Sunday, October 20, 2013

A losing battle

It's been nearly four weeks now since we planted grass on the bare-earth slope that we built up around the edges of our patio. At the time, I was very excited about the seed blend we'd specially ordered at Home Depot, which contained a mixture of fescue and microclover (a specially bred variety of Dutch clover that stays low to the ground). If the claims on the site were to be believed, this stuff could thrive with little water, stay green and lush without fertilizer, and compete with the toughest weeds. When we first planted the slope back in September, after first stripping it of all weeds and preparing it with some compost, it looked like this (including the burlap we put down as a temporary erosion guard).

And this morning, after four weeks of growth and regular watering, it looked like this.

Now, if you look at this picture carefully, two things may strike you about it. First, an awful lot of the planted area is still bare and brown, rather than lush and green. And second, the lushest, greenest parts are not grass but weeds—mostly the mugwort and dandelions that we labored so hard to eradicate before planting the grass in the first place. Turns out that—surprise, surprise—when you prepare a nice, clear patch of ground, add plenty of compost, and water it regularly, the weeds find it just as congenial a spot as the grass does, if not more so. And though we tried our hardest to pull out every last weed, weeds that spread with long underground runners (like mugwort) or grow from extremely deep-rooted taproots (like dandelions) are virtually impossible to dig up completely. Even if there's no trace of them visible above the surface, they're still lurking down there, and they can grow from a fragment of a root into a huge, thriving plant a lot faster than a tiny grass seed can.

So, at least in its first few weeks of growth, this grass blend hasn't been doing such a stellar job of competing with the weeds. But, not being prepared to give up just yet, we decided to go for one more round of pulling and planting and see if we could manage to get a little more actual grass this time. So once again, we pulled out as many weeds as we could, sprinkled grass seed in all the bare patches (a little more heavily this time, in the hopes that at least one seed in five would take root), and top-dressed it with our last bag of compost. Here's how it looked by the time we went in this evening.

Already, with the weeds gone, it's looking a little better, even though it's considerably more bare than it was this morning. But considering how well this stuff did last time, I can't say I'm truly expecting a thick green carpet of lawn to spring up before the ground freezes. Most likely, we'll just end up with a slightly better version of what we had this morning: a little more grass and a little less weeds, but still a fairly high ratio of weeds to grass overall. I guess we can still hope that the weeds will die back over the winter while the microclover continues to spread, so that it will have an advantage against the weeds when they start to grow back in the spring. But still, considering that this is all we now have left of a bag of seed that was supposed to cover 600 square feet, I can't say I'm terribly impressed with this seed blend overall.

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