Xeriscaping without gravel

xaphoo(9)September 16, 2013

An introduction: I moved to Tempe a month ago into a rented 1950's ranch home near downtown. The landlord has let the front and back Bermuda grass lawn completely go to seed, and now I'd like to turn it back into something desert-style while I am here. The problem is that my wife and I have literally no money and I am wondering what I can do on as shoestring budget.

This is the situation of the front yard: against the south-facing wall of the house, we have, in a row, some kind of yucca, a monstrously overgrown prickly pear, and a tiny aloe, all in a bed of white quartz rocks that have been completely overgrown by tall Bermuda grass growing up against the wall and the succulents. The yard itself is covered first with Bermuda grass, then it's bare ground, and in the lowest portions there are these thick and very vigorous weeds, 6-12" in height, with small white flowers. These weeds are dense ground cover in the places where the rain puddles. There's 3' mesquite tree in the middle and Bermuda grass growing along the edges of everything. The whole thing is surrounded by flood irrigation berms that have been taken over by Bermuda grass. All of the grass and weeds has come up without any extra watering whatsoever. I don't even own a hose or sprinkler currently.

I want to create a natural Sonoran desert-type landscape of lots of cacti, wildflowers, and desert shrubs, and to do this WITHOUT dumping gravel everywhere - first, because it looks unnatural, and second, because it costs money. I would also like to do this without using pesticides such as Round-Up.

I don't need a totally tidy front yard. I don't mind some grass and weeds growing here and there. I want a natural look. But I don't want the landscape to be dominated by them. Some yards have cacti and desert plants growing in what looks like natural clay, without grass and weeds everywhere. Can I do this without gravel and Round-up?

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Pre-emergents will be your new best friend if you want to keep a yard with out rocks. There are natural per-emergents such as corn gluten. Bermuda goes dormant in the winter but once it gets the right amount of heat and water it will keep coming back and creeping into other areas.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2013 at 2:19AM
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with NO money your options are pretty limited.

Providing you have a strong back and stamina, you can pull the weeds, borrow some tools and dig the rocks up and, I think, the bermuda grass, to neaten it up some. Trim the overgrown prickly pear (carefully).

If you want wildflowers for free, you can go hiking and harvest seed for storage and planting in the spring.

Also for free: inspiration and ideas from the library, while you save money for future work

    Bookmark   September 17, 2013 at 12:02PM
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You don't need to use gravel. If you're an APS customer, ask to be put on their list to receive free tree chippings. When they clear the utility lines, they chip or shred the tree trimmings and offer them to customers, dropped in a large pile at the curb. Sometimes there is a waiting list, and you'll need to have a wheelbarrow to move them.

Just a thought.

ps - the weeds with tiny white flowers could be Red Spiderling - a tenacious summer annual weed that produces seeds that stick to clothing, shoes and pet fur. Pull them and dispose in your trash container while the soil is still moist.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2013 at 12:41PM
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Thanks for the suggestions. Once the weather cools off I'll recruit a friend and dig up as much of the grass and weeds as I can, then put some pre-emergent corn gluten around the edges of the area. I already have a pack of desert wildflower seeds, and I'll spread them around the areas I didn't put the gluten on. Then I have to start getting ahold of some bigger things - cacti, desert trees and shrubs - but that's a longer-term project.

Thanks again (I am also an APS customer so I'll look into that free mulch program).

I think you are right that the weeds are Red Spiderling. I presume that, like Bermuda grass, they'll be tough to eradicate for good. I'll stay vigilant.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2013 at 5:48PM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

Unfortunately, the corn gluten is pricey. I fear you will need an abundant quantity to do that yard.

Taken from the link:
High Country Gardens sells a 7-pound bag for $21.95....
when you need to apply 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet to achieve decent weed control, youâÂÂre still looking at hundreds of dollars of cost for an average 8,000-10,000 square foot American lawn.

Sorry. :-\

Here is a link that might be useful: Corn Gluten Meal

    Bookmark   September 17, 2013 at 6:30PM
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Have you asked your landlord if he would be willing to pay for the materials needed for you to do the labor to improve the value of his property?

I and/or people that I know have done that successfully including having them pay for a truckload of gravel.

Regarding your reluctance to use gravel because of the appearance, if you use the size called 1/4" minus, it will look very natural.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 2:28PM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

We have quarter-minus and just love it. Prior to laying it down we sprayed the general yard area with Ground Clear.....yikes, I'm running for my flame retardant suit! This yard was a serious weed-ville with the previous owner and the yard is about 1/3 acre so digging out each weed was not going to work for us. We're in our 60's already and would like to enjoy the yard before we expire. ;-)

I'll see if I can find a picture of the yard just after we finished spreading all the gravel. It's like coarse beach sand and we have it about 3" deep all over.

This pic is 2010, the gravel had been down about 2 years and we've added trees, shrubs and gardens so it's not so barren looking anymore. A few weeds pop up but we control them easily by pulling right away.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 4:34PM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

This is not a very good pic of the dogs but is a fairly good close up of the gravel.
HTH. m

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 4:36PM
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Looks very nice Mary.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 8:29PM
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Looks very nice Mary.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 8:32PM
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Skip the pesticides. Put down mulch. You can get free clippings of a lot of desert plants just off the road. I'll give you a free tree. Just contact me.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 12:15AM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

dig, Thank you. Thank you. ;-)

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 8:17AM
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