New yard is filled with weeds - what to do?

benjohnson(5)August 5, 2010

I recently moved into a farmhouse on 3/4 acre. I have been focusing on the interior of the house, but the yard is in bad shape. The back yard is currently home to weeds that are up to 8 feet tall. I don't need this entire property to be a beautiful lawn, but there are parts where I want to get rid of the weeds and plant grass. Most people tell me to start by using weed killer to get rid of everything, but I can't help but think there must be a better way. I've read about making soil amendments, but I'm not sure where to start. I have lots of poke plant, dandelions, common cocklebur and a bit of poison ivy. Wild ginger, ferns and poppies are also growing well. I'd appreciate any ideas you have or resources you might recommend.

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Spraying with some kind of poison to kill plants is not really an acceptable thing an organic gardener should be doing since it is unnecessary. Mowing will do a lot toward gaining control, but since many "weeds" can be indicators of soil problems since many "weeds" grow best in soil not good for turf grasses you will need a good, reliable soil test done to see what the soils pH nad nutrient levels are.
Many people have acheived satisfactory control of "weeds" in their lawns simply by proper mowing and watering. Mow high and water only as needed. These simple soil tests can also help guide you in making that soil into a good, healthy soil for turfgrass.
1) Structure. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. A good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drains too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 7:57AM
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lcpw_gw(z6 St Louis)

Eight feet tall is pretty tall!
(I'm imagining being a kid and playing hide-and-seek in your weedy back yard....)

How will you mow such tall weeds?
Any chance all that material could be shredded to begin making compost to add back to the soil?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 12:02PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

While a flail mower would be nice I have mowed similar "weedy" patches many times using the tractor, and trim, mowers I use on the rest of the lawn. You do need to remove the plug from the discharge chute of the mower and you do need to take your time and listen to the mower and not let it start to bog down, and you may need to tackle that area several times before getting control of the growth.
Of course in zone 5 in a few weeks most of the tall "weeds" will be fall down so no mowing will be necessary then.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 8:05AM
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