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Modest Success in Controlling Wiregrass

In my last blog post, 5 Principles of Soil Health: In the Garden, I mentioned some success in my ongoing battle with wiregrass. If you've read my blog for any length of time, you've likely heard me rant, whine, rage, complain about this problem. It's "real" name is Bermuda grass.

Cynodon dactylon. Indeterminate. Spreads by seed and stolen.

It's a popular lawn and pasture grass in my part of the country. It's ubiquitous—there's nowhere that it isn't—because it's heat and drought resistant, plus tolerates heavy traffic and mowing (or grazing). But it has a dark side: it's highly invasive and quickly becomes an extremely tenacious weed. It has a number of other names, but earned this nickname because it's tough as wire when you're trying to pull it out.

It's also impossible to get rid of. Even the "experts" admit that and at some point the southern gardener simply has to accept it as a fact of life and learn to live with it. It's the reason why we tilled for so long in the garden. Its roots choke out everything and become a compacted barrier to the soil. Dan would till and I'd rake out as much as I could before planting, in hopes of getting a harvest before the wiregrass took over.

All of that is to preface my "success," meaning I have by no means conquered wiregrass, I've merely managed to keep it at bay for the past year in some parts of my garden. Let me show you.

These are the swale beds I made last winter.

They were double dug to create swales in our clay subsoil, filled with organic matter of all sizes (tree limbs to twigs) layered with topsoil, woodchips, and compost. The goal was to not only improve the soil in the beds, but to catch and retain rainwater in the swales. (Details here.)

Between the beds I laid down cardboard and paper feedbags covered thickly with wood chips.

Walking aisle between two beds.

The miracle is, almost a year later, they haven't been taken over by wiregrass! I usually expect the wiregrass to regain control by late summer or early autumn.

So what's different here than in other parts of my garden? I know from years of experience that mulch alone will not keep wiregrass at bay.

Wiregrass happily growing up through a thick layer of woodchips.

Case in point - my asparagus bed. Actually, I gave up on asparagus several years ago. I kept having to relocate it because of wiregrass, and finally gave up. I covered the entire bed with a thick layer of woodchips and called it quits. But the asparagus was persistent and made a surprise showing this year. Trouble is, so did the wiregrass.

Asparagus on the left, competing with wiregrass &
blackberry vines. On the right, a walking aisle with
cardboard tucked under the border plus woodchips.

So what do these areas have in common? Firstly, there was a lot of trampling while double digging. Not much survived that. When the soil was dug and set aside, I removed all traces of wiregrass stems and stolens. Third, I didn't mulch the aisles with only leaves or chips; I put down a barrier - in my case cardboard and then a thick layer of mulch. These are the areas that have remained wiregrass free so far.

What I'm going to have to address for continued success is the main pathways down the length of the garden.

One of two large aisles. The black pipe is
for greywater drainage when we need it.

The main aisles get mowed but also can become overgrown quickly. The edges between these and the mulched aisles is where wiregrass reintroduces itself. It's those edges where the wiregrass sneaks back in.

Wiregrass creeping into a heavily mulched area between two beds.

I've got my winter's gardening project cut out for me. I hope to make two more swale beds, plus cover the main aisles with heavy cardboard and chip mulch. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate!

Is this a permanent solution? No! It will require diligent maintenance to stay on top of it. But after so many years of feeling like I'm fighting a losing battle, any reprieve is very welcome.


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