overgrown garden

breakbuddyAugust 22, 2005

I live in College Station and just took over a house that has, (or what I think has had a garden). It is over run with weeds and I am wondering what the easiest way to get rid of them all (burn them?) and start this garden out right. what do i need to do to prepare the soil for the start of the fall and what types of plants can I begin and how early can i start to plant them?

many thanks, any suggestions would be helpful!!


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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Are you talking about a vegetable garden or something else?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2005 at 2:57PM
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username_5(banned for no reason)

ok, so you have a new, but previously used plot of land which is filled up with weed seeds, what do you do?

Hehe, lots of things can be done, but nothing is perfect.

The first thing you have to understand is that those weed seeds can survive for many years in the soil. They are long term and each year weed seeds are introduced to the soil as they are blown in or brought in by other means. Weed control is never "done".

One way to try and get rid of the weeds seeds is via solarization. What you do is place clear plastic over the soil. This takes several months and needs to be done in the heat of summer. The idea is the sun heats the soil and the clear plastic while allowing the sun's rays through doesn't allow the heat to escape so the soil heats up and bakes the weed seeds, killing them. This method stinks when you want quick action because it takes months and kills soil bacteria and fungi which are beneficial.

Another method is to till the soil. This kills the existing vegetation and exposes some seeds which will sprout. A couple weeks after the first tilling till again to kill the newly sprouted weeds. Repeat as often as necessary until the weeds are reduced. Sound like a lot of work? It is, but it does work. The disadvantage is it destroys soil structure and as a result the fungi, bacteria, worms and bug which take care of soil for you are discouraged.

Your best bet, in my opinion is to use a couple different techniques which are fast acting and less work. First, use 3+ inches of mulch along all pathways in the garden. This prevents the seeds from getting light so they don't germinate.

In the growing area you can use mulch *after* the desired plants are up and sturdy to smother weed seeds, but all organic mulches break down and become 'soil' for new weed seeds before long.

At this point you have to consider whether or not you care to use chemicals. There are germination inhibitors that prevent all seeds from sprouting and these can be applied in areas where you have plants safely. You will not be able to sow seeds in the area you use a germination inhibitor on though for a few months. Preen is a commonly available product that accomplishes this.

In the end though I think a little time spent regularly in the garden with a weeding hoe does the best job. The idea is sever the plant from it's roots regularly and it won't grow enough to set seed. Eventually the plant dies without having reproduced.

The hoeing also exposes buried weed seeds so has the same effect as tilling, but without as much destruction of the soil structure.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2005 at 3:31PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

I'd just wade in there and start yanking the weeds......
Then worry about keeping them from returning.
Linda C

    Bookmark   August 22, 2005 at 7:30PM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

If you just want to make it look tidy head out with a weedeater/strimmer stringline weed flail thingie by whatever name it's locally known, drop the lot, rake it into a big heap in a rarely seen area of the garden. Afterwards keep it all under control using the ride-on mower regularly. (Don't laugh! It's often done by non-gardeners.)

However, if you would also like to garden start small perhaps near the house.

First look to see what survived the weeds above the ground. You may have shrubs and perennials that just need some air and food and light to come back. If they're very smothered give them some sun protection until they can harden off. Even parking the garden barrow to cast shadow over noon and the worst of the afternoon can help.

I agree with Lindac. Decide where you want the debris to go (piles under trees can be useful for adding humus and being vaguely acceptable aesthetically), use either a barrow or a drag-tarpauline, and hand pull the weeds. Wear gloves if you need to. There may be roses in there.

I'd use a spading fork - a big, long tine affair suitable for heavy digging.

If you've identified an old bed start at one end and dig with care. It is very likely you will find bulbs waiting to sprout for the coming spring. Sprinkle about a handful of general garden fertiliser to the square yard, add some mulch once the weeds have been cleared - and wait for spring to see what you've inherited.

If you find dreadful weeds that will survive composting by all means burn them using a hot fire. I'd rank grasses with long wiry runners in this category, and bindweed, but you're bound to have a local nasty or so, too. Ask at your local garden centre for ID or on the Weeds site here.

