Gneiss House

Low-pressure home metamorphism


Catching up

It’s been a while since 2013! Here, I’ll give some updates on the eastern PA house status and renovations; and in my next post I’ll introduce my new residence far, far away.

Following the killing of the lawn and installation of new plants, we had two extremely harsh, cold, long winters in eastern Pennsylvania, with a very wet summer in between (for most of which I was traveling and out of town). The results:

  • The magnolia tree is still the prettiest tree in the neighborhood, and this year we finally got a good bloom.
The best tree.

The best tree.

  • The side yard meadow has matured, with light oversowing every spring to encourage annual flower growth. it is now mostly Dutch white clover, which is drought resistant and a good lawn alternative. The only real disadvantages are 1) how aggressively it grows over the stone path and into the flower and vegetable beds, requiring trimming back and pulling every couple weeks in the warm months; and 2) how unattractive it looks in late summer after the flowering is past. The mounds of sheep fescue from the original lawn alternative seed mix have mostly consolidated onto the sunny slopes, where they need their seedheads cut off in early summer to avoid looking ratty and messy, and really no other maintenance. I plant all the pansies I can find on sale in the early fall to get a fall and subsequent spring bloom out of them, and have finally gotten some sparse crocuses to take without squirrels eating them. And the vegetable garden beds are full of self-sowing herbs and abundant strawberries all summer long. The rosebush and hedges require a little trimming, up to once a month, but otherwise this is very low maintenance and a great success. Neighborhood children even sneak into the yard to enjoy it, so possibly it has been slightly too successful!
Roman chamomile among the Dutch clover in the side yard, with dog.

Roman chamomile among the Dutch clover in the side yard, with dog.

Mature clover yard, with stone path, sitting area, and a vegetable bed between uses in the foreground. Cat for scale.

Mature clover yard, with stone path, sitting area, and a vegetable bed between uses in the foreground. Cat for scale.

  • The perennial gardens near the back driveway, all seriously overplanted by the previous homeowner, are a bit of a handful and require trimming back several times a summer. While I was traveling I was forced to hire a landscaper to get this under control. It does look nice if I keep it groomed, though. Don’t overplant, folks!
  • While the tulips and daylilies down the sidewalk strips were successful and received a lot of neighborly compliments, creeping mazus as a groundcover was only a partial success. It took root easily and quickly from cuttings and plugs (which I scavenged from the side yard garden, where it has been very happy), but was slower to spread in shadier spots, and then suffered from a lasting and stubborn case of root rot. Utility work that removed and then repacked topsoil in another area killed more of it. Without a healthy ground cover consistently in place, weed growth has been substantial. So I removed the dead areas of mazus, added topsoil to an area that was a little below curb level so it was slow to dry out after heavy rains, and replanted a lot of the strip, with plans to aerate after rainstorms this summer. If it fails to take (again), something else will be necessary going forward.
Tulips and creeping mazus in year 2, prior to root rot setting in and killing most of the mazus.

Tulips and creeping mazus in year 2, prior to root rot setting in and killing most of the mazus.

  • Nothing consistent has taken root on the slope just above the sidewalk on the side yard, except where there was out-of-control, mold-encouraging lamb’s ear, all of which I removed last summer. Liriope muscari was too slow to take to help with erosion, the mazus was patchy at best, and weeds were plentiful. I have now planted sprigs of variegated liriope spicata silver dragon (a little less aggressive than solid liriope spicata, though aggressive may turn out to be necessary here). That will hopefully handle the range of full sun to part-shade and acidic soil on a slope well enough to finally take.
  • The front yard slope, despite some weed growth, is doing reasonably well. The perennials have all survived and crocuses took there very successfully, which will look great in coming years.
  • Despite being rather slow to spread, dwarf mondo grass should have been able to succeed in zone 7. Unfortunately, the unusually harsh winters killed off easily half the plugs each year (the second time after an expensive second planting attempt), and the entire front yard was being overtaken by the ubiquitous and nuisance star-of-bethlehem weeds. My attempts to dig them out and poison the weeds were completely unsuccessful and just made a mess of the yard, so short of burning the yard down to nothing I am forced to live with them. Other ground covers are very unlikely to succeed in a part- to full-shade spot of acidic clay soil, and I watch my adjacent neighbor with the same conditions struggle to get any grass to take every year. To top it off, the same utility work that killed one end of the sidewalk strip did even more damage to the front yard, killing a section of the bordering perennials after two years of getting established.
The ground had barely become visible after months of burial under snow and ice, when the local utility company, doing routine work, destroyed half the perennials in the far border and filled them back in with bare dirt. I may have cried.

