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Weedy drainage ditch that I can't mow what to do?

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

We have a drainage ditch with a culvert by the roadside in our front yard. This is the first year we've been in our house, but last summer we discovered that the ditch is deep enough that it's nearly impossible to mow. There's no way to get into it with a tractor without tipping the darn thing over, and even by hand it's a really strenuous chore. Not to mention the ditch is completely filled with noxious weeds like thistle (which crowd out the few daisies that tried to show their heads).

What can we do with this ditch? I'm not looking forward to another weedy summer. We also need a solution that's going to be relatively inexpensive. Is there a fast-growing ground cover I could plant to keep the weeds crowded out? Low growing might be better since last year the township came through and mowed the ditch down. (So whatever I plant would either have to look "already mowed" or would have to recover from an aggressive mowing easily. They mowed down my lilies last year. *sigh*)

I also can't till the area due to utility lines. Every single one of our utility lines runs through that ditch from gas to phone to cable. Can I kill all the weeds and add a shallow layer of topsoil, or will that adversely affect the topsoil?

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

It probably goes without saying, but I guess I should add that in the spring and during very rainy periods this ditch gets pretty swamped with water. It also catches everything the snowplow throws its way. That doesn't usually include salt, though, just sand. We live on the edge of town and the municipality doesn't waste road salt on us. ;)

Bella Vista, AR(Zone 6b)

I had a ditch like that at my old place. It always had "some" water in it. With Round-Up and a weedeater we kept it under control, but it was always green / weedy. But, my kids loved the crawfish and frogs that lived there!

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

My ditch isn't quite wet enough to support crawfish or frogs. I almost wish it was! I wouldn't mind having them as guests. :)

I was thinking of doing the Round-Up thing. I suppose brown/dead weeds are better than live, thriving ones. And better than trying to mow this thing. I've thought of lining the ditch with decorative rock, but I have a feeling it would all get swept away pretty easily, and that it would probably get weedy anyhow.

Waterman, IL(Zone 5a)

Round up will kill the weeds, but not the seeds laying dormant. You could try throwing some wildflower seeds in there after the round up does its job. They can fight with the weed seeds for dominance. We use Round Up every year on this horribe patch of Water Hemp growing by our barn. It get's 6 or 7 feet tall with 2" thick stalks. By fall there's new Water Hemp plants just as big as the one's we killed. The only things that will kill the seeds is fire. If your county lets you burn, you could try that. There are professionals out there who will come and burn for you also. Unfortunately, the Water Hemp is so close to our old barn, we'd probably end up burning it down with the weeds.

Adrian, MO(Zone 6a)

i have an area like you speak of and the highway dept comes through and mow once a year. i planted some bulbs, but they are sparse. i use a weed hook or weed eater, but i've also thrown some bluegrass seed. most varieties of bluegrass don't get that high (what the grass place told me), at least the bg should be smaller and better looking than the fescue or weeds.

Concho, AZ

as you can see the rock drainage is very nice when done right this is 3yr old no weeds

Thumbnail by carmensmtdesign
Southlake, TX(Zone 8a)

have you tried creating a "dry creek"?

Thumbnail by TexasLizzy
Adrian, MO(Zone 6a)

the only thing with the rocks is when the county comes through and mows, they will probably throw them through your front window. i'm not sure that they will let you even do that on their easement.

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Yep, we thought of the rock idea (actually using large river rocks), but that was the response we got--not on the easement. So we're out of luck there, unfortunately. It would be a real problem solver if we could do it!

I was looking at one of the dozen garden catalogs I get and noticed an add for crownvetch; supposedly a good solution for weedy areas where nothing will grow. They were selling plants in groups of 50. Has anyone ever tried something like that? I'm not sure the plants would handle the moisture, though. Right now there's standing water in the ditch. It'll be gone over the summer, but it gets pretty swampy in the spring.

