubs

sujiwan_gwMarch 27, 2011

When I started planting about 5 years ago, I began with a "farm lawn" and laid out my trees and shrubs in rows, excavating the grass a foot or two around the new planting.

Since then, I have visited a few botanical gardens and wish I done a more careful job because the surrounding grass continues to invade up to the base every year. Each fruit patch has to be mowed in between the individual plants. Not ideal by a long shot.

I'd like to kill the grass in the various fruit patches and find a large supply of (hopefully free) mulch to prevent the reincursion. Meanwhile, is there something I can use to kill established grass now while the fruiting plants are dormant? Temps are in the 40's daytime. I think I read that Roundup needs to be used when temps are in the 70's.

Failing that, how do I improve my situation? I'm leery about digging in close with shrub roots near the surface.


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I had the same situation and what I do is pull the grass from the roots and take it away. Also I used a spray called total kill but be carefull stay away at least 4 feet from the trees.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 12:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You can use the grass clippings as mulch (free!) and spread them around and under the tree. If you do this every time you mow, you will have a nice weed barrier and will only have to mow up to the mulch. just don't bury the trunk of the trees in mulch, it causes rot and will kill the tree.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 12:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alan haigh

I don't do anything with existing grass when I do installations except pull it a few inches away from the trunk and cover with newspaper following with the mulch de jour. I create 5'-6' rings for each tree this way. The smothered grass gives up and dies unless you've got some nasty stuff in the mix. If that's the case, you can do a onetime application of roundup- you can use a wick stick if you want to be cautious ( or keep pulling it out. The mulch will at least make that a lot easier.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 1:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

I just cut it up to the trunk what I can't get with the mower with a weed eater about one's or twice a year. What happens in my experience, when you kill grass, you'll have more nasty weed come up. A piece of old carpet might work,....I wouldn't go too far, about a foot radius and if you don't have too many trees, but you have to lay the ends under the sod so it doesn't catch with lawn mower, I done this on the red currant and lasted for many years.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 1:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I had a 20' x 4' area with grass that I planned on planting blackberries in. At first I tried mowing the grass as close to the ground as I could and then dumping 4" of mulch over the area and installing plastic lawn edging to prevent the grass from growing into the area. Unfortunately, within a couple weeks the grass started to grow up through the mulch. So I removed the mulch laid down cardboard and put the mulch on top of the cardboard. The cardboard allowed water to soak through and prevented the grass from growing up through the mulch. By the end of the season, the cardboard had decomposed, but by that time the grass underneath was dead and the mulch and lawn edging kept the area grass free. You might want to try something similar.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 2:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jollyrd(Richmond VA)

we only have few trees (10-12), but the way we deal with grass/weeds at the base -- husband takes a flat shovel and cuts them off - as parallel to the ground as possible - sort of a thin sod strips, I then put fallen leaves or pine needles (readily available around the house) at the base and with a little watering they stay down and smother any grass/weeds from coming up

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 2:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I also have used newspaper. If you have enough tall weeds, you can just pull handfuls as you go and spread them on to hold the papers down or hide them. It is easiest if you wet the papers first--less blowing around. My only problem is that I don't subscribe to the paper, so have to beg old newspapers off friends. Northwoodswis

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 2:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alan haigh

Yeah, I canceled my subscription a few months ago and now will rely completely on the recycling center for that material. Also, I agree that cardboard works just fine also. With nightmare sods (crabgrass, etc) I will sometimes use fabric with the mulch, but it must be lifted annually.

Why remove the sod when it can hold water and fertilize trees after it's been smothered? A lot of landscapers around here do that every time they install a tree, wasting some of the richest soil and creating wells that at times hold too much water near the trunk.

I install 100's of trees annually the way I described and if my customers aren't happy they don't call me back.

I have heard that further south the sod is more intrusive than here in southeastern NY so my methods might not be as good there.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 3:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

I've never had problems getting rid of grass on a new planting, I just scuff off chunks with a flat-blade shovel and flip over - like you are making pancakes. It takes me only a few minutes to clear a spot around a new tree. Cut in a strong edge on the perimeter to keep the grass at bay and mulch on top.

So, thats not my problem but my big problem is all the weeds that come up through the mulch. I have to spend way too much time weeding my rows. Konrad has a good point there and I may go back to grass under the trees that are older and which should be able to take the competition.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 11:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alan haigh

Scott, I've read recent research that indicates that the negative affect of weeds to trees is over by mid-summer. Mulch over newspaper easily subdues the weeds until that point and letting the weeds or turf take over in mid-July on will assure the soil is protected through winter.

Weed wacking the weeds real low is something I use in my nursery between much smaller mulched rings but I stop by July and let the weeds go.