The ground had barely become visible after months of burial under snow and ice, when the local utility company, doing routine work, destroyed half the perennials in the far border and filled them back in with bare dirt. I may have cried.

Come spring, the yard was bare mud and some weeds. I did a round of weed removal (except the star-of-bethlehem, which seems un-killable).

Come spring, the yard was bare mud and some weeds. I did a round of weed removal (except the star-of-bethlehem, green here, which is next to un-killable).

After leveling with topsoil, I arranged some flagstones and local schist rocks that were no longer in use in the side yard, to make a path, centerpiece, and sitting area.

After leveling with topsoil, I arranged some flagstones and local schist rocks that were no longer in use in the side yard, to make a path, centerpiece, and sitting area.

It is clear that very few ground covers will succeed in the conditions in this spot: part to full shade, with acidic, clay soil. So I risked neighborly disapproval and installed two varieties of garden moss, sheet moss and fern moss:

Newly installed bench and garden moss.

Newly installed bench and garden moss.

I purchased all of the moss from Moss and Stone Gardens; it came partially dried, and I watered it and then broke it into moderately small (but not fragmented pieces) and pinned them down with moss (florist) pins so they were in contact with the bare soil. The moss now needs very regular watering to fully attach, so it can survive droughts, and to slowly spread to fill the gaps. I also filled in the surrounding border and interspersed among the moss a variety of taller perennials: several varieties of hostas and ferns, a couple foxgloves on the west-facing edge, a few astilbes. My hope is for this to be a zen-garden-inspired, relaxing place to sit.

That’s it for yard updates! Inside the house, I did some minor repairs for upkeep: I cut and nailed down some replacement floor boards where some of the original ones were badly damaged, which included buying a battery- and gas-powered Hitachi finishing nailer. I love my finishing nailer very much. I also just gave all the hardwood floors a fresh coat of polyurethane, which was easy and made them look instantly newer again. The house is now rented out and will hopefully be relatively self-sufficient, with minimal yardwork and upkeep for years to come!

Next up: moving to a house in eastern Nebraska!


Living and dining room redesign

I have painted the final two rooms of the house, at long last! These were the last ones because they are my most heavily used living spaces, so it was more disruptive to paint them. There were also a lot of walls to do, so it took three separate painting sessions. The changes here (some of which are also listed here) include: refinished hardwood floors, new base shoe molding, two rugs from Overstock, a cherry dining table and chairs from craigslist, a hand-built tv stand, shelving from Ikea, an old, sturdy sewing table converted to fishtank stand, restored coffee table and end tables from yard sales, prints mostly from art.com (Brain Salt!), lamps from Bed, Bath and Beyond, and a nice, hand-me-down couch set donated by family. The living room is in a yellow and blue color scheme, and the dining room in warmer yellows and browns. I also replaced the old, grandmothery light covers on the dining room ceiling fan with cleaner-looking new ones from Home Depot (a little change that you don’t notice much but that makes a big difference in atmosphere). Before and after pictures below!

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Listing photo, looking into the dining room from the kitchen (living room to the right).

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Listing photo, looking from the living room into the dining room.

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Looking towards the back of the house from inside the dining room.

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Looking back towards the living room from the dining room.

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Full dining room view.

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Another full dining room view, slightly different angle.

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Listing photo of the living room, looking from the front door area towards the stairs and coat closet.

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Listing photo of the living room, looking from the stairs into the room.

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List photo of the living room, looking from the stairs towards the front door.

