Thursday, June 7, 2007

Taming the Suburban Lawn

My front yard is a disgrace, and has been now for years. We moved into our home in the Spring several years ago. It had been vacant for some time, and as everything greened, the weeds took over. I mowed them diligently, and by the end of the Summer, the yard was mostly crabgrass, but at least it was some kind of grass. My neighbors all boasted lush carpets of Bermuda grass, but I took comfort that I at least I had something green.

Fall returned and Winter, and by March the crabgrass had retreated into the earth and the yard was dirt…and then the weeds returned: henbit, dandelions and ground clover were the worst offenders. And I fought back. The bag of fertilizer and weed control demanded wet grass that would dry and stay dry for at least 24 hours. It was tricky timing, but I successfully applied it. And sure enough, the weeds disappeared and crabgrass returned.

The mistake I made that year was not doing the Fall applications. Once the next Spring arrived, and with it the weeds–again–helpful friends and neighbors revealed my error. I conscripted professional help.

The Professional Weed-Control Experts arrived with their uniforms and trudged through the yard. They looked like the Wehrmacht Feuerwerferen; marching across the front line, flushing out the bunkers with sprays of fire. My men didn’t spray fire, of course, but their chemicals were orange-colored, and I have a good imagination.

The weeds disappeared, and the crabgrass returned. Again. The Professionals said the all-important Fall Application was the main deal. I waited. They left some literature proving they had sprayed in November or so, and I didn’t see them again until March.

The Fall Application was the Salvation they promised. Henbit: gone; ground clover:vanquished. And my yard looks terrible. As it turns out, the crabgrass occupied about 75% of my front yard. Now that it’s gone, all I have is a healthy-looking band of Bermuda on the East side of my driveway, quickly petering out, leaving dirt and a few tufts of Fescue for the rest of the yard.

I despaired. I live in an established neighborhood. Not fancy, but a neighborhood of folks who prove themselves good stewards of their property. Nice houses, well-maintained. Lawns like carpet. My yard looks like something out of Deliverance.

The Weed Wehrmacht said it would just take time. The yard had gone to seed and it takes time to re-establish itself. Patience.

Weeks passed. I seeded, but nothing has germinated. Rains came, and more rain. I watered a few times, and then it rained again. I went on vacation and tried to forget my misery.

It started while I was gone. Bermuda Grass is not really a grass. It’s technically a weed–a beautiful, hardy, drought-resistant, grass-looking weed, but a weed. And it spreads. It shoots out tendrils and creeps. It will creep over anything (but apparently not crabgrass), retaining walls, driveways, and, to my great satisfaction, bare earth. It creeps and mounds, first a shoot that plants a root, and then more shoots which grow over it, building density and depth.

As we pulled in the driveway I noticed it right away. Tendrils were creeping into the bare areas, sending out shoots and across the ground, up into the air and roots into the earth. Some of the shoots were at least six inches long.

Maybe it will look like my neighbor Ed’s by the end of the Summer after all.