Look at this travesty. This used to be my beloved front triangle garden. Now, it’s just a crabgrass farm.
People love this garden and it gets lots of compliments. But not this year. How did it get to this sorry state? Let’s see how many excuses I can come up with … all of which are at least partially valid. We’ve been busy with a couple of family-reunion vacations, as you know. Work gets in the way Monday through Friday. It’s been so miserably hot—in the 90s much of the time—I haven’t been able to stay outside to do projects, or even to take our evening walks. We Northwest mossbacks aren’t used to this heat!
Plus, something horrible has happened: Crabgrass has invaded our neighborhood. I have lived here 32 years, and we never had it before. It showed up a couple of years ago and now it’s taking over everything! Several years ago, long before the crabgrass appeared, we quit using chemicals in our yard, and now I can’t keep up with the weeds. They are winning. I really don’t know what I’m going to do. Gardening has become so much harder. Having a touchy back and getting older don’t help, either. Do you feel sorry for me yet?
On another record-breakingly hot weekend, I waited for the sun to go behind the big tree across the street, then I began hacking back the crabgrass jungle. I started at the broad end of the triangle, where I had planted an herb garden.
I had three things going for me: Our valley soil is soft and rock-free, enabling me to dig and pull weeds with ease. Crabgrass looks fierce on the top, but it has fairly puny, shallow little roots. And, weeding in an herb garden smells great, especially the curry plant. (I recently was surprised to learn that curry plant [helichrysum italicum] doesn’t have anything to do with Indian curry, which is made with a variety of spices. It has a wonderful, pungent curry-like fragrance, though.)
I’m embarrassed to admit that as I ripped out the crabgrass, I uncovered 13 plants still in their pots, that I never got around to putting in the ground. Most of them are dead … the rest wish they were. Fortunately, I think I can still resuscitate a few that didn’t croak.
As satisfying as it was to pull out weed after weed, I knew that with each pull, a fragment of root remained underground, quietly laughing to itself. This is the third time I’ve had to do a major weeding since spring. I occurred to me that we hadn’t mulched this spring. I asked Eric if we’d mulched last year. He held up three fingers. Three years ago?? I think I’ve identified the problem! But that still doesn’t explain why we have crabgrass now, when we never were bothered by it before. Hmm …
I did a little research about my new nemesis. Invasive species are opportunists. They invade because the conditions are just right for them to thrive. If you didn’t used to have a pest plant, but now you do, it’s because something in your garden has changed. If you pay attention, you can learn a lot about what’s going on in your environment. So I listened to my crabgrass, and this is what it told me.
“Hey, lady,” it said, sounding a little like a snarky Jerry Lewis, “You got an awesome lawn! It’s mostly clover, ajuga, buttercup, and dandelions … nice sparse grass—brown and short. The soil is nice and warm and gets lots of sun. And this garden—no mulch to fight through! My parents lived in the West,” he nodded his seed heads across the street. “I thought it looked nice and quiet over here … the kind of place where a grass can really put down roots, where nobody would hassle us. Man, this is exactly the kind of neighborhood we were lookin’ for! My family loves it here! Well, talkatcha later,” it said with a snicker, “I was just about to go to seed.”
And then I yanked it out by its damned roots. Look at this monster digitaria sanguinalis. Who’s had the last laugh now?
Indeed, the smart-ass grass was right. Since we quit using chemicals, we’ve pretty much ignored the poor lawn. It used to be nice and thick, but year by year it’s grown patchy and thin from neglect. Weeds blew in from the neighbors’ weed farms. The front yard gets the prevailing wind, while the back and side yards are protected by the house and fence, and have little crabgrass. We water the garden areas a couple of times per week (despite the drought, we have no watering restrictions—yet) because we have hundreds of plants, and we don’t want them to suffer and die. The lawn just catches what it can.
The past two summers have been warmer than usual, and this one has broken heat records left and right. We have had two days of rain since sometime in May, and more days over 90 degrees than ever before. El Nino, a warming condition of in the Pacific Ocean, is responsible for this. It’s climate change in action. The perfect storm for crabgrass.
Recently I saw an article about how to avoid this kind of weeding marathon. I leapt on the story, eager to learn the password to lazy gardening. The secret? Get a razor-sharp hoe and go out and weed every day!! Thank you SO much for this tip … as if I have time to do this every day! (Of course, I know they’re right. You’ve got to cut ’em down when they’re tiny and not let the weeds get so big that they can arm wrestle you.) But somehow it pissed me off to read that, just as it does when my investment company suggests I continue working until I’m 70 to maximize my retirement benefits. Oh, don’t get me started!! Any fool knows that a person can’t work full time and weed full time!!
So Eric and I have a plan. First, we will mulch the gardens! We normally do this in spring, but this is war. Then we’ll aerate the lawn and apply a top dressing of compost. We haven’t done that for several years. Come fall and cooler weather, we’ll apply an organic fertilizer and weed control, and overseed the lawn. By spring we should have better grass coverage that’ll help crowd out crabgrass and other invasives.
You might ask why we have a lawn at all. Fair question … We have consciously worked at reducing lawn area over the years by creating more garden space. Our front lawn is smallish, but because we live on a corner, we also have grass parking strips (the part between the sidewalk and the street) on two sides of our property. We need some grass in the backyard for Duke’s benefit. I probably will carve out additional garden beds again in the spring. For the past few years, my MO has been “more garden, less lawn,” but now the gardens are becoming a burden to me. I’ve even been thinking about converting to a clover lawn (heck, we’re half-way there!), but I need to do more research. I’m not sure what comes next … do you have any ideas? Moving to a condo and paving the lawn are not options!
I wrote most of this post a week ago, and with the help of more moderate temperatures this past weekend, we got our butts in gear and mulched the triangle garden and the rose garden. SO much better!
Even though I hesitated to plant anything right now, I picked up a few flowering plants, both annual and perennial, to fill in some blank spaces (previously inhabited by digitaria and his extended family).
Temps this week are breaking records again, so we won’t get much further until we cool back down. But it’s a start! Someone walked by and complimented me on the garden, so I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track.
Finally, I’d like to thank my hard-working landscaping crew, below. Couldn’t have done it without you!