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List photo of the living room, looking from the dining room towards the front of the house.

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Panorama view of the living room, from the front door.

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Normal view of the living room from the front door.

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Living room, from the stairs towards the front door.

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Living room, from the stairs into the room.

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And one last view, from the dining room towards the front of the room.


Meadow maintenance

Aside from occasional light weeding, the side yard meadow has taken off really well! The areas I planted this year are lush, and the whole thing is very green and flowery and pretty. I also have had a pretty successful vegetable and herb garden so far this year.

Unfortunately, the meadow was invaded by white clover, which took over large sections of the yard and aggressively obscured the walking path. So I did some maintenance to clean the whole thing up and to help the other perennials see the sun again. I couldn’t really remove it all–it was too quickly established to do that without killing everything else–but it was easy to trim back, and I will just have to do that periodically going forward. So aside from occasionally weeding the garden beds, pulling the rare weed that sprouts up through the meadow, and trimming the ground covers next to the path and the bushes a few times over the warm months, the only maintenance work the yard now needs is 1) refilling bird feeders and 2) spreading out BTI granules over the low lying and thickly vegetated areas every three weeks or so to [very safely] keep the mosquito population under control. Oh, and harvesting and eating the garden plants!

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Freshly trimmed walkway in the foreground, looking towards the back of the yard with a very green wildflower meadow. You can see that the lettuce bolted while I was out of town–too bad, but I’m sure I’ll find some cooking use for bitter greens.

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Closeup of the bolted romaine lettuce. Immediately behind it and to the left are a few leeks, and behind that is cauliflower.

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Looking into the keyhole garden. This is where the creeping mazus has gone a little nuts after all the wet weather we’ve had. It’s easy to pull and trim back, though, and I’m going to use the extra to plant the sidewalk strip.

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The back area up against the house has a lot of happy herbs, and wax beans in the center and on the right that have already produced a bunch of beans! In the foreground keyhole bed are several happy tomato plants. That keyhole also contains rosemary (just at the far right edge of the photograph) and onions just out of view.

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The other keyhole bed also has a few more surviving tomato plants, and all the way on the right are some very healthy carrots–the greens have gotten huge and they should be almost ready for harvesting! In the background bed are more beans (left) and two surviving cauliflower plants (center), along with the crazy lettuce (right).

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I planted cucumbers (big leaves on the right) and straightneck summer squash (yellow flowers on the left) right in the meadow at the top of the slope, so they would be in the sun and could vine down the slope. So far they are really happy! My only worry now is that I put them too close together, and they will cross-pollinate to make something that is not very tasty! There is also lavendar a little further down the slope, doing well and flowering this year.

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A very comfortable picnic area in the meadow!


Replanting everything

After killing the yard, of course, you have to replant. (Well, unless you would prefer a weed hayfield.) Because I was ordering my plants from nurseries and farms online, this had to happen in stages for me, and in the meantime I had to do a. lot. of. weeding. But the weeds were small and easy to pull out, so it wasn’t strenuous work–just annoying and time-consuming. I accept that this is the price of replanting a yard of perennials: for a few years I will be weeding a whole lot, while the new plants get established, so I might as well get used to it!

I was really organized about this process. I actually had measured out with reasonable accuracy the dimensions of my yard, and I sketched it out to scale to calculate how many plants I would need for full coverage. The diagram was covered in lots of sophisticated mathematical calculations, like “12′ x 20′ = 20 plants.” This might not be a necessary step for everyone, but it definitely helped me plan out the yard in an organized way so that I didn’t risk overplanting (or underplanting, but I think overplanting is often a more significant risk), and once the plants arrived it was invaluable for helping me remember where to put them all. My goals were to select plants that were 1) appropriate to the sun/shade and moisture and slope conditions of the different parts of the yard, and 2) low maintenance once established (no mowing, only periodic trimming/edging, not too much watering, little weeding after the first couple years, and a full-scale cutting back either never or once a year).

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My graphed yard landscaping plan! I’m a very organized person, so this was fun. That book, by the way, was very helpful.

