May I ask your advice?

cats111December 27, 2013

We just moved to a new home which we bought as a fix up. The home and gardens were neglected for many years and we are trying to figure out where to start some of the garden rehab.

One thing in particular has us stumped. There is a rather lovely old field stone retaining wall along the back of the home, behind the patio. It is about 4 feet high, and all along it the previous owners had planted purple bearded irises, and a couple of stray, scraggly peonies.

These plants are entirely overrun with crabgrass and weeds. It is hideous. Since you see this area from the kitchen window, as well as the patio, it is where we want to start. But we really aren't sure how to proceed.

Our plan, so far, basically is -

1) Dig out all plants and weeds along the wall
2) Put down some sort of weed barrier
3) Replant

You can see, it is a pretty basic plan!

The things we're wondering about -

1) What should we use as weed barrier? In the past we've used black gardener's plastic, which did not stay down as well as we'd like, and started to let weeds through after a couple of years - and, garden cloth. That lasted only one year before we had weeds again.

So, is there a better choice? We have Ranger (Round Up) and we could spray, but is that the way to go? The weeds will be dug out, and we don't think the spray will help anything. But that is what the garden center here recommended. We obviously need to keep weeds away from the wall as much as possible.

2) We're not sure that the irises and peonies should be replanted along the wall. (We could move them elsewhere)

They both have a fairly short bloom period, and this is a very visible area. We're thinking we should plant something that will bloom over more of the year. But what might work? We aren't fixed on any type of plant, or color. Just something that will look nice along the old wall.

Thanks for any ideas you might offer.

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jim_1 Zone 5B Illinois(5b)

It is my personal way of doing things, I have my iris and peonies in one garden. It is set up that the iris will come along and be blooming as the peonies are finishing their growth, with blooms to follow. Except for the area immediately around the plants, I have shredded leaves as mulch. Darned few weeds get through (or want to get through that mulch).

Any time that you significantly disturb soil, as you will be doing, you will stir up weed seeds. The goal is to keep the weeds under control and then not disturb the soil.

On a regular basis, whenever I am prepping a new bed and there is NOTHING there that I want saved, I pour boiling water on the weeds. The biggest drawback is that it will kill whatever organisms that are there and will reduce your fertility. I also pour boiling water of cracks in the driveway.

Weeds are a part of gardening, pulling them is good exercise (and you can tell your health care professional that you are getting regular exercise!). They will be there, but they can be controlled by not giving them a chance to take over.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 1:01PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Well said. A pic of the area would be helpful for giving more specific advice. Some weeds can be multiplied by digging around and chopping up their roots.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 12:18PM
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#1 start a compost pile if you haven't already done so.
#2 till by spade to 6 or 8 inches deep & remove every root
#3 cover heavily with mulch
Any weeds that germinate will have to poke through a heavy barrier of organic material & they will be easily pulled by hand.
When you are ready to plant the area simply push the mulch aside & do so. Then push the mulch into a ring around the plant (out of the crown) for a moisture retainer in summer & a warm blanket in winter.
Continually compost here & throughout your yard.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 11:07PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Weed barrier materials are a temporary solution, and weeds will poke through or sprout on top of it in time. Anything you replant in front of the wall will need to be weeded unless it is dense enough to prevent them from growing.
Becky Shasta daisy is very dense in my garden. Catmint is floppy and needs to be sheared back after blooming, but it will shade out many weeds..
Siberian iris, Montauk daisies, established plantings of sedum or dailies to a lesser degree, are possibilities.
I'm not a big fan of chemicals, but using roundup and waiting 2-3 weeks before replanting and mulching thickly will work. Or you can dig it up and hand weed anything that comes through later. Any planting is going to need some care to keep it looking nice. Or you can plant grass and mow and trim right up to the wall, and only plant a small area to create a focal point.
Most perennials have a short blooming period. Maybe annuals are the answer.
Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 3:42PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

What direction does the wall face?
How much room do you have or want to plant in front of the wall?
I take it you don't want to hide the wall. Right?

I would grab what plants you want, making sure you take no weeds or grass with them, and then spray with RoundUp. Wait a few weeks and then spray where you missed the first time. Wait a week, then plant.
I'd plant hen and Chicks and Sedums, etc, in the wall and short plants of your choice in front of it , depending on how much space you want. Put the taller short plants on one side or the other so the plants 'Flow'. It's just like putting the taller plants in the back of a flower bed, only you do it sideways.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 3:40PM
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amanda_m(z7 MD)

I have no plant recommendations, but what I would do is go with your plan, using multiple layers of newspaper and cardboard as weed barriers. I don't like using anything like fabric or plastic in the garden, I want things that let water through (but not light) and that will eventually break down.

Get as much cardboard and newspaper as you can, ask your friends and neighbors to give it to you. Get some shredded wood or leaf mulch.

After you weed and get the area cleaned up, move the flowers, etc, water the area well.
Cover it well with multiple layers of newspaper (15-20 sheets thick). Be sure to overlap the edges well so that you have good cover over 100% of the area. Cover that with one layer of old cardboard boxes. Cover that with shredded leaves or leaf mulch.

To plant in it, you just dig a hole through that, or use a garden knife to stab a hole to plant seeds. It will look neat, smother weeds and prevent weed seeds the light they need to germinate. It will also eventually break down into the soil and enrich it.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 4:54PM
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