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Garden Talk: removing lawn, building berms

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dirttiger
Portland, OR

July 13, 2008
9:00 PM

Post #5253183

I need any advice you guys have!
I have a large front lawn that I want gone. I want to plant my entire front yard with drought tolerant perennials. I do love the look of berms so I thought I would add them while I was ripping out the lawn.
So my plan is this:
1. Rent sod cutter and remove all the lawn.
2. Pile sod (upside down) to create berms.
3. Rototill areas around berms to loosen/mix soil then add a top soil mix to the berms.
4. Lastly, cover the entire area with weed block cloth, add 3 inches of wood mulch (even on berms) and start planting!
Will it work? Are there any hang ups that you can foresee? Any unnecessary steps that I am taking? Any necessary steps that I missed?
HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

July 13, 2008
11:32 PM

Post #5253943

Great idea, but I have some practical advice from 22 years of running a small landscaping business.

1. Unless you have an aversion to herbicides, save some labor and just use RoundUp or some other glysophate generic to kill the lawn.

2. You can still pile the dead sod upside down to create berms, but it will be easier to tear up if it's dead already.

Alternatively, you could create your berms out of new, enriched topsoil since you're planning on bringing in new topsoil anyway. Saves a lot of work and expense of renting a sod cutter. Just kill the lawn and then create the berms completely out of new topsoil.

3. If the "alternative" doesn't appeal to you, rototill and add this soil to the sod berms.

4. I would strongly recommend to NOT use weed block cloth if you're going to mulch with bark, for four reasons: 1. It will not let decomposed mulch incorporate with the soil base, depriving you of "free" compost. 2. Good weed barrier is not cheap, and a pain to put down, as well as plant through. 3. Perennials will not have room to grow and expand unless you yearly enlarge the holes in the fabric, which is a real pain. 4 Most importantly, as the mulch decomposes, it will form a nice layer of humus which, although blocked by the fabric from incorporating with the soil, WILL support weed growth. You will occasionally need to add more mulch and this humus layer will get thicker and thicker, defeating the whole purpose of the fabric anyway! (The only times I use weed barrier is under rock mulch or if an area is really infested with thistle or bindweed.) I would save the expense, labor, and future headaches and just skip the weed fabric completely.

These are just my opinions, though. I've created hundreds of raised landscaped beds and berms over the years, with very satisfactory results.

Good luck and have fun!





golddog
Western, PA
(Zone 6a)

July 14, 2008
12:40 AM

Post #5254277

No later than August place newspaper (at least 5 layers thick) over any grass to be rid of. Cover the newspaper with 4" to 6" of mulch. By spring the grass will be dead, plant the perennials, and enjoy.
dirttiger
Portland, OR

July 14, 2008
2:01 AM

Post #5254738

Hoosiergreen- Thanks for all the good advice. I do have a pretty big aversion to herbicides unfortunately. However, by fall my lawn will already be dead since I refuse to water it : ) So I will rent the sod cutter and hopefully it will come up pretty easy.
I really appreciate the points you have made about the weed block. I never would have considered some of those things. You have me sold on not putting it down.
Okay so I rip the sod up, make berms and mulch everything. How many inches of topsoil would you put on the berms (on top of the sod)? Also how many inches of mulch will make a decent weed block?

Golddog, I agree smothering would be better. Since it is my front lawn I really don't want the eyesore of having it covered all winter with nothing planted. Plus I really would like to make berms and sod piling seems like an easy way to do it!
golddog
Western, PA
(Zone 6a)

July 14, 2008
2:22 AM

Post #5254911

Herbaceous drought tolerant perennials will be an 'eye sore' as well. Woody perennials will not.
dirttiger
Portland, OR

July 14, 2008
2:50 AM

Post #5255115

golddog,
Hmmmm, I guess I don't get why drought tolerant perennials would be such an eye sore. But it doesn't matter. I didn't really elaborate on all the different things I will be planting. I plan on doing a mix of plants, grasses and shrubs. Some of my favorite drought tolerant perennials are salvias. penstemons, lavendars, agastache, artemisia, dianthus, echinacea, and the list goes on.
I guess I used the term "drought tolerant perennial" to cover grasses and shrubs as well.
HoosierGreen
Danville, IN

July 14, 2008
11:26 AM

Post #5256238

I'd give myself at least 6" of new topsoil in which to plant, depending on how large of container your perennials will be in. It's no fun cutting through piled up old sod, but it will decompose and be fine after a year. One question... I thought Portland would have more precipitation than ever having to worry about drought, etc. Are you having a drought? You mentioned that the grass would be dead by fall anyway.
dirttiger
Portland, OR