First: the nursery reviews. First to arrive were my perennials from American Meadows. Sometimes they hold off on shipping if the plants aren’t at the right stage for shipping, but this time the plants were ready to go in the nursery and had to ship right away. Most shipped as bare roots, so I had to immediately pot them to safely wait until the yard was fully dead and ready for replanting. Those plants were most of the ones I had ordered for the perennial border around the edge of the front yard and at the tops of all the side slopes. Some of these roots have not yet broken the surface, but most of them have and look good (though a few seem to be in a bit of shock from the ridiculous amount of rain we’ve had this past month–hopefully they will recover). In my now pretty extensive experience, American Meadows plants are a little more expensive than some other nurseries, but the percentage of what you order that sprouts/germinates successfully is generally higher than most other places, too, so it works out to be reasonably priced. I also received the handful of decorative sedge grasses from Santa Rosa Gardens very promptly and in great shape. They were fine sitting on the stoop for a week, and then transplanted happily and are going strong (for one of them, even after being half mowed-over by my neighbor’s truck!).

Next came the daylilies from Smokey’s Daylily Gardens, which offers a dizzying variety of daylily options. I bought a large number of these to fill the center of my sidewalk strip around both sides of my corner lot. I purchased exclusively from their clearance sale varieties, to save on cost, and they were still all very healthy plants with (so far) quite pretty flowers. I did receive someone else’s small order by mistake, but the nursery was prompt and generous about fixing the error (because shipping them back didn’t make sense, I even got to keep the 12 extra plants! I used them to border the front steps and to add a little extra variety to the edges of the sidewalk strips). These also arrived so quickly that I was unable to plant them right away. On their customer service rep’s recommendation, I put the fans in several large mop buckets and added enough water to cover their roots until I was ready to put them in the ground. They were just at the point where the water had to be changed when I was ready to plant, but in case this happens to you: change it after ~4 days and/or whenever the water starts to get smelly/filmy looking. They all took well to the transplanting: I have not lost a single plant, out of more than 100 total. Some of which even got stepped on by neighbors and snapped off soon after I planted them, and they are still alive. It’s hard to kill a daylily!

I ordered two batches of leptinella potentilla (a hardy, fast-spreading variety of Brass Buttons) from different nurseries, in order to get a sufficient quantity. This is probably the most expensive thing I ordered, but because they are fast spreaders I went really conservative and ordered just enough to plant a separated 1/3 to 1/4 section of each 3.5″ pot at one-foot intervals around the sidewalk strip edge. The first group, from Mini Forest, arrived quickly and were bushy and happy chilling in the shade for a week or two while I got the strip ready for planting. Not all of the separated clumps were too happy about transplanting, but it looks like most of them have survived.

The second group was from Farm Fresh Living, a farm affiliated with Stargazer Perennials. I had had one negative experience with Stargazer in the past (an order that never arrived, with no shipping notification issued, and then no response to many attempts to contact them over the span of weeks, and then finally a response that said the order had actually been shipped (clearly not true) but they would grudgingly return my money anyway), one that I now know mirrors similar comments in the Dave’s Garden reviews from around the same time period. But no one else was selling that leptinella variety, from what I could find, so I took a chance, hoping the business was just having a bad spell last year. This time, the plants shipped in a few weeks and I received all the shipping notifications and information very promptly! Unfortunately, probably due to overly warm shipping conditions, they arrived with a serious case of rot. I was away from home for a week and had someone else sign for the packages, open them immediately, place them in the shade, and water them so they could recover from the shock of shipping (since I didn’t know about the rot). Unfortunately, eastern PA has received about 30 inches of rain in the past month, which meant the rotting plants then proceeded to be rained on regularly for a week; by the time I got home they were fully or nearly dead (hard to tell yet). Happily, however, this time the nursery’s customer service responded to my multiple messages within a day and was very reasonable. (After my last experience, I did not hesitate to bombard them: I left them a voicemail and simultaneously emailed them in two different ways! It worked!) The plants are now out of the rain and drying out in hopes that the roots recover. So far, no luck. If they fail, it sounds like the nursery/farm may give me some of my money back in credit. Either way I will probably transplant plugs of my now-vigorous mazus reptans from the side garden down to the sidewalk strip instead of the Brass Buttons, since it’s now late in the year to try to get my hands on any more leptinella.

