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To Till or not to Till? I could go on but won't.

Hello. I have an are of lawn that I plan to get rid of and plant with perennials. I have been told I can use round-up on the lawn and weeds and then to till it, repeating this process several times over, before planting. I have also been told I do not have to till, only cover it with mulch and plant. Which is best? Also, If I do till, how long should I wait after spraying the round-up to till? Thanks.

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Super Green Thumb
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Location: Central Sand Hills South Carolina

If you are going to use roundup, might as well go ahead and use a pre emergent herbicide as well, like treflan if is still made. That one two punch will kill both the grass and will kill the weed and grass seeds that would otherwise germinate later.

Personally I would do neither. I would till during a dry period. Wait about a week, and till a second time. Would then rake out as much grass as practical, plant my perennials and mulch around and between rows. Also I would consider doing this in smaller, manageable blocks rather than attempting the whole planting at once. The new perennial beds will likely need large amounts of water for most of this summer.

I would also consider having a skirt or barrier around the entire site, using black plastic covered in some appropriate mulch. That will keep the grass from encroaching from adjacent areas. Finally, IMO mulch over grass for the most part does not work. The grass simply grows through the mulch, smiles at the new friendly environment, and then proceeds to dominate the lanscape. If plowed and mostly removed first, it is much easier to stay ahead of any of those pesky grasses as they try to penetrate the mulch and re-establish themselves.
Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 45 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.

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Location: Midcoast Maine, Zone 5b

hendi_alex is correct that mulch alone won't work.
The herbicide path will work but I try to avoid herbicides unless absolutely necessary. If you have a long enough time frame my choice would be to cover the area with newspaper. Warning, this is a project, you need a relatively calm (not windy) day, at least one helper and all your materials lined up and on site in advance. The idea is that you cover the future bed area with damp (mostly to keep it from blowing) newspaper 6 to 9 sheets thick placed so there are no gaps between sections and immediately cover with compost and/or mulch (3" - 4"). The idea would be to do this asap. By next spring most of the grass will be dead and you can plant right through the newspaper. The newspaper breaks down in 9 to 24 months depending on your local conditions but it is a critical element. With no herbicides no amount of tilling, raking and mulch by themselves will spare you substantial weed problems down the road. It also helps to cut an edge around the area so that grass rhizomes outside aren't connected to the dying grass in your future bed. You can till before doing this if you want. If you decide to go that route rent a big rear tine tiller like a Troy-bilt Horse, Honda FRC800 or a BCS.

It is just my opinion but I would not use black plastic or landscape fabric. The soil never looks healthy under these if you rip it up, they are made from petro chemicals, they are ugly and tend to migrate to the surface and in the case of landscape fabric left untended weeds will eventually root into it making a bigger problem. Good landscape contractors use landscape fabric for stone work only. I don't know anyone competent that uses it in beds.

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Location: Fresh Air, Michigan

I have used black plastic to start most of my beds, but I don't plant on top of it. I use it to kill the grass, and once that is accomplished I pull up the plastic and till. I normally do this in late summer for the following spring, but I think if you started right now the summer heat would only take a couple weeks to kill the grass.

If time is a factor you could get a square-end shovel and remore the sod that way...that is how I started my very first veg. garden. It is hard work but very rewarding. Just do a little bit every day and you'll be done before you know it.

Whatever you end up doing I am sure you are going to want to till. As MaineDesigner said, make sure you have a rear tine tiller and be ready to go over it many times...tilling a new bed isn't easy.

Good luck and happy gardening


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Joined: Wed May 26, 2004 2:44 am
Location: Maryland zone 7

Newbytoplanting, I too am not a fan of herbicides. I prefer to lay out the bed with a garden hose, mark the outline with flour and remove the grass with a sod cutter. You can rent a power sod cutter if this is a large bed or use a manual kick sod cutter or flat shovel .

Then you can add 3" to 4" of compost and till it in. The sod you remove can be used elsewhere in the yard or to start a compost pile. If you aren't going to plant until the weather cools in fall, you could put several layers of the dampened newspaper on top of the amended bed, put mulch on top and plant in fall by moving the mulch away.


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