preparation of large area before replanting

marthacr(z5 Me)July 21, 2008

I have been retained to landscape a "yard" right on the Maine coast that has been denuded by bulldozers. The owners want the large area between the house and water back to native plants that will require as little maintenance as possible. They are willing to take their time to have it done right. There is another smaller part of the property that I need to concentrate on first. Does it make sense to till the larger area to help get rid of nasty opportunistic weeds and plant some kind of cover crop to help prepare it? I do not want to use herbicide.

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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I would not till it. Tilling disturbs the soil, brings up buried weed seeds exposing them to sunlight, essentially causing more weeds to germinate.

How large of an area is it... acres and acres or a couple hundred square yards?

    Bookmark   July 21, 2008 at 6:56PM
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I am curious. Has the area been "stripped clear"?
That is not only have all the plants been removed but the surface foot of soil as well?
Also I am presuming you are looking at a gravelly or rocky soil???
Is there anything growing in the denuded surface at the moment?

    Bookmark   July 21, 2008 at 7:41PM
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marthacr(z5 Me)

I was thinking about the tilling to discourage and/or remove the blackberry vines and other nasties that are now trying to come back, and also to loosen the soil a bit so that it could be seeded. I think that there is still some topsoil there, but I have to tell you, we have mostly ledge here and what soil there is doesn't go very deep. There is also a lg swath of gravel directly in front of the house where the drainage was put in- Yes, directly in the view of the ocean.
The area in question is very roughly about 50x100 ft. There is one area that is pigweed three feet high! A little of the contractor's mix grass seed has taken, but not much. I understand not disturbing anymore weeds seeds, but otherwise I am looking at hand weeding with a hoe to remove what is there now.

Thanks for your responses.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2008 at 8:06PM
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You're probably not supposed to mess with the gravel where the drainage is (it's ugly, I know). I think you will have to go after the blackberries very aggressively (read "herbicide" a couple of times or get out the shovel and be prepared to suffer greatly). You will probably want a soil test to see what your ground conditions are post-bulldozer. I'm not too sure about your particular conditions or locale - I live on the east coast but my garden is far enough inland that the ocean is not a factor. If you get some salt spray you might want to investigate salt-tolerant plants. How much sun does the area get? Is it wooded around the edges or very open? I have had success using cereal rye (the actual grain not the rye grass people use for lawns) to cover land over fall and into spring. The rye helps to beat back some of the weeds and roots deep helping to loosen your soil a bit and later adds organic matter. It is naturally a little bit alleopathic so it's kind of like a very low dose of all natural herbicide over many months. The trick is to kill it off before it goes to seed. You need to do some prep prior even to the rye. I would trim the existing vegetation flush with the soil and then thoroughly smother it until it is time to sow your rye seeds. You can plant new plants or sow new seeds after the rye is thoroughly dead and has decomposed a tiny bit. This is all kind of general. There are a lot of factors including your local conditions and what plants you want to use. If you go the route of tilling you will have to till many times and even then some weeds just become many weeds when tilled.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2008 at 9:35PM
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marthacr(z5 Me)

Thanks for your tips. They are very helpful.


    Bookmark   July 22, 2008 at 10:24PM
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ladyslppr(z6 PA)

If I was doing your project I think I would spray the weeds to kill them quickly before they get any worse. Spraying isn't my first choice usually, but it will get the job done without hours of heavy digging and will prevent the pigweed going to seed and making an even worse problem next year. I would also kill the grass mix the contractor planted, then mulch the whole area to stabilize the soil. I think tilling would be OK as long as you mulch afterward. i would then look at adjacent natural areas and determine what grows there and looks good. I would try to plant the very same plants that are native nearby so that the area blends in with the surroundings as well as possible. When I plan a native plant garden/restoration like yours I try to create what looks like a completely natural plant community, albeit one that seems exceptionally interesting/flowery/etc. - as if the lot happens to contain the prettiest portion of the local plant community. This means growing native species but placing them advantageously, and probably having a larger percentage of flowering or otherwise intersting plants than you might find naturally. you'll probably find only a small number of species growing right on the cliff due to tough conditions, but a bit farther inland you might find other species that you could add without compromising the authenticity of the plant selection. I would expect the local plants to be long lived, slow growing plants, so have patience.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 10:03PM
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