Finally, the lilyturfs. I ordered a large quantity of both monkeygrass (variegated liriope muscari) for the bases of the side slopes, and dwarf mondo grass for the center of the front yard, all from Mondo Grass Online. This company was really great: they worked with me to set up a timetable for shipping that matched my planting schedule, their prices were good, and they were very prompt with communication. They also shipped me 25 extra liriope sprigs and 125 extra sprigs of mondo: the “small sprigs” were free! As with the rest, I was very sparing about the spacing of the sprigs in my yard, since they will spread and I wanted to keep the cost reasonable. So the extras should help it fill in a little faster!

Then, of course, I had to weed the whole yard and dig hundreds of holes, some of it right after tilling and hoeing (read: very sore, crampy back). Incidentally, if I haven’t mentioned it before, this whole process of removing and replacing your yard is rather laborious!

Without further ado, pictures with details are below. I will update with more interesting ones later in the summer, and follow up with final results once it has all filled in more next year!

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Looking across the front yard from the walkway. This area gets mostly shade, though on the left it receives part sun in the afternoon. To the right is dwarf mondo grass, which will be a low groundcover that can handle light walking. On the left is the edge of the slope, with variegated monkeygrass. And in the center and around the back right edge is the front yard border. The border contains alternating hostas (Hosta So Sweet) and solomon’s seal (Variegatum) perennials, with interspersed small astilbes (Younique Pink), foamflowers, bloodroot flowers, and mixed anemone de caen bulbs for colorful and textural accents. Mondo is a great shade ground cover, as long as conditions are reasonably moist, and can survive in zone 7 just fine. The monkeygrass is a particularly good part-shade choice for an eroding slope. The border perennials can all tolerate part to full shade. I’m a little worried that some of them were overwatered by our ridiculous month of rain and are a little stressed, but hopefully they will recover quickly. I added the brick paver divider on the far side, to add some definition and also to protect the neighbor’s yard and mine from too much unwanted plant encroachment.

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Looking up at the front yard from below.

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A close look at the liriope muscari planted on the slope.

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I planted some of the extra daylilies next to the steps as flowering accents. Since this was an erroneous delivery, I didn’t even know what they would look like! This spot gets enough afternoon sun for them to bloom (as you can see–a lot of them started blooming just two weeks after the fans were in the ground!)

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The sidewalk strip in front of the house. I added the stepping stones (oddly, none of the houses in this neighborhood have a path that extends from the front door past the sidewalk), sedge at the corners, and the row of yellow daylilies down the center. The strips both receive part to full sun, and the part sun areas receive afternoon sun, so the daylilies and a sun-loving groundcover will be happy here. I will be planting ground cover all around the edge, but due to shipping problems I haven’t been able to do that yet.

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Focus on the sidewalk strip. Daylily to the left, hair sedge (carex flagellifera) in the middle, and a little bit of the brass buttons (leptinella potentilla) groundcover that shipped healthy on the right (all hardy, sun-loving plants). There isn’t enough leptinella to go very far due to the shipping problems, so I will be migrating plugs of mazus reptans from the garden to fill in the rest of the strip border (see last picture below).

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This daylily variety in particular was very fast to flower in the sidewalk strip!

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Closeup of the outer slope of the yard, with more liriope to help hold back the erosion. I may need to order more for a third row at the base, but I’m going to see how bushy these get before I do that. (The roots are lower on the slope than the long leaves make them look–this was just the easiest way to get them into their holes!)

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Looking around the corner at the side slope with monkeygrass, and the rest of the sidewalk strip with its line of daylilies.

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After such a wet June, I have no shortage of creeping mazus in the garden! (There are small flagstones somewhere under there!) Clearly I need to trim it back anyway, and the brass buttons order was mostly not a success, so this is where I’ll harvest plugs to plant along the border of the sidewalk strip.


