I left you in the lurch almost three months ago with the news that we were denied the lawn replacement rebate. (You can follow our progress in the Lawn Be Gone series, LBG(1), LBG(2), LBG(3), LBG(4).)
As you can see from the communication below, they asked for additional information. It was not clear what they actually needed. However, a quick call to the number listed on the letter provided the answer.
It turns out that fallen sycamore leaves are not an acceptable mulch – “Acceptable forms of organic mulch include shredded bark, bark nuggets or wood chips.” It was a simple matter to find out why the project was denied so that we could right the wrong.
With the clock ticking – we had 30 days to clear this up – we tried to arrange for a delivery of mulch from Cal Blends Soils Inc. Unfortunately, no one returned our calls or emails. However, a tree pruning service was delighted to leave us with a truck load of wood chips. Although we attempted to calculate the amount needed, we got what they had. It was not expensive, the problem was what to do with the extra.
After asking around, a friend with a truck was all too happy to take the wood chips off our hands. Two trips, some sweat and back aches later, and the driveway was clear. My son then took new pictures and resubmitted them.
What worked and what didn’t
I promised earlier to discuss what went right and what went not-so-right. So here goes. Overall, everything went smoothly. However, there were a few requirements for the rebate that made this project harder than it needed to be. Obviously, the mulch specification was one problem, though I do think the garden looks better with the wood chips.
Timing and patience
Another problem, that was not so easily handled, was the requirement that the project had to be completed within 180 days of pre-approval to receive the rebate. To get pre-approved, applicants have to submit the paperwork with the lawn intact. We started at the perfect time, August 2022. We planned to get rid of the lawn in late summer and fall so that we could then plant in winter, the best time of the year, IMHO.
Unfortunately, this was not enough time for the lawn to fully decompose. As you may recall, we decided to let the lawn decompose under a thick layer of mulch, as suggested by Garden Professors, How to Get Rid of Your Lawn. This process occurred in late fall and early winter and was slower than I expected. As a result, it was difficult to dig through the thatch when we planted the new garden. (I should mention that I don’t think that using cardboard would have helped much.) I think the whole project would have worked better and been easier if we had enough time for the lawn to decompose more thoroughly. For example, if we started the decomposition process in March and planted in the winter months then it is likely that we would have exceeded the six month period.
Although we did not dig out most of the lawn, we did have to remove it along the edges where the mulch was thinner. I can report that some grass is still trying to make a comeback but for the most part, it is gone.
Taking care of the sycamore tree
As noted above, a western sycamore is growing on the south side of the front yard. I debated on what would be the best way to remove the lawn without stressing the tree. Obviously, this meant minimizing disturbance to the upper roots and not making a drastic change to the amount of water the tree received. Well mother nature took care of the water during this super wet winter. But water is not the whole picture. To maintain healthy roots the soil must have good aeration. This was the reason I wanted to use the sycamore leaves to shade out the grass. It is also the reason that I did not want to use cardboard in that area.
To meet the program requirements, we removed some of the leaves and spread the wood chips. Even with the wood chips, I think there is plenty of air exchange in the upper soil. However, there was even less time for the grass to die out on this side. It was hard to plant and we had to dig out more turf than on the other side.
Weed cloth sucks
There was also a bit of a surprise on the south side of the front yard. The previous landscape had rocks surrounding both the base of the sycamore and an area next to the sidewalk that has a crape myrtle. I had not expected to include these areas in our work, but my son was anxious to get rid of the weed cloth and pebbles. He moved the rocks and pulled out the weed cloth next to the sidewalk. The soil was heavy and sodden, with poor air exchange. In fact, I think I could hear the trees breathe a bit easier once the soil surface was exposed to the atmosphere!
Weed cloth is a product that should be banned. It interferes with air exchange and does not control weeds well for more than a year or two. Weeds grow from seeds above the cloth and rhizomes of weedy grasses snake their way beneath it. In the end it is harder to remove the weeds than without it, it reduces air exchange in the soil, and it facilitates the growth of disease-causing microorganisms in the soil.
We had an even bigger surprise in the rock mulched area beneath the sycamore. At some time in the past organic mulch was laid over weed cloth. When the newer landscaping was installed, the contractor did not remove the weed cloth or mulch, but rather spread the rocks on a new piece of weed cloth. The result was weed cloth, decomposing mulch, weed cloth, and rocks. Talk about suffocation!
A new garden can look underplanted. This is because natives do best if planted young and small. They will fill out, though some patience is required for a few years. To make the new garden look exciting and beautiful, we spread wildflower seeds in winter. The California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) emerged earliest. The garden was alive with its soft green leaves, followed by wild orange flowers. Next came the elegant clarkias (Clarkia unguiculata). Tall, upright stems with flowers of all shades of pink waved in the breeze. Now most of the wildflowers are gone, but mourning doves and other birds are busy pecking at the seeds so we will leave them stand for a while longer.
That’s the story of the installation of this new native plant habitat garden. I will, however, follow up with a post on the irrigation system. We modified the overhead sprinklers with low-volume, micro-sprinklers. More to come on this.