Adrian, MO(Zone 6a)

kayly, please no on the crown vetch! that is what is out there on part of my ditch and i keep trying to kill it. it will creep and invade further than the ditch and in the dry times looks like poop. Have you ever heard of prairie moon nursery? they are a native seed and plant source, they have native seeds of stuff that is for wetlands, mesic, dry prairie natives that may be what you are looking for. I bought some seed last spring from them and sowed, we'll see if we have anything grow as the birds seem to go behind and eat a lot of it. what you have is probably what they describe as wet mesic (wet in spring,dry in summer) and each seed lists whether it's for wet mesic,wetlands,dry, etc., etc.

Minneapolis, MN(Zone 4b)

Here is my idea, Put black plastic down for 4-6 weeks to let it kill off the weeds without chemicals, Take the plastic up and put in native plants. You can use seed rather than plants to save money. I would give the people at Prairie Moon Nursery a call and get a recommendation for what to use. Many natives do best planted in the fall because they need cold stratification. What you can do is while the plastic is doing it's thing you can store the seeds in the refrigerator.

Prairie Moon Nursery is in Southern MN so they will easily be able to recommend WI flowers for you. They will be able to tell you what to plant that will tolerate both the wet and the dry conditions you get. You will basically have a rain garden when you get done.

This method is easy and much kinder to nature.

Here is a link for Prairie Moon. They are fun to talk to and will give you the advice you need.

We cross posted and recommended the same people, odd.

This message was edited Mar 26, 2008 9:45 AM

Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

Len, I should have looked up crown vetch on PlantFiles before asking about it--from what I'm reading there's no way I'd want to put it in my yard. Plus, planting it just seems irresponsible if it's that invasive. Sad that nursery catalogs are selling it as a "miracle plant." And thank goodness for DG for giving me the real scoop on it.

Len and Zen -- thanks for the info on Prairie Moon. I'll definitely look into that! Native wildflowers were my first thought for the area, but I was afraid I wouldn't find anything that would want to grow in an area that was so boggy in springtime. Thanks again for the suggestions!

Adrian, MO(Zone 6a)

lol, that is strange that zenpotter and i cross posted with the same suggestion. I usually try to read all the suggestions first so i don't duplicate a response and didn't remember that!

Minneapolis, MN(Zone 4b)

Len, Same here. It must be Prairie Moon day. I have their catalog on my desk since I am ordering some bare root plants today.

Adrian, MO(Zone 6a)

i've never been able to bring myself to buy bareroot plants. maybe i should. i know some places want 5-7 dollars for a black eyed susan. I bought a lot of seed from them last spring, i hope this year i have more than the 2 mexican hats i had last year. i think it takes a season or 2 for the seeds to stratify. I probably should have laid a bird netting, but i didn't. I'm beginning to hate birds. i have probably fed them this year about 3-4 hundred lbs of seed (sunflower and thistle by the 50lb bags), and they still go right behind me and eat my bluegrass and prairie seeds. what they miss they come back later and scratch little circles in the turf for. I have a little 6 1/2 acre treed homestead in the middle of corn and bean fields. Not a bird around until i throw seed. they must fly high up in the sky scouting and then go get their friends. It makes me appreciate the hawks, they are the only thing that helps keep them at bay for awhile until the seed!

Minneapolis, MN(Zone 4b)

Oh you need to check out winter sowing for next year. There is a wintersowing forum on DG.

I have started hundreds maybe thousands of seeds from Prairie Moon all with wintersowing. Most of them have flowered the first year. The birds do come so do butterflies. You just have to plant enough to share. The other thing I have done is purchase a collection of seeds from Prairie Moon to sow in the late autumn. I did that at our summer cabin. Check out their catalogue for ideas and directions.

If you have deer you probably should check out which are plants they don't like. Some of what I planted at our cabin I have never seen since the deer get them before we see them.

Be careful with wintersowing not to over do. There is a high rate of germination.