Killing the lawn

Last summer I worked hard to relandscape the side yard of my corner property. I left the rest of the yard space untouched until this year, and now it is warm enough to start my attack. But the first step, unfortunately, is raining death down on all those plants so I can start over.

There are multiple reasons to get rid of turf grass lawns on a property like mine:

  1. Turf is very appropriate in spaces used for playing sports and games, but no one does that on my property, and even if they wanted to, it’s the wrong shape: steeply sloped around the sides, broken up by sidewalks and concrete pathways, too small overall. Sadly, I will not be hosting croquet parties.
  2. Turf grass does a poor long-term job of holding steep slopes in place, and I have some of those.
  3. Maintaining a turf lawn in the way widely considered aesthetically desirable requires monocultures or close to it, which are relatively ecologically sterile and require a lot of fertilizer and selective herbicide applications to maintain an even, neat-looking space that stays green for as many months of the year as possible.
  4. Multispecies lawns that include the broadleaf plants now widely considered weeds (like clover) were considered desirable until the development of selective herbicides. Those plants reduced the need for fertilizers because they fixed nutrients in the soil. They also created uneven, clumpy lawns that required at least as much mowing to be kept reasonably neat, though, so just sticking to a mixed lawn like mine is still a labor and resource-intensive option.
  5. Keeping the grass green and preventing grass dormancy and/or death requires at times a great deal of water, particularly in arid and semi-arid climates and during summer droughts. The grass thatch and dense, shallow root systems also prevent proper drainage of water into the soil, producing excess runoff during storms and reducing the efficiency of watering. While this is aided by letting the lawn get taller, because it allows the grass to develop deeper, healthier root systems and absorb the water into the soil slightly better, it’s still overall a problem even with deeper roots.
  6. Even those of us who let our lawns get taller and more mixed have to mow them once a week or maybe biweekly to avoid angry neighbors, potential HOA or township citations and fines in some places, and in general the development of a genuine hayfield, which most of us don’t really want and defeats the ostensible purpose of having a lawn anyway (i.e. to have something that looks nice and is walkable). The mowing and edging typically are done with power tools, which means a great deal of unnecessary electricity/fuel consumption and corresponding CO2 production. While there are other elements of yard maintenance that are likewise difficult to do without power tools (e.g., trimming very difficult hedges, especially if you have a day job and limited time), those jobs are infrequent (a few times per year) and relatively quick, so they don’t use much power. Expending the energy to mow your entire property weekly, or even biweekly, when you don’t even need turf is, frankly, grossly environmentally irresponsible. I instead chose to use a reel push mower and hand-pushed edger for the past year to compensate, and this unnecessary lawn was honestly just not worth all that hard physical labor.

Summary: the lawn is not worth how much work, energy, water, and money it requires for basic maintenance. There are much, much better choices than clipped grass fields for covering the ground, choices that I find more aesthetically pleasing and that require fewer energy resources, relatively little water, and much less work to maintain. But first, the turf has to go.

There are multiple ways to kill a lawn. I extensively researched recommended methods: solarization, the “lasagna” smothering method of layering paper or cardboard and mulch, physical removal of sod, and broad spectrum herbicide applications. Unfortunately, my lawn contained an exciting mixture of: cold-season grasses, warm-season grasses (including bermudagrass for sure, and possibly old zoysia grass), and various clumpy weeds and broadleaf plants. (There was no moment in its growth when it looked even vaguely attractive, except for immediately after mowing, so I would probably have wanted to kill it and start fresh even if I just wanted better turf.) The smothering method is widely reported to have poor success rates in lawns that contain large quantities of warm season grasses, which accounted for about 2/3 of my lawn plants. The solarization method only works if the area gets intense sun, and too much of my lawn was in part shade for that to be successful. Physical removal by tilling or cutting and rolling away sod is tempting, but it fails to remove a lot of dormant grass roots and typically brings dormant weeds to the surface, creating a weedy and generally not-dead space that you then have to kill, so while it can help it doesn’t work well all by itself.

