How to get rid of

The Bad and the Ugly
Many popular garden books promote methods such as the “Lasagna method”: You layer materials such as cardboard, black plastic, compost, mulch, etc., on top of grass and create a garden. In Southern California we must evaluate such recommendations carefully: • Does the person who is telling of great Lasagna success live in a year-round growing season, or do they have the benefit of a frost to help eradicate weeds and pests? • Does the storyteller have Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon)?

• Are they speaking of long-term success: have their observations endured beyond Bermuda’s regrowth timespan or were those Lasagna layers very recently applied? Here in Southern California, without frost of any significance and with nearly every backyard being populated with Bermuda grass, in my experience there is only one long-term viable solution: dig, dig, dig some more, and plan to dig again. Low-till methods like the Lasagna layering don’t work because deep underneath all those layers, the highly persistent Bermuda will lurk – yellowed and bleached, but still very much alive. When given half a chance, this invasive monster will tunnel up through any holes it can find in the barriers (it can create such holes) to take over your new patch with gusto. Ultimately, you’ll still have to dig. Some people misguidedly recommend black plastic sheeting, a technique called “solarizing.” The hot Southern California sun heats the black plastic and bakes every living thing in the soil. Solarizing, when properly used, is a last ditch “bring in the big guns” technique for dealing with insurmountable infestations of soil pests such as root-knot nematodes. Solarizing annihilates all your soil life, Preparing a New Garden after which you have to rebuild everything. What we did at the Community Garden at Holy Nativity: Meanwhile, Bermuda stolons will patiently persist, withered and white, just waiting for a hint of water 1. Removed lawn. and cooler temperatures. They’ll thank you for 2. Waited for regrowth. removing all the competition and reward you with 3. Dug out regrowth. (We did rototill after regrowth removal.) abundant regrowth. 4. Graded 5. Marked the footpaths and defined the growing spaces. We You might tell yourself you’ll use chemical methods have variously used plastic edging, wood, urbanite, and like Roundup “just once,” and then return to rocks, depending upon what was available. organics. You’re kidding yourself. Bermuda will lurk 6. Composted (using material from a clean source) into the under the edges of the nearest concrete and come growing spaces only. Hand-tilled, and avoided walking on out again, demanding that you reapply chemicals growing beds thereafter. again and again. Meanwhile, each time you reapply 7. To jump-start soil life populations, we made a few additions: those chemicals, you must rebuild your decimated soil life all over again. - beneficial microbes (We used Root Zone Beneficial Microbes from Bountiful Gardens) In ecosystems there is a phenomenon called - worm castings (fresh, from vendor at farmers’ market) succession. Ecosystems reestablish themselves - used legume inoculant (nitrogen-fixing bacteria) whenever beginning with their “foundational species.” This we planted peas or beans during the first several growing can be observed in the rainforests when they clearseasons cut the trees: certain “weed species” will flourish in the naked gaps. These “weed trees” serve a 8. Started a compost pile to make our own rich, alive, purpose in nature, sheltering the babies of other homemade compost species while the long-term canopy becomes reestablished. A similar phenomenon occurs in the

Environmental Change-Makers
Westchester / Los Angeles

wilds of your backyard: Bermuda is an invasive exotic that has fit into the niche of a foundational species. Each time you eradicate it, it will return in force. In order to ultimately triumph, you will have to push your garden’s mini-ecosystem past the “foundational” stages and into more advanced stages where soil life is developed and complex. Some gardening manuals advocate “no till” methods. When we consider such things as the long, delicate, microscopic threads of the mycorrhizal fungus which create vast webs throughout our soils, “no till” sounds like a really fine idea. But pure “no till” isn’t a realistic option for a new garden on a site with Bermuda grass and no hard frosts.

The surfactant allows Roundup to get inside the plants that we eat. You can’t wash off the contaminants. Roundup is “in the plant, not just on the plant.” -- Maria Rodale, quoting Dr. Warren Porter, University of Wisconsin, Madison

At the Community Garden at Holy Nativity, we removed the Bermuda by digging and cutting it out, then raking to eliminate all the stolons that we could. Then we watered the bare soil to stimulate resprout, and dug out more hidden Bermuda. Only after all of this did we till the garden area by using a rototiller. For the next two years, every time we saw a hint of Bermuda we carefully dug it out to extract the source stolon. Here’s the Bermuda weeding technique we’ve developed over the years: Two or three days prior to your workday, use a garden fork held vertically and poke many holes into the soil across the target area. Then water the area well. The holes will help water to penetrate. On your workday, begin with the garden fork. Plunge it into your water-softened soil to full tine depth and rock back on the fork. You may hear and feel the Bermuda stolons ripping through the soil. Then it’s time to get down and dirty with a hand tool and remove all bits of the grass. My favorite Bermuda-digging tool is an inexpensive hand sickle with an 8” curved blade. At the Community Garden we call it The Hook. A friend of mine favors the Cobrahead weeder. Either tool can reach deep into the loosened soil to grab Bermuda stolons. Pull each stolon out and discard it carefully. Don’t try to compost Bermuda in a new or cool pile, particularly if you have large quantities of it. Over time as your soil texture improves, you’ll find that you can use the hook or Cobrahead to loosen the soil around the Bermuda stolons, then gently persuade those long white monsters out of the soil without severing them. Never use a rototiller prior to Bermuda grass removal – you will simply make your Bermuda problem worse by chopping it up. Each tiny bit will resprout!

Bermuda Grass Containment in a Frost-Free Area
Give a victory shout When you get the stolon out!
Be prepared to dig and redig. Dig out every little tiny bit, every single white stolon. In the months and years that follow, each time you see a Bermuda sprout, dig it out in its entirety, including the white stolon. When you pull out a long white stolon intact and unbroken, celebrate your victory. Use physical barriers. When you’re cutting an edge between garden and lawn, choose the widest barrier you can possibly find. For the Community Garden we used a plastic edging product that was perhaps 6” wide. The wide barrier will slow how quickly the Bermuda invades, and will make it easier to dig it out of your growing area. Grow great soil. I’ve noticed that the better my soil gets — the richer, the fluffier — the easier it is to pull out the long pieces of invading Bermuda. Shade helps. Biointensive spacing, as described by John Jeavons in How To Grow More Vegetables, is designed such that the foliage of one mature plant touches the foliage of its neighbor. Thus the soil is shaded. In shade, Bermuda grows spindly and is easier to remove. Mulch helps. When Bermuda has to grow up through mulch, it doesn’t cling to the soil very well and is easier to remove. Plus the soil texture beneath the mulch is vastly improved, making it much easier to tease the Bermuda stolons out of the soil with a hand tool. In one particular test bed at the Emerson Avenue Community Garden, I mulched very heavily (4 to 6”) and conscientiously dug Bermuda at each month’s work day. At first, there was plenty of resprout, but over time the Bermuda has very significantly slowed its efforts at regrowth. Spot irrigation helps. In large perennial beds, while your shrubs and trees are getting established, water only where the plants are. That way, the Bermuda can’t thrive between the juvenile plants. This excerpt is taken from “The Secrets of Soil Building” booklet published by the Environmental Change-Makers

Environmental Change-Makers
Westchester / Los Angeles

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