July 14, 2008
5:22 PM

Post #5257778

6" of topsoil should be pretty easy to do. Thanks for your input.
And yes Portland (and all of the Northwest) is famous for rain so I understand your confusion! We tend to have a pretty hot July and August though. With temps in the 80s and 90s. To keep your lawn alive you really have to water it during these times. It usually won't die completely, but it does go dormant and green up again in the fall when the rain comes back.
We rarely have drought issues but water is such a precious resource it makes me sick to see people dumping water on lawn. I do water my plants but do it by hand with water from my rain barrels. The one exception I make is my vegetable garden. I figure the trade off in gasoline saved to ship store bought veggies to me, is worth turning on the hose occasionally to keep my veggies producing.
Thanks again!
zhinu
(Laura) Olympia, WA
(Zone 8a)

July 14, 2008
5:24 PM

Post #5257786

I wish I could remove my lawn, though I'd put a food garden, pond, and something like chamomile (for when I did want somewhere to sit) in instead. But, I rent...

HoosierGreen - It depends on how dry a summer we get. Some summers we have rain weekly, others we don't have rain for months. I shudder at the thought of the latter, but it is looking that way. We had a cold wet spring, snow in May!, and since the heat came in a couple weeks ago we had one thunder storm and now no rain in sight, maybe Tuesday after tomorrow we might get some showers, if the weatherman is right. I have to heavily water my lawn right now to keep it only slightly brown.

This is part of my hatred of lawns. They take too much energy and resources, personal and global; we water, feed, mow, and baby our lawns, so they'll stay looking "good". They aren't even remotely natural in most of the areas they grow, so people curse at weeds that are just doing what they're supposed to (turning a stage 1 eco-system into a stage 3 eco-system), and then fill their surrounding area with poisons from chemical pest/herbicides and fertilizer, not to mention exhaust from the lawn mower.

I live in a housing complex. We have a center field thatís used for run off and storm overflow. It has a ďwetlandĒ in one part. Which is all very cool and I support completely, except there is so much chemical run off from peopleís lawns that the frogs are having defects. Even in my back yard I canít use the bed that makes the most sense for an herb garden, because the roadside lawn chemicals run down into that bed and I donít want to eat pesticides.

Sorry to rant, but itís been driving me nuts recently. Especially because my step-daughter would love to play in the ďpondĒ but Iíve flat forbidden her to go down there. I just think itís too dangerous.
dirttiger
Portland, OR

July 14, 2008
5:39 PM

Post #5257837

I feel your pain zhinu. I have spent years as a renter taking care of and watering other people's lawns. Each year I grew angrier at the sheer wastefulness that lawns are. The water, chemicals, time! Not to mention the space that could be planted with flowers and shrubs that could help our bees and birds.
I just bought my first house in April. It is absolutely delightful plotting the destruction of my lawn:) I keep talking to the bumblebees and honeybees in my backyard telling them of my plan to create a heaven for them next year!
zhinu
(Laura) Olympia, WA
(Zone 8a)

July 14, 2008
5:53 PM

Post #5257920

We're hoping to buy with in 5 years. We would buy now, my DH has the credit, but he's going to school, and during the school year working extremely part time, so we don't have the income. My parents would like to buy, and have the income, but not the credit.

In my dreams we get around 5 acres and put 3 or 4 houses on the corners and share the land amongst the family.

Since we have a kid though, we'll probably be looking at schools more than land, sigh! At least we'll be able to have whatever pets we want, and I can do whatever I want to the land we do have.
golddog
Western, PA
(Zone 6a)

July 14, 2008
6:45 PM

Post #5258186

Little grass I do mow, gets no special treatment, and as long as it is cut evenly, looks just fine. I do dig out the broad leaf weeds.
NatureLover1950
Vicksburg, MS
(Zone 8a)

July 14, 2008
8:55 PM

Post #5258853

I understand completely how y'all feel. Hubby and I used to live in a subdivision with all the chemically treated lawns around us. Exceptionally few insects of any kind, all the same things y'all are talking about here. We bought 11 1/2 acres a few years ago, built our house ourselves, and I've been slowly landscaping. We put bermuda grass because it's very drought tolerant and only needs mowing about once a week and NO watering. We left the front 5 acres as is with whatever trees were there and I've put LOT'S of trees in the 5 1/2 acres that were cleared to build our house. I'm loving having so many bees, lady bugs, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Like you dirttiger, the only thing I water is my large veggie garden and I put up lots of the stuff that I get from it. It feels good to know we're eating organic food that I grew myself. And all the birds, deer, rabbits, foxes, insects, etc., have a nice haven to share with us. We even put in a clover food plot that the deer use all winter and we get to watch them bring their little fawns out in July.
orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 15, 2008
7:06 PM

Post #5263897

I removed all of my front lawn a year ago last January... I've never regretted it.
We rented a sod cutter; then roto tiller and since the lawn was high and the soil would have run off to the sidewalk, we had to rent someone with a bob cat to take some of the dirt; the rest I used to create a berm along the side - between my yard and my neighbors. I put in ornamental grasses on this. Apart from the rentals we did all the work ourselves and saved a bundle (we did have the boulders delivered). I used weekblocker before putting down the path, pea gravel and mulch. It has all grown since, of course; I need to take an updated photo.