This left my least favorite option: herbicides. After a lot of research, I concluded that the long-term environmental and ecological benefits of replacing the lawn really did outweigh the short-term consequences of using herbicides one time, as long as I was extremely careful about my application method.

The other conclusion I reached was that despite the strong negative feelings of some of my very nice and caring and environmentally-minded friends (however pseudoscientific some of those feelings often seem to be when it comes to GMOs), and despite my personal reservations about their unethical business practices, I was probably not going to find a better product for this purpose than one by Monsanto. By “better” I mean more affordable, more controllably and reliably produced, and personally safer to prepare and apply. My only remaining reservation was really about giving even my miniscule financial support to an ethically questionable company. I do, however, think that my $8.45 contribution and one-time use is a fraction of a fraction of a drop in the buckets of both their profits and the global applications of their products (though admittedly, some of that profit comes from me whenever I buy almost anything at a supermarket. Yet another reason to have a vegetable garden!).*

So, from one environmentalist to another, here is how to conservatively apply an herbicide to your lawn so you can kill it and move on to more pleasant pastures, as safely as possible and with as little impact as possible.

  1. Wait until your grass is as happy and healthy as it’s going to get. Wait until it’s well out of dormancy, let it go unmowed for at least a couple weeks, wait for seedheads to form, and either water or wait for a good healthy rain followed by some warm days. You want healthy, leafy, seedy grass and weeds.
  2. Wait until the weather forecast indicates no rain is expected for several days. You won’t want it to wash off your plants before they have a chance to absorb it, and you also probably don’t want to dump an active herbicide into the local water drainage if it is likely to interact with any plants in the drainage system before being diluted up to ineffectiveness. The product needs to be fixed to a surface (i.e. inside plants) by the time it rains so there is little to no runoff impact.
  3. Choose a day with low winds. You don’t want the herbicide mobilized as a mist, because then it’s more likely to touch desirable plants and hurt them, or end up in ineffective places from which it can be washed off later, like pavement.
  4. Prepare the herbicide in the potency and quantity recommended, in a sealable spray container for safe and easy application. I used this product because it is a premeasured dry granule, which means it’s easy to handle safely. I also used this 1-gallon sprayer tank. Read the directions and precautions for whatever products you choose to try, and follow them carefully. I also made an effort to notify my adjacent neighbor that I would be killing the lawn, and to assure him I would aim to leave a 6-12″ buffer zone between our properties in case of stray spray.
  5. This herbicide works by interrupting certain cell and amino bonding activities in plants, disrupting their metabolism (so it’s not like you’re spraying acid all over your lawn–this is a plant poison that works in a very specific and rather slow way). These are biochemical reactions unique to plants, so it is no more than an irritant to animals and insects. It will, however, affect any plant that absorbs the product, and plants only absorb it through direct contact with their leaves, after which it takes 1-2 weeks to reach the roots and kill the whole plant. Use plastic bags or other guards to protect any plants you care about. I covered my new little jasmine vines with plastic bags during the application to keep them safe.
  6. Avoiding application to hard, paved surfaces, and the leaves of any desirable plants, spray the herbicide over the lawn so all plants are visibly wetted but not dripping. Proper density of application means you won’t need to apply it over and over in the future to finish the job, and also that you won’t create runoff of the product: it will basically all be absorbed by the plants and not go anywhere else.
  7. Post a small sign or two at the boundaries of your property announcing that the lawn has been treated, so anyone with pets or children knows to use caution and can avoid touching anything irritating. Remove the signs after the next rain storm.
  8. Wait for everything to be good and dead, typically after 1-2 weeks, and then do a pretty thorough but relatively shallow tilling to remove dead material and break up root systems. Typical recommendations for this step are to use a heavy duty metal rake or dethatching rake to remove the dead material and dig up the surface of the lawn a bit; it helps to then go back with a hoe or shovel and get out some of the grass roots. Unfortunately, I found this step to be such backbreaking physical labor that I was unable to do it as effectively as I had hoped. Even just pulling out grass roots also brought up dormant weed bulbs, and avoiding that consequence was the whole reason I had avoided power tillers. So this is the stage at which I mixed my methods: I rented a small rototiller and used it to shallowly till most of the yard. I still had to hand-till parts of the steeper slopes and around sign posts and the sidewalk edge, but the rototiller was really a lifesaver for getting the job done, and I recommend it if you are working with very much surface area. It was still difficult work, even with the tiny rototiller I used (the only rental available that was safe for solo operation, and also a good choice since it did not till too deep). This step took me basically a full week of daily work, plus a lot of painkillers for my back and arms.
  9. Wait for the plants to begin recovering, and then look for new grass, weed sprouts, and other green growth. Depending on how effective your first application was and how many dormant plants you surfaced, the new growth might be widespread. Kill all new and surviving growth, either by manually pulling them (if regrowth is limited) or possibly retreating with a second round of herbicide (if pervasive). Because my regrowth was overall pretty limited and I had time constraints made difficult by travel plans and impending bad weather, I opted for manual removal in the second round. The weeding required was extensive but not strenuous.
  10. Loosen the soil enough for planting. Possibly add some topsoil and/or fertilizer to return nutrients to the soil (I only used fertilizer). Replant!

