This is the third installation of the Lawn Be Gone series. (Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.) We planted the garden on Saturday, January 7th, between rain events (we don’t have rain storms here in California, we have rain events…). Repeated storms have pummeled the state as atmospheric rivers line up in the Pacific waiting to inundate the land. Last weekend the ground was deliciously moist, but not sodden. With more rain to come, this was the ideal time to plant.
As a reminder, the lawn removal project at my son and daughter-in-law’s house began last spring. They stopped watering the north side of the front lawn in May 2022. The St. Augustine grass turned brown, though it kept a surprising (to me) amount of greenish stems through the hot summer and fall months. During this time we covered the lawn with wood chips gathered from tree work done at my house. Bucket by bucket I transported the wood chips and dumped them on the lawn.The hearty grass continued to sprout along the edges of the garden where sunlight reached the blades of grass. Even with no supplemental water, the grass was robust enough to keep growing. The rest of the lawn, deprived of energy from the sun, turned into a thick layer of tan thatch.
No Lasagne Here
I have written about my concerns with lawn removal by layering with cardboard and mulch, and now it is time to come clean and tell you how my method worked.
First off, most of the grass died. However, it turned into a layer of thatch that did not thoroughly decompose during the summer. This was because it was dry, so it didn’t rot. I think that I should have soaked it and then dumped the wood chips (up to 12″ thick) on top. However, I was transporting the mulch bucket by bucket from my house, around 20 minutes away. Consequently, the thatch did not have a chance to decompose as much as I would have liked. I am convinced, though, that had we waited a few more months the layer of thatch would have been greatly reduced.
In addition, succulent stems of grass poked up along the edges of the garden. The yard is on a slope and I believe that water from neighboring yards flowed downhill, moistening the soil. This did not wet the grass, so it didn’t help it decompose, but along with sunlight, even this slight dampness in the soil allowed the grass to continue growing on the edges.
Despite these issues, we moved ahead and planted the bed last Saturday. We cleared away the wood chips in each spot where we were going to plant. Next, using a pitch fork and a spade, we broke up the thatch and tossed it in the green waste can. Finally we placed each new plant so that its roots were firmly surrounded by topsoil. We took care to make sure that the crown of each plant was slightly higher than the surrounding soil.
More work to come
Right now we are experiencing heavy rains. As I mentioned above, the yard is on a pretty good slope. Given these conditions, I am glad that we did not clear away the mulch. Once the rains subside, we will remove some of it, leaving a layer that is around 4 to 6 inches thick.
We still need to plant the downhill side of the front yard. There is a western sycamore in that area. In order keep from stressing the tree, we continued to irrigate it through the summer and fall. The mulch layer is mostly sycamore leaves. This lighter material allows air to circulate into the surface of the soil, protecting the tree’s surface roots. I expect that the sycamore will do better with the lawn removed. This beautiful tree provides shade and habitat, but it will require irrigation, especially when winter rains are sparse. The homeowners will be advised to water it deeply once a month through the summer, continuing during low-precipitation winters.