Options for replacing lawn/weeds with wanted plants

Hi there,

As you can see I have a small bit of land at the back of my house which has grown out of control. I want to get rid of the weeds here and replace it with flowers but I am not sure the best way about it. As you can see there's shrubs around the outside which I can't kill so I am a bit iffy about weed killer. If I were to dig the plants up and leave them, will it be sufficient to let me grow things in it?

Also, if i did dig it up, can i leave the left over dirt and dead plants or should I get rid of them?

The area is probably 3 metres by 3.5 metres

Thumbnail by nunasdream
(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Weed killer won't hurt the shrubs as long as it doesn't get on the leaves. You could lay plastic or a tarp or something to protect them. If you kill the weeds that way, once everything turns brown (2 weeks or so) you can just turn the dead stuff into the soil. If you don't kill the weeds and leave them there, they will grow again.

Then the big questions arise: What climate/zone are you in? What kind of soil you have? Clay? Sand? Loam? Does the area get sun, or is it mostly shady? Or mixed?

I'm sure others here will have lots more advice-and questions- too.

Good luck and happy gardening!

...and Happy New Year to all!


Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

Which part of the world are you working in ? The shrubs may restrict which plants you use to replace the 'lawn' as those shrubs could have been what were hard on the original plants- If you do not remove grasses, they come bback with a vengence once you are caring for the new plants...

Hi there,

Thanks for the replies.

I'm in New Zealand. I am not sure of the soil type, it's standard quite sandy soil from what I can tell. about 75% gets nearly all day sun the rest barely none. I can't remove the shrubs as they're part of the body corp planted ones.

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

There are several ways to get rid of the weeds. Here are a few ideas:
1) Solarize the area. Least toxic. Takes a bit of time.
Turn over or rototill the weeds, chopping them up, but let them stay there. 'Till as deep as you can into the soil.
Water pretty well, then put clear (That is CLEAR, not black) plastic sheeting over the area and tuck it in by covering the edges with soil. When you water make sure to deep soak the shrubs. Leave it for a couple of weeks in the summer. (Yes, I know it is summer in NZ when it is winter in the northern hemisphere)
The clear plastic acts like a greenhouse, concentrating the heat of the sun in the soil. The heat and moisture makes it very difficult for most weeds to grow, and can kill off some weed seeds that may try to grow later.
Variation: Solarize without rototilling. Just water, then cover the area with plastic and hold the edges down. Not so effective. The heat does not get so deep into the soil.

2) Weed killer. Used properly the toxin is controlled and confined to the weeds. Do it on a day with no wind and be very careful not to spray the shrubs.
Some weed killers are broken down soon after use, and you can rototill the dead weeds into the soil. Or you can rake them off.

3) Hand pulling. Really good exercise! Don't get dehydrated in the heat!
You could rototill first, then scoop up the chopped up weeds.
Problem is you are not doing anything about small weeds, or weeds that can grow if you drop one leaf (and there are weeds that will do that!
You will have to do this close to the shrubs no matter what other method you select for the main area.
While you are waiting for the weeds to die go to your local garden stores and find out what plants are available that you like. Write down the names and come on back here and ask questions. Ask some questions of qualified people who know your area. They may suggest certain kinds of compost and fertilizer.

Also, lay out your garden. I would leave room for walking between the flowers so you can weed and trim them. Make definite 'walking area' and 'planting area' decisions, and never walk on the planting area. Then the soil will stay soft and fluffy a lot longer. You might want to get some stepping stones to remind you where to walk.

You have now gotten rid of the weeds.

A) Rototill, adding plenty of compost, manure, organic matter, soil conditioner to the soil. Fertilizer, too.
B) Plant.
C) Mulch. Cover the soil with almost any sort of organic matter. Around here there are chipped or shredded barks, and finer material that will decompose quicker, and are easy to mix in with the soil for next season.

Houston Heights, TX(Zone 9a)

When I decided to convert my whole grass lawn to beds and paths, I covered the part where I wanted flowers, with leaves about 2 feet deep and wet them down so they would not blow away. I kept on wetting them periodically while I worked on getting my paths done. I left it like that for a season, over winter. In the spring, a.ll the stuff under the leaves was dead and the leaves had begun to compost. They were no longer 2 feet deep. After my last frost date, I began to plant the backbone plants of my bed. The following fall, I added some more of the plants I wanted in the bed and added some more leaves. Each fall I add leaves. I have really good soil now with lots of earthworms and because I mulch my plants with leaves, I have very few weeds and I dont have to watre as often. It gets very hot here in Houston, TX and keeping plants alive thru heat and the recent droughts is not easy. I save rainwater so I will not run out of water for my plants. If you want things to happen faster than that, you will have to use weed killer. There is also something called lasagna gardening that is similar to what I did and it is widely used in something that originated in Australia, called Permaculture. You might investigate that. It sounds easy.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Two years ago I allowed an area of my garden to get weedy due to surgery. My weeds were my neighbors grass that produced long roots underground. I forgot the name. Summer of 2010 I dug up plants and donated them to our extension service for their annual plant sale because I wanted more room for iris and daylilies. I added buckets of rotted horse manure from my daughter's horses. Then I sprayed he area with Roundup and covered it all with black plastic all summer to bake. Spring of 2011 I had some beautiful soil and not one weed. I turned the soil over and let it rest. I planted my crosses of iris and daylily seedlings. Not one weed came up. I also sprayed along my fence to prevent more to come through. I have a non-gardener for a neighbor and she don't care if she has weeds or not.

This message was edited Jan 7, 2013 8:50 PM

Lexington, KY(Zone 6b)

We had about 2/3's of our yard dug up by plumbers replacing pipe-nightmare #1. After we purchased topsoil, weeds began growing in it-nightmare #2. I hand dug the weeds, covered the area with huge sheets of plastic-some clear, some black-whatever I could get, weighted them down with rocks & brick, and let it "bake" for about 4 months in the hottest part of summer. Afterward, we sowed grass seed over the whole yard. That was some of the best soil in our whole yard! It's very labor intensive, but it's the best method I've found for doing the job. Your area doesn't look nearly as big as the space we did. You could do a garden there in the sunny part and ground cover or gravel, or etc. in the shady part, I think.
Good luck!

Abbotsford, Canada

Start with weed'n feed, from any number of suppliers (Scott's). These are just mostly high nitrogen mixes with some herbicides.
Mind you, this is a quick fix. You could get more thorough and invest a little more time and energy into thatching and re-seeding.
Use a broadcast spreader, not a drop-spreader, or you'll leave linear marks in the yard where you didn't overlap.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

I will add my 2 cents worth

NEVER till to get rid of weeds. It doesn't work. It will produce more weeds especially if it is grass. The reason is that tilling breaks roots so you will have many more roots that will grow into plants. Grass roots especially need only a hair sized root that will grow given time.

The first bes way is Roundup, then cover with black plastic and allow to cook over the summer. 2nd best is hand pulling but it is impossible to find every weed and root. I have combined both ways which worked great.

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