As you don't know what's underground at this point you probably need to take out the weeds from the beds you can identify, note the survivors and keep things under control until late spring next year. Around then you'll have seen much of what your garden has and you can decide whether to keep the old layout or reduce the scope to what you want to keep in order.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2005 at 11:30PM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

Read up on the 'lasagna' method. I really despise weeding, and this has been the most effective method of eliminating that chore. However, it sounds like you may have a mixture of big weeds and potentially desirable plants. If it were mine, I'd wait for a good soaking rain and then yank out the big and middle-sized weeds - they make great compost. I wouldn't till or spade... that does turn the soil, but soil doesn't need to be turned unless you are specifically mixing stuff into it. And turning the soil will bring to the surface millions of weed-seeds that *were* dormant, which means that within a week or two you'd have thousands of baby weed sprouts. IMHO, that's making more work for yourself. Yuk. Instead, I'd use thin bamboo stakes (or tree trimmings, whatever) to mark the location of those plants I thought were desirable perennials; then I'd lasagna around the perennials, using 1/2" sopping newspaper for the bottom layer, building to about 6" high. This is not as tall as a real lasagna bed, but tall enough to smother the short weeds and prevent sprouting. By next spring, the lasagna will have shrunk to about 2" [the rest of the original turns into compost] and then another [thinner] layer of newspaper topped with mulch can go on. If you want to add plants, it's very easy to stab a trowel through the lasagna. The only weeds you'll need to pull will be the occasional one that sprouts from seed landing on top of the mulch. I redeemed a neglected flower bed that came with my house, and have done several others for neighbors, so I do know the method is effective. The biggest drawback is having sufficient material on hand to build the lasagna immediately after pulling out the tallest weeds; get your neighbors to save their newspapers for you and use free shredded leaves for both the green and brown layers [use a thin paper layer at every inch of height if you don't have grass mowings etc for the green layers].

    Bookmark   August 23, 2005 at 6:50AM
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hmm- why do you think there was a garden there? tilled soil? borders? things that are too pretty to be just weeds?

the back half of my yard is still like that, three years in- every year I reclaim a little more of the yard.

I'd start by pulling out everything that is obviously a weed. then I'd take a look around, maybe take pictures, and get anything you can't identify, identified.

then, the easiest thing to do is to lift the plants you want to save, whack the rest off at the ankles, and bury the remains under 2 layers of cardboard, or 8-12 of damp newspaper (i like to lay 3 down, dampen, and repeat) and then mulch over it so the neighbors don't get on your case (for some reason, one neighbor took more offence to that than he ever seemed to the place while it was semi-abandoned)

:) and yes- if you take pics, we will help figure the plants out.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2005 at 10:14AM
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Since your in TX, You just gotta go out there and dig up a couple feet of it. Go about a foot down and then report back.

If it's a good garden that is 'just over run with weeds' then you should have soil that breaks apart in your hands. Looks earthy and smells earthy. Pour water in that hole and see how fast it drains. If it is reasonably fast then you have decent drainage and good soil. I would just yank the weeds out (use a 3 pronged hoe (cultivator) to get things moving) and get to planting, use good mulch after your done planting to control any remaining weeds.

On the other hand, and what I'm guessing, unless your really lucky is that you have the texas clay gumbo out there with losy drainage. In which case you wanna think carefully about what you want to do.

I just dug a 6 x 4 bed (TINY), spent the entire weekend on it, (I have 4 blisters and I used gloves and this wasn't my first time).

Our clay comes up ready to be given to the local schools for pottery classes. When you dig it up big clods stick to your tools, and have to be scraped off, then if you don't work quick enough and keep it moist (but not too wet), and you have to get lots of organic matter (compost or something) mixed in quick or that clay gumbo turns into rock hard bricks that you have to use a pick ax to break up.

It's really something special, don't get me wrong, we can get to have good soil, it just takes some work, and you might wanna start small.

Now for what you grow. You need to give us more specifics. I for one am partial to growing things I can eat and medicinal herbs. I grow all sorts of herbs, I'm learning about growing vegies now. You can plant black berries, pecan trees, all sorts of things, or just lawn. So you gotta give us an idea of what you want to do.

Best of luck,

    Bookmark   August 24, 2005 at 2:24AM
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