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Joined: Sun Nov 30, 2008 2:09 pm
Location: San Jose CA

Yard is Weeds - How do I Start Over?

Hey there. I'm Nick. I'm 28, and live in San Jose CA.

I moved into my current place back in March. The current spot is an actual house, with an actual yard. Previously I've only ever lived in apartments, and so, while I'm pretty good with container gardening, and keeping things alive, I'm kind of intimidated by the sheer amount of space I have now.

I've found the sprinkler system and gotten that working. My problem is that the entire front yard is just weeds. It was likely lawn at some point, but that must have been a while ago. I'm not sure I want to put lawn back in. I would prefer something low water and/or no mow to put in instead, as well as plantings around the edges.

So here's the question. The yard is nothing but weeds, what's the best way to get back to square one? Do I just till it over, ignoring the weeds and letting them get tilled back into the soil? Is there some good way to get rid of all the weeds before I till it all over (herbicides maybe?)? Is there some other solution I'm not thinking of? Should I not be doing it all at once, and instead just work in little chunks?

Help please!

Thanks in advance

Super Green Thumb
Posts: 2036
Joined: Thu Mar 10, 2005 4:58 pm
Location: Michigan--LP(troll)

First, welcome from MI. Second, us old farts here would say one project at a time, little bites eat the whole beast, etc., and then laugh hysterically because we're really bad at taking our own advices. Cynthia H is from your part of the world, sort of, and she would say to consult your local Sunset Gardening big book. Perhaps consult w/a local nursery to see what native plants/grasses are in your area. Third, take a look at some of the other sections in this forum that pertain to your questions, those topics may have been covered already. (Just don't stay up too late reading all the good stuff...)

Super Green Thumb
Posts: 7500
Joined: Tue May 06, 2008 7:02 pm
Location: El Cerrito, CA

Hi (she said, coming up momentarily for air)!

Yes, definitely look at Sunset's Western Garden Book for your Sunset zone. This will tell you which plants to put in for the best chances of success.

As to the weeds: some people recommend just building raised beds over weeds after laying down landscape cloth or several layers of newspaper or a layer or two of cardboard. Then put in your planting medium (other schools of thought on this) and seed(ling)s and enjoy.

Others recommend "Lasagna Gardening"--which is also the title of a book about building compost in situ and planting in it later on (I think).

Or, if you *insist* :wink:, you can call Underground Service Alert/Dig Alert and have them make sure you won't be cutting into any gas lines, water lines, etc., and rototill the daylights out of those weeds. Bear in mind that this will also bring heretofore dormant weed seeds up to the light of day, whence *they* will bedevil you.

Then you can remove the visible weed parts, rake rake rake them out, till in soil amendments, rake rake rake the bed(s) level, plant seeds, weed weed weed etc.

Or work at it in chunks (John Jeavons would recommend 5' x 20' chunks) over a period of time.

You have more options than you may realize. Maybe, if the weeds are tall, you can call a brush-clearing service that uses goats to eat the weeds. (No kidding; there are several in the Bay Area.)

However, if these "weeds" are Yellow Star Thistle, you really will need to dig each one out with a dandelion fork and put it in the garbage. YST is an invasive plant that even goats won't eat after it blooms.


1) Call in the goats.
2) Dig out any leftover YST.
3) Decide about what to do next?

Happy gardening!

Cynthia H.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9

Super Green Thumb
Posts: 2036
Joined: Thu Mar 10, 2005 4:58 pm
Location: Michigan--LP(troll)

cynthia_h wrote:Hi (she said, coming up momentarily for air)!
Cynthia, were you snorkeling in the bathtub again, or what? :lol:

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Super Green Thumb
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Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 6:04 pm
Location: TN/GA 7b

If you really don't want to have lawn, you could start by just cutting everything down to a reasonable height (scythe) and then mowing. The cuttings will be the beginning of your new compost pile. :) My so-called lawn (not much lawn left) since I do nothing to it, is mostly weeds. But as long as they are green and lawn height, it really doesn't matter. Then you can work a section at a time putting in what you want. The way I turned parts of the former lawn into flower beds with no work was just to lay down a thick layer of newspaper on top of the lawn to kill it. Water it well and then lay down several inches of good soil and plant into it. (Unless you really went crazy with putting down new soil, in which case you will need good edging to hold it in place, you need to dig a planting hole for each plant, through the newspaper and the lawn into the soil underneath). In a couple seasons the lawn and the newspaper in those areas had totally disappeared and I had nice flower beds. Edging helps to keep the lawn from re-invading the flower beds.

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