Homegrown: Going from lawn to garden

I have a 15x30-foot area of grass on one side of the house that I would like to convert into a vegetable garden area for next season.

What is a safe and effective way to get rid of all that grass? Is rototilling that whole area a time or two this fall likely to get that accomplished? Is it necessary to kill all that grass with a spray, prior to tilling it up? Is covering it with a sheet of plastic to kill the grass a good option?

— Steve

You’ll be disappointed by just rototilling the grass in.

Bluegrass (far and away our most common lawn grass) is a running type of grass that forms underground stems or runners called rhizomes. Rototilling will cosmetically get rid of the grass, but each of those little pieces of rhizome left in the soil (and believe me, you’ll leave tons of them) will sprout a new plant and you’ll soon have a nice new grassy lawn in your garden.

Probably the best way to get rid of it is to spray it once or twice with an herbicide containing glyphosate, such as Killz-All. This is a non-selective weed killer that does a great job on grasses.

On most grasses such as bluegrass, one spray is usually enough, but some of the tougher ones will take a second (or even a third) application.

One trick to getting the best results from this is to continue watering that grass during the spray period. Glyphosate (as well as most other herbicides) works best when the weed is actively growing.

You want the lushest, nicest grass in town, then zap it.

After spraying, don’t water for 24 hours so you don’t wash the spray off the grass. After that, maintain a regular watering schedule. That way if you happened to miss a patch or some of the grass managed to dodge the first spray, it will sprout up and let you know you need to do some follow-up spraying.

Killing weeds and other pests by putting a sheet of plastic over the area is called solarization. This is a non-chemical way of getting the job done, but it will take some more time and work on your part.

It works by raising the temperature of the soil, effectively “cooking” it.

First, with this technique (and contrary to my first paragraph) you want to rototill the area and then rake as much of the uprooted grass out of the area as you can.

Next, moisten the soil but don’t get it soggy wet. You can then stretch a sheet of clear 4 mil or 6 mil polyethylene plastic over the area and seal down the edges completely with some garden soil or rocks. It’s important that it be sealed well so the temperature will get as high as possible.

Leave the plastic down for a month or two. The best time to do this is mid-summer when there is plenty of intense bright sunshine and high temperatures.

It’s getting a bit late in the season, but it might still work for you, as long as the weather cooperates a little.

Is this a good time of year to cut my trees back?

— Evelyn

At this point, I would hold off.

While most times of the year are fine, I usually avoid late summer through the fall. Pruning during that time can sometimes stimulate lush, succulent regrowth that can be damaged by early frosts as fall comes on.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliff gardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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