I manage lots of trees in sod with no mulch and if the soil is good this works fine once trees are established- but you have to be sure your peaches maintain good vigor. They are the worst at competing with other plants for water.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 6:21AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My orchard is in former pasture with a mixture of fescue, orchard grass, and various weeds. I started out with jellyman's stable waste mulch rings over newspaper or cardboard and found that my grass invaded these fertile rings very quickly (and the manure introduced a number of weed seeds). At least in my area, I think stable waste rings should be combined with herbicide use (which I reserve for poison ivy and ailanthus) or the number of trees needs to be small enough to hand weed frequently. I've since converted to wood chips over cardboard to form the bulk of the ring with an inner portion of newspaper for new trees and this is less susceptible to grass invasion (although obviously provides the trees with fewer nutrients). Also the chips stay in place better and don't dissipate into and fertilize the grass which makes weekwacking (about 4 times a year) easier and reduces the reduction of the ring every time I do.

I'm curious (and excited about the eventual prospect) of letting the grass grow up to the trunk and just weed wacking in the spring. Konrad and harvestman, for trees other than peaches, what would you say the normal age (or girth/size), assuming reasonable fertile soil and normal growth, is that you give up on maintaining the mulch rings? I realize that there would be a number of factors and there wouldn't be a hard and fast rule, but just an average would be helpful.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 9:59AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alan haigh

I'd run with 4". If the trees appear excessively slowed down, you'd obviously adjust. If you weed wack right to the nub on a weekly basis it's almost like having bare earth, BTW. Should be barely any competition at all.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 4:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
blackrag(6A East PA)

I've been using these typar weed block circles. I'm sure some folks wouldn't like them but they claim to let moisture & nutrients in, weeds out. Last year picture of my 1st year sticks below...

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 5:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
franktank232(z5 WI)

Around my trees I put down cardboard and covered with wood chips. I put pavers around then to make it look nice (i'm in the city here). This really gets rid of grass fast.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 5:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I took Harvestman's advice a year ago and it worked like a charm. 80+ trees that had weeds all around. We took wet newspapers and covered with recycled mulch. In tough weed areas we used cardboard and mulch. I get my newspapers at the recycle center and my cardboard at our local food market. I ask for the recycled boxes, they are always happy to give those to me.

I also had a really bad area around the back of my garage. Last year I covered it with very thick cardboard and mulch and placed some pots with flowers to make the area look decent. This Spring the soil in that area looks great and I'll turn it into an herb and flower bed.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 12:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
franktank232(z5 WI)

I remember last summer working in a spot that i had laid some thick cardboard a year earlier... All i found was a nice layer of what i figured must have been worm poop. No sign of cardboard anywhere except for a few pieces of clear tape that must have been on it...

I save cardboard over the winter. We really throw out very little garbage with composting everything but plastics.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 12:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
price403(Zone 6b, WV)

I use cardboard and shredded bark as mulch. I get the cardboard from Freecycle or go to a store that throws theirs out. I buy shredded bark from a local sawmill. It's $15 for a full sized truck bed filled to overflowing. I buy sawdust from there too. Same price and it's great if you grow your own rootstocks in stool beds.
One or 2 layers of cardboard and 4 to 6 inches of shredded bark do the trick. Usually I just put a 3 or 4 foot circle but if I'm planting on smaller rootstocks like M27 I just mulch a 4 foot wide strip down each row.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 2:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

While I am not advocating the use of Roundup (glyphosate) to control grass and weeds around the trees--I have used it and it is effective early in the season. As long is the grass is slightly green, it will die. I have also used it after the trees have leafed out. I carefully used a hand sprayer set to low pressure/large droplets, and my trees were not harmed. After the grass died I put down wood mulch around the trees.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 4:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

harvestman,I do not think your paper will stop burmuda grass, I know it will not stop Bahia grass. I put down old carpet & the grass ran under the carpet til it found light, then up it came.I wish it was that easy.
According to the environmentalist that lurk on the soil & organic forums, round-up locks up ALL the mineralization in the soil so the plant grown there can not grow. I do not know for a fact, that this is true.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 5:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
alan haigh

Joli, I've heard my method may not be so affective down south where the weeds are very tough. My brother in Hawaii uses carpet remnants. I say go for the wool and it will fertilize as it keeps the weeds down.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 6:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Price403: Could you please explain what a stool bed is? I have 10 G-30 rootstocks coming along with 10 whips, (I hope)
I was considering leaving them in good sized pots after grafting temporarily as the area I will be locating the trees is not quite ready, re-grade, remove some trees etc. Is a stool bed a better alternative?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 6:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Maybe I should have been clear & fair. Your method works on every other grass I know of. Most weeds, but not wild dewberries & wild garlic. They have storage units(bulbs & fatty roots, that will survive a long time.
Pigs do a good job, wish I could go back 5 years.
Pigs & goats all summer adds up to a clean garden spot & BBQ.
Thanks for your in put harvestman.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 9:47PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Is it just me or have my plum tree buds gotten bigger lately?
I have a bruce plum tree that i planted last september. It...
Something ate part of this apple tree
This a seedling I started last year. Last night something...
3 of my callery pear cuttings now have leaves unfurling?
I took several callery pear tree cuttings on jan 10...
What type of grafting tape do you use?
Last year I used electric tape and got about 98% success...
Mike Hughes
Damage to Honeycrisp tree (photo)
I planted this Honeycrisp apple tree a week ago and...
Edwin Turlington
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™