Saturday, January 3, 2009

Winter Gardening

I hate Bermuda grass.

I don't like to hate plants; after all, either they were here before we were, or it's our own damn fault they got here. But after wrestling with it for over two years, I am giving into my baser emotions.

I have to admit, Bermuda grass has a lot of admirable qualities. It's a tough little bugger of a plant, able to grow in hard, compact soil; able to go dormant during times of drought or temperature extremes; able to sprout up from any part of its little plant body. And it's exactly those qualities that piss me off.

Let me lay the groundwork (no pun intended): we have a bed surrounding our mailbox, which the previous owners planted with phlox and a dianthus-like plant. Both of them are literally covered with blooms for a month or so in the spring, making a very nice highlight in the front yard. The foliage creates a kind of mat, which has its own interest, and does a good job of shading out weeds.

Or so you would think.

For, you see, Bermuda grass is the very definition of insidious. It creates tough, ropelike runners underground, which it sends anywhere it can. Between stones, through landscaping cloth, even--I swear--through wood. I pulled up a large chunk of wood from old mulch that had a runner of Bermuda grass going through it lengthwise.
As the runners go, they send up shoots that are equally insidious in their quest for light.

So you can imagine that a paltry little mat of happy-go-lucky phlox is no match for this weed. The shoots come right up through it, while the runners lurk happily below the mat. Wanna pull it up? *snap!* Come back in day or two, and there are two sprouts where you removed one. Now the phlox is actually protecting the grass that is sapping all the nutrients in that soil that was so nicely amended.

Not only that, but once the Bermuda grass has pierced through the landscaping cloth, it actually uses it as an anchor, weaving tiny little rootlets into it, and snapping off at the surface.

My mother, during her visits, and I have both been trying to beat back this scourge, but all we've really been able to do is cut off the above-ground approach. Meanwhile, several inches below the soil, the runners have been running, and of course, re-sprouting. I finally gave up late last summer, and watched as the bed turned into unmowed lawn, completely camouflaging the phlox and dianthus.

However, now that we've had a couple of weeks of regular rain, and the temperatures hover in the high 50s, I was ready to launch a fresh attack. I decided to weed with a shovel. I essentially peeled up the phlox, pulled the grass roots out from below, and stacked the "disinfected" plants to the side. I also pulled up the landscaping cloth and tossed it. This took about two hours, at the end of which I was literally trembling. I am not in very good shape, and my muscles were wondering what the hell was going on. I finally had to quit about halfway through the project; about, oh, six or eight square feet.

I laid the phlox back down, trying to cover any exposed roots, and watered it in. It may or may not survive. At this point, I don't care. It's supposed to rain all day tomorrow, so it's going to be at least a week before I have any chance of finishing the job. And if the phlox gives up, so do I. I will give into Miss Chef's ongoing campaign to simply remove the brick border and let it grow into lawn.

What the hell, let the Bermuda grass do what it does best. I'm just afraid I'm eventually going to let it take over all my beds. I can just imagine a botanical domino effect spreading across both yards. But I'm not about to lose all that landscaping that makes our house look like a home. So, you may win this battle, little grass...but the war is far from over!

To borrow a phrase from Churchill, "...we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..." If only I had an army.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the picture at top is a miniature Alberta spruce and some pansies I manged to plant in a container for our front stoop, before calling a general retreat for the day.


  1. That's what landscaping companies are for F. Bless your heart, you tried. But take it from someone who has been fighting the good fight against Bermuda grass for a long time... it's easier to beat City Hall. Our lawn is Saint Augustine, but we adjoin a huge common area that is Bermuda. The stalks grow rapidly and it seeds constantly in warm weather. I have Bermuda migrating into weaker areas of my Saint Augustine sod and every year have to excavate and re-sod. It's a pain, it's exhausting, and it's expensive.

    I do admire your energy though. Good show.

  2. Oooops... meant Bahai, not Bermuda. My bad.


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