Now we also enjoy sitting on the front patio we created; a nice glass of wine in hand, listening to the distant purring of lawn mowers !!

Looks great. I'll post some before and after photos.

Thumbnail by orchid923
Click the image for an enlarged view.

orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 15, 2008
7:07 PM

Post #5263906

Here's another picture...

Thumbnail by orchid923
Click the image for an enlarged view.

orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 15, 2008
7:09 PM

Post #5263913

And another -- starting to create the berm

Thumbnail by orchid923
Click the image for an enlarged view.

orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 15, 2008
7:13 PM

Post #5263931

The end result. Since then we have added another arbor to the beginning of the path. The black edging is coming out - we just bought the light brown/beige composite edging that comes in 20" rolls. The liriope borders are also coming out this weekend as they didn't look the way I'd hoped. We've also added an inground fountain to the left of the path (facing the house), and I've relandscaped the large flower beds.

Thumbnail by orchid923
Click the image for an enlarged view.

ShadowJack
Westville, IL
(Zone 5b)

July 15, 2008
7:13 PM

Post #5263933

...Ok...


Afterwards someone can bludgeon me with a blunt object for asking...but what exactly is a "Berm"?
zhinu
(Laura) Olympia, WA
(Zone 8a)

July 15, 2008
7:14 PM

Post #5263937

I hate beauty bark and rock yards as well, but I figure whatever works for the people who live there.
zhinu
(Laura) Olympia, WA
(Zone 8a)

July 15, 2008
7:15 PM

Post #5263944

You'll probably get a more technical definition, but my flippant answer is a pile of dirt that's meant to be there and stays in one place.
orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 15, 2008
7:18 PM

Post #5263958

We've added another arbor at the front; relandscaped the large flower beds and put an inground fountain in the left area of the path (facing).

Shadowjack -- A berm is a raised bed of soil -- no hard edging to it; just plantings. live 2 blocks from the beach so some plants just won't do well. I'm very happy with the berm though. I'll post one of that tomorrow (if it stops raining !).
ShadowJack
Westville, IL
(Zone 5b)

July 15, 2008
7:37 PM

Post #5264043

Oh wow...thanks!...That is what I am trying to accomplish in my backyard butterfly habitat...

Great photos by the way...the landscaping looks fantastic and I love the arbor
dirttiger
Portland, OR

July 15, 2008
10:34 PM

Post #5264845

Orchid923- WOW! Thanks for all the great pics. It is great to see photos of the entire process. I can't wait to see pics of your berm.
How much of a pain was it to use the sod cutter? Did you use the sod for your berm?
After you removed the sod, how many inches of mulch did you put down?
orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 16, 2008
11:35 PM

Post #5270619

Berm picture will have to wait -- we've had so much rain (which we really needed). My rain barrels are overflowing !
My son did the sod cutting for me -- he said it wasn't that easy as the machine just wanted to go in circles ! Now that could have been the rental machine; but I truly think it was my lawn at the time, which was very, very high and you sank down when you walked on it. It was a great looking lawn, but very difficult to mow. I believe it was years and years of thatch build-up. That was one of the reasons I finally made the decision to get rid of it all. It was St. Augustine grass, and I read recently that some counties are going to ban this grass in all new developments ! It's a water guzzler if you want it looking nice; apart from all the fertilizers, weed killers, etc.

I gave away most of the sod to neighbors and used some for the start of the berm (upside down of course). . We had to remove so much of the soil (it pained me to have most of it hauled off, but I had nowhere to put it and my neighbors didn't want any). We used the rest of the soil for the berm on top of the sod and this is where I have planted the ornamental grasses. I believe we put down at least 2-3 inches of mulch. This was put on top of weed cloth, but I didn't put any of that close to any of the palms.

Since adding more plantings I haven't found it difficult - I just scrape back some of the mulch and make a slit in the weed cloth. I know Hoosiergreen doesn't recommend the cloth; but in my case it has worked out so far. In fact my fiance just put in a fountain and had to cut out a section of the cloth. I'll take another picture of that too.

