Tag Archives: weeds

My War with Nutgrass, Spring 2013

The other day I noticed that nutgrass (okay, okay–nutsedge) was coming up through the blacktop on my driveway. This didn’t surprise me in the slightest. I had already learned that all of that optimistic advice about organically controlling nutgrass–you know, without chemical herbicides–was not, shall we say, grounded in reality.

I had tried covering the damned stuff with black plastic sheeting to cook it to death in the heat of summer. I had tried laying down cardboard and topping it three inches of mulch to smother it. I had tried sifting my soil and removing the nuts. Do I still have nutgrass? Oh, hell yes. Coming up through the blacktop, as well as pretty much everywhere else.

Not long ago the Los Angeles Times ran an article on this bane of the Los Angeles gardeners’ existence. Local experts offered advice. And here is my favorite advice from that article, offered by Frank McDonough, botanist at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden:

“Because we don’t use chemical controls, the only method we have at our disposal is removal. The most effective control of nutgrass that has established itself in the ground is to remove the soil down to 18 inches and replace it with nutgrass-free soil. The other strategy is détente: We have a very lovely lawn in an area that, upon inspection, consists mostly of nutsedge.” You can read the whole article here.

Guess what? My “lawn” is greening up nicely. It’s almost all nutgrass. And since the damned stuff requires very little water, apparently I can have a “lawn” without guilt. I’m going to call it detente, not defeat.


The Weeds That Bloom in the Spring, Tra-La!

Peach blossoms--sure sign of spring

Second week of March. A week ago we had sleet. Today it’s 83 degrees–because I do still have some daffodils, which bloomed after our last daff-frying heat wave. But it’s definitely spring in the San Fernando Valley. The scent of pink jasmine is everywhere. The magnolia is abloom, the stocks, the peach tree…

Pink jasmine--it's an imperialist, trying to take over the entire yard, but I forgive it everything when it blooms.

And guess what? Nut grass is germinating in the beautifully sifted soil of my new lawn area. I’m shocked!

I'm shocked--shocked!--to discover nut grass germinating in my garden.

I would accuse myself of wasting my time were it not for the new vegetable bed I’m creating by cutting down on lawn area and moving ornamentals. Eggplant? Cucumbers? We’ll see….

And come fall, I’ll be putting in that new peach tree.

Sifting Soil

I have a confession to make. My war with nut grass has taken a turn for the truly lunatic.

It started when I decided to dig up the patch of weeds in the backyard that we casually call the lawn. I thought I’d turn the soil over, take off the top layer of weeds and rake it smooth so it would be easier to mow. We use a push mower, so ease counts. (Why do we use a push mower? We have so little “lawn” that there’s no point in even thinking about a power mower. And when we do think about a power mower, we think “noise” and “noxious fumes” and “ugh.”)

It's pointless, but I can't stop myself. I'm sifting nut grass tubers out of the backyard.

And so I started at the western edge, next to ‘French Lace’ and my ‘Hemstitched’ irises. I stuck the spade in the ground and turned over…nut grass roots and tubers the entire depth of the spade. The wretched stuff went down at least 10 inches. Disgusting. Disheartening. And that’s when I lost all sanity.

I turned over most of weeds to let them dry out a little and I got out my garden sieve–and I began to sift the soil in the backyard. Why do I have a garden sieve? I ordered it six or seven years ago from Lee Valley Tools for the express purpose of sifting nut grass tubers out of my tomato bed. At least I was planning on growing food there. I don’t have any such excuse with this lawn area.

I’ve been at it now for about three weeks (with time out for painting the new patio cover, but that’s a saga for another day). I’m about two-thirds done.

Here’s the thing: I know it’s essentially pointless. I know that however many roots and tubers I remove, I’ll never get them all. I know that at best all I’m doing is slowing down the nut grass. In four years, five tops, it’ll be back, just as dense as it is now. That’s what happened in the tomato bed.

A garden sieve in use. Rational people use it to get pebbles out of their garden beds.

The good news: now that I have all this nice, sifted, clean, beautiful soil, I’m rethinking the western side of the garden. I’m going to move ‘French Lace’ and the irises in about three feet. I’ll put ‘The Nun’ where the irises are now. The teucrium might have to go. And then…then I’ll have room for another peach tree. Who the hell needs lawn anyway?