Renovating a Weed-Choked Garden Bed

One of my first planned projects for my “year of renewal and renovation” was to clean up a small island bed that sits between the two halves of my driveway, out at the street end, that was almost buried in weeds. I didn’t think it was going to be too difficult:

  1. Dig out as many of the plants I wanted to save as possible and put them in pots, pulling all weeds out of the soil balls. My son Joey took care of most of the (and a lot of other jobs as well); I did the weed-pulling.
  2. Spray the bed with Roundup, avoiding the plants I wasn’t able to dig out. Those included:
    Clematis x durandii

    Clematis x durandii

    • Salix caprea pendula – weeping pussy willow tree
    • Clematis x durandii – a non-twining clematis with true navy blue flowers
    • Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Gold Threads’ – a dwarf golden false cypress
    • Thuja ‘Teddy Bear’ – a dwarf globe arborvitae, and
    • A bed of daffodils
  3. Have my tree service remove two volunteer trees that had developed quite strong root systems.
  4. Hand-paint weeds (with Roundup) that were too close to the remaining plants to be sprayed.
  5. Treat sprouts of trumpet vine individually with “tough brush” killer.
  6. Wait for all the weeds to die, then add amendments and dig them in.
  7. Replant in a new design.

Well, that sounds difficult enough, when I laid it all out, but at least it had a good flow, a logical sequence. It hasn’t worked out very well, though.

The thug of all thugs - trumpet vine (campsis radicans)

The thug of all thugs – trumpet vine (campsis radicans)

Steps 1 and 3 were finished early. Then I made my first mistake by using spot weed and grass killers instead of Roundup. The stuff just didn’t die. Finally I re-sprayed with Roundup. This did a better job, but still, an awful lot of weeds survived, including most of the trumpet vine sprouts. (Never buy trumpet vine!)

Next, I broke my cardinal rule of renewal and bought new plants. A lot of new plants. That was a hugely important rule. The plan was to give myself a virgin garden bed and to put in it only plants I already had. That meant I would be able to design the bed fully next year and buy the plants necessary.

I bought well over 200 plants, if you include two flats of 48 annuals each, intended as fillers. My self-discipline disintegrated. Now I had to spend a huge amount of time putting the new plants into decent-sized pots, since there was no place ready to plant most of them.

The weather warmed up, limiting the amount of time I could work outside more and more. One fairly cool day I went ahead and spread all the amendments on the island bed – peat humus, mushroom compost and composted manure. I was delighted with my ability to lug around six 21-pound bags – my strength is increasing! But I did not have the strength necessary to dig it in. I’m hoping several heavy rains since them have sort of mixed them into the original soil.

That brings us up till today. And still there are weeds in the bed. Perennial weeds that spread by runners – things you can’t just dig out completely. Quack grass and perennial sow thistle are the worst… and the trumpet vines. Plus I never did get around to the painstaking job of painting Roundup on weeds directly next to – or even growing through – the plants I wasn’t able to take out initially.

It’s the first day of summer, and I’d hoped to have this bed completed a month ago. It’s mostly my own fault – I made the job much harder by having to spend so much time potting newly received plants.

Today was a good day to spray Roundup, though, so in spite of the heat I went and bought more and then blasted those trumpet vine sprouts and weeds hard. I used one whole bottle of regular Roundup, not just on the island but in a few other areas as well. After that, I unpacked and watered my last two (I swear it!) shipments of plants.

Trumpet vine growing through Gold Thread false cypress.

Trumpet vine growing through Gold Thread false cypress.

The Gold Thread false cypress, though, is a problem. A large trumpet vine leader is growing right next to its trunk and coming up right through the center. It may be possible to wrap the shrub with plastic or a heavy tarp and spray the upper portion of the vine, leaving the shrub covered till there’s no danger of herbicide dripping onto it, but I’m not sure that will be enough to take out something as hard-to-kill as campsis radicans. If not, the entire shrub will have to be lifted and separated from the vine before replanting. That has to be done on a very cloudy, preferably cool day. Evergreens don’t like to have their roots exposed to sunlight.

Anyway, I surprised myself out there. It’s around 83 degrees outside, and I did not get dizzy or nauseated or get a migraine in a full hour of work. I wasn’t in sunlight the entire time, but still, my heat tolerance must be improving!

Photo credits:
Clematis x durandii – Anne McCormack/Flickr
Trumpet Vine – Mesantic/Morguefile
Gold Thread Cypress with Trumpet Vine – Marcia Purse ©2015

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This entry was posted in Gardening Nitty-Gritty, Problem Plants, Renewal, Renovation, Weeds and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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