I am only getting Clematis virginiana, Dodecatheon meadia and Camassia scilloda as bare root plants since I have had trouble growing them from seed.

Adrian, MO(Zone 6a)

zenpotter, we will see how many of my seeds overwintered this year or were eaten by the birds. I was a little confused when i ordered because i was thinking that their seeds were all stratified, which apparently they aren't after i done more reading after a disappointing first year. I really hate to seed anymore until after this summer, because i think between them and another seed place i must have sowed $1200 or so of seed. yikes. I don't even know what all i planted. pages and pages of names, i do know that. They weren't just the little packets, they were lbs, and oz. sizes. it's almost embarassing to say that i spent and planted that much, especially when i only saw 2 mexican hats! definitely a big blunder if nothing more than that happens this year. Perhaps i could write a book, "the $600 mexican hat". but i'm really not complaining, because then i start thinking that what if they all germinated, omg, it will be a big mess because i planted some roses, 3 rows of lily bulbs and a row of mixed bulbs where i planted them. I don't have any deer or rabbits, but i may wish i did if too many things germinate.

Bella Vista, AR(Zone 6b)

A friend gave me two wildflower mix packets and I have been doing a little seems that many will not produce flowers the first year. You may not be totally out of luck yet!

The mix my friend gave me is not AT ALL what I would have chosen, but I feel I need to try them out anyway...I don't have a good place for them maybe mine will get gobbled up by the birds (hopefully)...hahaha

Minneapolis, MN(Zone 4b)

Len that is a lot of seed. The cold stratification has to take place during the germination process. There are some seeds that you will get from them that must be refrigerated until you plant them. Give them a call and talk to them about what you are trying to do. I would suggest trying a bit less at a time. Natives are so much easier to work with.

You may find that the seeds you planted last year will come up this year since they have had a winter to freeze. All is not lost.

This message was edited Mar 26, 2008 5:19 PM

Adrian, MO(Zone 6a)

yes zenpotter some seeds were refrigerated for a short time and some you had to mix with an inoculant, like the prairie clover and a few others. I did all that. I'm beginning to think if the natives were so native, that they would still be here and i shouldn't have to buy any. lol. i have a native nursery about 40 mi from me.
i have bought quite a few things from them like trees. they have little potted native plants in the summer mainly. they planted a prairie garden around the place, but to be honest it looks like a weed patch. lol! I was searching for a book on weeds at one time, and asked the cashier if they had one, and she told me that one of the owner's didn't believe there was such a thing as a weed! but it is a fairly new place so hopefully it just takes a while to get prairie plants established.

Minneapolis, MN(Zone 4b)

Actually buying near home will give you natives for MO. Many natives are plants we grew up thing of as weeds, because there were so many. Unfortunately somehow we learned that if it is not a native it is better. It takes an adjustment as to what is "good". I really think you will find that you will get a lot of the plants you seeded last spring coming up this spring. Good luck.

Adrian, MO(Zone 6a)

thanks zenpotter. I agree, when you are so used to certain plants and grew up with them you take them for granted. However some of these natives i have never seen.

Minneapolis, MN(Zone 4b)

Maybe they aren't native to your area, but a different part of the state.

Flint, MI

You might try low growing phlox (creeping phlox). I started some plants last year in my mid-Michigan drainage ditch. It has steep sides and is mostly clay soil. I had to add some better soil to start the plants, but they survived the winter and are taking off now. I hope to see a wonderful array of flowers in April.

Barrington, NH(Zone 5a)

A big NO to Crownvetch. I planted a lot of that on a steep slope and the first year it looked good. And then it spread ... and spread ....... and spread ....... and spread. It spreads underground and comes up everywhere. And it just keeps going! You cannot stop it by pulling it out. It took me two years and multiple sprayings of Roundup to get rid of most of it. But even after 5 years, it still pops up in places! And when it dies back in the Fall, it looks horrible, like a pile of shredded wheat!

This message was edited Aug 21, 2017 7:40 PM

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