Monday, March 19, 2012

Garden Warfare: Getting Rid of Unwanted Plants

Warfare. I thought a lot about it as I was ridding my front yard of unwanted plants this weekend.

It was an unfortunately violent feeling brought on by that clump of ornamental grass I mentioned in this post. I referred to it then as pampas grass, which I think now is an identification error; pampas grass isn't winter hardy in the Midwest where I live, and it's more likely maiden grass or something in the miscanthus genus. Whatever. It doesn't matter. The point was that it was out of place, out of scale, and just wrong for this house and this front yard, in my opinion. I wanted it gone.

The problem is it didn't want to go. I didn't have any experience with the stuff, and I had no idea what I was getting into. Hoo boy. I ended up battling that thing for hours.

I'd started with the intent of making major progress on the landscaping upgrades that needed to get done in the mess of a front yard. With two whole sunny weekend days, I was predicting a major victory come Sunday night. Instead I got a surprise ambush by that ornamental grass.

Here it is, last year's growth trimmed down. That's about a 3-foot by 2-foot spread of root ball there:

Seems innocent enough, doesn't it?
I started in. My spade bounced off the root ball. I dug in the soil around it, and pried, but it only budged a little, and by then my spade handle was making those creaky noises like it considered cracking under the strain:

The spade and the Chuck Taylors survived. Wish I could say the same for my lower back.
If you can't see to the bottom of that mass, neither could I. I dug up all around the edge of the entire clump, and it showed no signs of weakening its grip on Mother Earth. It was at about the hour mark of the misadventure that I began thinking how much I'd like to borrow my Dad's machete from when he served in Viet Nam. And then that thought made me turn to dreams of Agent Orange. While I don't favor the use of cancer-causing defoliants in general, right at that moment they were beginning to sound rather appealing. I'll admit my next thought in the overall theme of military attack was napalm and flame throwers.

Finally some progress:

Well, $#%@!
An itty bitty four-inch clump. It was enough to make a good girl swear, and I am not a good girl, anyway not all that much. I pummeled that grass with a garden rake, and hacked at it with a shovel, and then did something that looked half like hog wrasslin' and half like a barroom fist fight, and I'm sure amused the neighbors half to death.

Reasoning that this was at least as thick as carpet, I took a carpet knife to the root ball. Nothing. Then I took a tree pruning saw to it.

FINALLY. We found that we could saw off small chunks of the grass root, and then sever it from the soil from underneath with the spade. It turns out the root ball was as solid, compacted, and as hard as your average piece of lumber. By this time both my efforts and my tantrum had worn me nearly out, so my son Grant and I took turns at hacking away at it. It wore out the arms, all the sawing. It took about another two hours of effort to get the thing out.

We win! (crazy, maniacal laughter)
I later learned through internet research that ornamental grass IS actually controlled with burning by some landscape experts; my flame thrower idea wasn't all that crazy. All the effort on ONE plant removal took a big bite out of our time for the rest. And there were casualties:

The grass fought back, but resistance was futile.
We took down the retaining wall jumble of broken concrete and found this:

Urban archaeology. Also, why am I so angry at the previous owners all the time?
We don't know what to make of it. Right at the edge of the flat driveway is a lip of concrete fragments that seems set or fused to the driveway. Why the heck did they do it that way? I have no idea. But we decided it was reasonably flat and there didn't seem to be anyway to get it up. We decided it was the foundation of the new retaining wall.

Our extremely awesome neighbor across the street offered to take our concrete rubble to the dump for us. He's in the construction trades and makes regular trips. But the gesture was huge to me since it saved me disposal fees. God bless good neighbors!

My son Grant worked his tail off for his Mom. I am so thankful for that as well!

Are we any closer to my inspiration photo?

Ah, yes. And no. Sometimes to get rid of a mess you have to make a bigger mess. We are at that point:

It seemed like a good idea when we started.
In the foreground you can see the pile of concrete rubble we pulled out. In the background you can see the landscape bricks for the new and improved wall. I filled four big yard waste bags full, and will probably fill another two or three before it's over. We only managed to get the driveway swept up before Sunday night arrived.

I will be so happy when the sweaty, back breaking labor is done and I can go back to dainty sorts of gardening, like putting annuals in pots. All in good time!


  1. Want to come over and take a big clump of ugly grass out of my yard?

    1. I'm your sister so I have to say yes. But let's look into flame-thrower rentals.

  2. Good luck with the rest of your yard projects! We had to do SO much to our yard when we moved here, too, and we also spent much of the time angry at the previous owner. (Her idea of yard ornamentation was a plastic barrel filled with chunks of concrete, with a wooden structure on top to make the whole thing look like a wishing well -- if you were really far away and kind of squinted.) I should've taken pictures to prove to people just how ugly our yard used to look. (I think I do have one shot of the entire yard when we first moved in, but you can't tell just how bad it really was.)

    1. Sometimes I don't know what people are thinking, that's for sure. We also dug up a shrub with spiny sharp barbs that was planted right next to the outdoor faucet. WHY would plant that right where people are going to walk? Sigh. It will take a lot of work, but I think it will look much better when done. Thank you for all the encouragement!