* That’s my only comment on the company. I don’t want to moderate that debate on this blog and will delete comments trying to stir up an argument.

Some photos of the process:

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Looking out at the front yard from the front porch, a few minutes after the first herbicide application. I put down some marker paint on the right to make it easy to avoid spraying my neighbor’s lawn.

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Front yard, seen from across the street immediately after the first herbicide treatment.

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Sidewalk strip and slope along the side yard, also immediately after application.

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One week later. Most of the grass had died but it had not yet affected all the plant roots.

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Also one week later.

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Front yard after one week.

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After removing dead grass and lightly tilling the whole yard.

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Front yard after tilling. Most of the grass you can see is detached, dead grass that I left as straw.

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After tilling, we had a heavy rain storm that exposed the weed bulbs that had been brought to the surface. This made it really easy for me to go around and pick them up (though there were a LOT of them).

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Immediately after the heavy rain, dormant weeds exposed by tilling sprouted. The densest patches looked like this, but across most of the yard it was much more sparse. It was time consuming but very easy to just pluck these out by hand.


Master bedroom redesign

With a fresh coat of paint, some nice prints from art.com, and a couple purple throw pillows, the master bedroom is also ready for its before and after photos! The changes to the space (some of which I documented previously) are: refinished hardwood floors, new base shoe molding that I cut and installed, a modular recycled-materials area rug from Flor, a Dunhill queen bed frame purchased in good shape from craigslist, very affordable sheets I found by combing Amazon, and both lamps and the one tasteful duvet and pillow sham set that I could find close to my color scheme, marked down on clearance at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Before photo of the master bedroom (from the house listing), with that pervasive mint green carpet.

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After: Panoramic #1.

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After: Panoramic #2.

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After: Normal photo of painted wall and sunny window. Cat for scale.

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After: Far wall and window to front yard.


Office redesign

I also finished my office! This is technically the third bedroom, but like with all the local houses built on this model, it’s too small unless you have a baby in a tiny crib who needs no other furniture. But it makes a cute little office.

Changes wrought (including some documented previously) are: fresh paint on the walls (I combined two different colors to achieve this almost-periwinkle, because they didn’t have quite what I wanted), once again the refinished hardwood flooring and new base shoe molding, a rug from Overstock, a loveseat and desk I was lucky enough to find in great shape at some yard sales more than five years ago, a new brown slipcover for the loveseat, curtains and lamp on clearance from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, T. Rex, and one of my most prized possessions: the original Nightmare Before Christmas movie poster I bought with my saved-up babysitting money when I was 13.

Before photo, from the listing.

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After: Panoramic #1

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After: Panoramic #2

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After: Normal photo. This is a small room so yo can’t see much, but T-rex says hello.

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After: Other side of the room.