My mother was a devoted gardener and had maintained two large, orderly rock gardens on our front yard. After she died, nobody took over and in recent years (with the kids out of the house and a father with bad knees), the front lawn has been, well, overtaken by nature. This summer, however, we've decided to "clear it up" during our visit, and have run into several problems (as none of us have a "green thumb"). One of the rock gardens has been over taken by tall grasses (it looks like the Savannah), and the grasses (after years have layered on top of each other) are very difficult to extricate. I was wondering what the best method to rid of the grass is? Is shoveling an appropriate approach? It's a bit tricky since it used to be a rock garden; there are huge rocks somewhere underneath the tall grass, which would make shoveling a bit troublesome. The other, larger garden has proven much more difficult for a number of reasons. First, it also seems to have "layers" of soil, dead grass, dead leaves and branches, etc. covering the large rocks. The second major issue are these trees that have grown quickly (and have taken over both of our yards). The type of tree seems to be a maple of some kind and now dominates this once treeless garden. My brother went ahead and used some major trimmers to cut these small trees near their stem; however, now we have these harder-to-cut trunks sticking up and roots that I have no idea how to deal with. Do you have any advice for the best way to "take control" again? I'm very sorry (and embarrassed) about my lack of knowledge in this field and will take any suggestions. Thank you very much for any help you can give me, I really appreciate it!
Certified GKH Gardening Expert
You are just fine in asking all of these things and nothing to be embarrassed about. Everyone has to start somewhere. As to the bed with the grass, it sounds like it may be quackgrass. It spreads by its roots and can get into crevices and be difficult to remove. If you are not opposed to chemicals, you can get a grass specific weed killer that will kill only grasses and will leave other plants alone. If you have a very heavy infestation, you may need to treat a few times to fully get rid of it. If you are opposed to chemicals, you can either wipe out the whole bed (grass and good plants) with boiling water or you can dig and hand pull. Boiling water will kill any plant it touches and would be easier if you have no plants to save, but if there are plants you want to save, you would need to hand pull all the grass. You will also need to check the bed again monthly and hand pull again, as it will grow back from any roots left behind. After a few months of being diligently pulled, it will eventually die off. If the second bed is covered in leaves every year and these leaves were not removed, then yes, it would be covered in layers. The leaves decompose over time to create soil. So the layer near the top would be more like leaves while the layers at the bottom would be close to being soil. The saplings you see are likely maples, as these are notorious weed trees. Single stem young samplings can simply be cut off at ground level and they will die. More established saplings that have already branched will need to be cut off and their cuts painted with Roundup to prevent them from regrowing. If you want to remove the stumps and the roots, I have found a Sawzall (reciprocal saw) to be helpful for this. They have a disposable, extended blade that can be plunged into the ground to cut through stubborn tap roots. As there are rocks in the area, just be sure to be fully outfitted with safety glasses, heavy gloves and jacket, in case the saw kicks back on you when hitting a rock. Or, if the stumps are bigger and you have time, you can drill a hole in them and pour concentrated fertilizer down into the hole. This will encourage the stump to rot faster.