The area isn't that huge. If, over a period of time it ceases to work it isn't going to be difficult to rake some of the mulch off to one side and slice/cut the weed cloth out.

psychw2

psychw2
(Pat) Kennewick, WA
(Zone 5b)

July 17, 2008
12:14 AM

Post #5270874

I wish I could post pictures on my computer (it does not have photo software & I'm a techno-zero), its something I have to learn!

Dirttiger, it sounds like you have a good handle on what you want to do and you have been given great advice. There is a lot of mixed reviews on weedcloth, as you have just heard!

I JUST finished the last of my project to get "rid of the grass". I did most of it in lasagna beds so I did not have to remove the grass. Some I did by hand digging out the sod and THEN covering with layers of wet newspaper, grass clippings and compost I had started. These are the areas I knew I would be planting in before grass would have a chance to break down in.

I put a path thru all of it but I do not yet know what I'm going to use. For now its just LOTS of cardboard or newspaper covered with weed cloth. I figured WHATEVER I did, I was going to need the weed cover until then anyhow. I am REALLY liking the way its turning out but I can't find something stable and inexpensive to use for the pathway. I'm ok with gravel but then I'll need something to edge it. I wish I could afford flagstone! I can't use bark because I'm going to mulch the rest of the yard and I would then not have any constrast.

The path is very curvy, what did the rest of you use for edging? For the actual path material? I should mention my yard is very small and I am VERY broke! Anything I come up with needs to be cheap!

I'm hoping that the first little walk, in the "front" yard, I will be able to complete in something nicer since it will ony need to be 17 feet long with two legs of it almost 8 feet, a very wide U, the base being the 17 feet.
orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 17, 2008
1:39 PM

Post #5273134

I'm posting some more pix of the front yard - to show the berm mainly. You might be able to see the path edging, which is rather heavy duty black plastic edger (in a roll) that you hammer into the ground with large "pins". I had hoped the liriope would grow and fan out to hide this; but it hasn't. So, the liriope is coming out this weekend and we will be putting down "bender board" - which is what I've seen on gardening tv shows. However, our box stores have just started stocking it and it's called something like "ultra edging" - and it will look a little more aesthetically pleasing to me. Then I have to find another type of border plant.

Thumbnail by orchid923
Click the image for an enlarged view.

orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 17, 2008
1:40 PM

Post #5273146

Another photo of the front and berm area

Thumbnail by orchid923
Click the image for an enlarged view.

orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 17, 2008
1:43 PM

Post #5273155

... and another ...

Thumbnail by orchid923
Click the image for an enlarged view.

orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 17, 2008
1:45 PM

Post #5273167

--- last one -- this is the small fountain we are putting in the front -- not finished yet.

Thumbnail by orchid923
Click the image for an enlarged view.

orchid923
Indian Harbour Beach, FL
(Zone 10a)

July 17, 2008
2:37 PM

Post #5273359

Oops -- one more of the front, showing both arbors. The front one has a corkscrew vine growing on it - quite a pretty flower. I only planted it a couple of months ago.

Thumbnail by orchid923
Click the image for an enlarged view.

psychw2

psychw2
(Pat) Kennewick, WA
(Zone 5b)

July 17, 2008
6:06 PM

Post #5274405

Oh my goodness!! It is beautiful! All of it. I especially like the bark color echoing the color of your shutters, it all works together so beautifully! Thank you for sharing your photos of all your hard work.
zhinu
(Laura) Olympia, WA
(Zone 8a)

July 17, 2008
10:17 PM

Post #5275515

psychw2 - do you have somewhere you could collect fist sized rocks? They would make a good edge for a gravel walk, would be reasonable to collect for a small yard and they're free.

psychw2

psychw2
(Pat) Kennewick, WA
(Zone 5b)

July 18, 2008
4:53 AM

Post #5277903

I'm willing to give that a try. My husband didn't think it would contain the gravel very well.
golddog
Western, PA
(Zone 6a)

July 18, 2008
5:57 AM

Post #5278068

Difficult to weed?

psychw2

psychw2
(Pat) Kennewick, WA
(Zone 5b)

July 18, 2008
9:17 PM

Post #5281452

shouldn't be hard to weed, I have LOTS of barrier down, he just thought the gravel would escape in the gaps between imperfect fit of rocks borders.
golddog
Western, PA
(Zone 6a)

July 18, 2008
9:31 PM

Post #5281531

Weed barrier works for a while, then soil and debris accumulate in the gaps; weeds appear from no where.

psychw2

psychw2
(Pat) Kennewick, WA
(Zone 5b)

July 18, 2008
9:38 PM

Post #5281572

NOTHING will work forever, that is FOR SURE!

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