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How to Switch From Lawn to Xeriscape?

Posted by humster New Mexico (My Page) on
Mon, May 8, 06 at 10:38

I was wondering if anyone has advice for eliminating my lawn so that I can use it for gardening. I live in Sandia Park and I have two rectangular lawn patches in a low raised bed type of environment, maybe 300 SF each on the northeast side of the house. The grass has been slowly dying over two years since we have not been watering it. It looks like dried out very short hay right now- may be completely dead. I once read a suggestion for putting down newspaper on top of grass and watering it regularly to kill the grass and soften the dirt. Would that work in this situation? How much newspaper? It would be nice to accomplish the task quickly, but if that would take too much labor right now, I can wait until next spring for prepared soil. Any other suggestions that might help in preparing the areas? I'd like to plant drought tolerant perennials. TIA!
Heather


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: How to Switch From Lawn to Xeriscape?

I don't trust killing off/burying lawn - once it starts getting water again, it always seems to come back from the dead. I think it's better to dig/remove the lawn and its roots if you really don't want it coming back to haunt you later. While it's certainly not the easiest option in terms of labor, it's probably the quickest.


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RE: How to Switch From Lawn to Xeriscape?

Thanks, Bob! I was wondering if there is a way I could remove parts of the lawn, in patches as I want to plant an area. I guess I would have to hand water so as not to encourage the grass. Anyone have any thoughts? Would it just be much better to remove the whole thing at once? To anyone who has done this: Is it easiest to just use a shovel or are there any other tricks?

Thanks again.


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RE: How to Switch From Lawn to Xeriscape?

By the way, I was looking at the "lawn" further. It's really turning into just dirt patches with the "hay" coming off of it like a fine dust. It appears to be mostly pine needles I was seeing, which brings me to another question... Will most of the xeriscape plants do well in a more acidic environment? Is there anything special I should do to the soil? Should I mix in some mulch or something just once to prep, or is that unnecessary for this type of planting? I'm thinking the "grass" may be easier to remove than I anticipated. I'm interested in Butterfly Bush, lots and lots of Thyme, and -yes- Agave, among other things. What kind of gravel makes a good decorative top? I saw a picture once of decomposed granite, but I really know nothing of that sort of thing, other than I know I don't like plastic underneath. Does the wind blow the gravel stuff away easily? We are on top of a hill and it gets very windy up here.

Gee, I'm full of questions. Thanks to anyone who can help!


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RE: How to Switch From Lawn to Xeriscape?

Heather, I agree with Bob -- if you don't remove every root & memory, the stuff rises from the dead like your worst nightmare.

I've been successfully removing my lawn in chunks for the last 20 years, you don't have to do it all at once though it's more satisfying if you can! I use my favorite garden tool, the fork. Crunch down into live lawn on 4 sides of a square or rectangle of unwanted grass, pull it out, flip, shake any loose soil back, and remove the grass with roots intact. I lose some soil but then again, the grass does not grow back, period.

It would be great if you had a kid or husband to help, but then again, my personal experience with helpers (paid or volunteer) is that they don't remove the grass ball as completely as I do myself. They're just not as invested in the outcome. In fact, my daughter has outperformed many grown men with this task -- probably because she truly likes new garden areas.

I hope you are able to start now so you can begin your garden vision. Just don't overdo it lest you lose heart. Even an hour a day (in the cool) will get you where you're going.

My garden fork really is my "trick." YMMV


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RE: How to Switch From Lawn to Xeriscape?

YMMV-
Thanks for the advice and the inspiration. The truth is my husband probably will be doing a good portion of the work! Luckily for me he can be a bit of a perfectionist too (like your daughter). The fork suggestion is great and so is your description. It will be better, more fun and more likely to be completed- you are right- if we don't push it and do a bit at a time.

Thanks again.
Heather


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RE: How to Switch From Lawn to Xeriscape?

Well Bob, with all the rain this year the grass did start in ugly wild patches.

We did finally start last weekend with the digging and it wasn't bad at all. Used your fork tip, YMMV, and it was no problem. About 90 minutes of work. We now have an almost perfectly level area underneath where the sod was, in a large square (8'x8' approx), which is what we will use as a base to top with sand and then flat stones to create a small, very rustic patio for a table and chairs. Then in the spring we'll start upping the sod in the surrounding areas to replace with sandy dirt for xeriscape. I'm hoping to get plants into the area in May.

Thanks to both of you for your help. It's lookin good.

Heather


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RE: How to Switch From Lawn to Xeriscape?

  • Posted by jrod z7 NM (My Page) on
    Tue, Sep 26, 06 at 22:43

I'm not sure if you are still looking for information but I would recommend using Roundup to kill the existing grass/vegetation. I know its not for everybody but it has saved me many hours of labor when compared to manually weeding. If you would rather use organic herbicides, I have heard of people having good results with vinegar. Here are two links for more information on using vinegar as a herbicide.
http://www.dirtdoctor.com/view_question.php?id=778
http://www.dirtdoctor.com/view_question.php?id=134

You may want to consider getting a soil test before planting. Just because there are pine needles present, doesn't always mean the soil is acidic. Soil test are fairly cheap or even free through your county extension.

I almost always add some type of compost into the soil. I usually mix about 2" or so into the existing soil.

For a windy site, I would recommend 3/8" to 1/2" crushed gravel. There should be many different styles available at a local supply yard. Decomposed granite is also very attractive but you may have some blown away. I don't think it would be too big of an issue although.

You may want to check out High Country Gardens for ideas or xeriscape type perennials. Some of my favorite xeriscape perennials include agastache(hummingbird mint), russian sage, salvia greggii, echinacea, black-eyed susan, prairie coneflower, and various ornamental grasses.

Hope that helps.


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RE: How to Switch From Lawn to Xeriscape?

Humster - If you're still interested . . .
I've taken out 2 large areas of grass in my yard since a severe drought here (SE Colorado)in 2002. For one area I used Round-up repeatedly over the summer. I did not remove the sod, as I thought it would retain moisture better and didn't want to disturb the roots of the crab apple trees planted in the area. In the fall I put in many hundreds of species tulips, crocus, Iris reticulata and grape hyacinth. The following May, I installed buffalo grass plugs. My experience with that area proved that I should have waited longer to make sure all the weedy grass was dead. I continue to have a problem with weeds because the buffalo grass does not form a dense turf to crowd out the weeds. Over all, though, I am please with the drought tolerance and amount of maintenance - mowing 4 - 5 times per year and watering about every 2 weeks.
The second area I killed out the grass with RoundUp and waited over a year, spot treating as necessary. Then dug up any persistant roots and thatch. I then put in flagstone pathways and xeric perennials. I agree with jrod about using High Country Gardens. Their web site is excellant and very imformative. You might be able to find some of the same plants offered more cheaply locally. I order hard to find species from HCG regularly.
I used pea-gravel to mulch my wild flower garden. I especially like it because it was cheap, the color coordinated with the stone already in my yard and gravel encourages wild flowers to self-seed.
Diane


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