… it is a force of nature, in the same category as rivers and wind. It will grow through anything – clay, soil, landscape fabric, your carrots and potatoes. I’m convinced the stuff would grow through concrete given half a chance.
This year is the year that I finally take on the quack grass in the garden. You see, up until last summer, I thought I was dealing with some form of “sod” out there – you know, just grass of one kind or another (or more likely, several kinds mixed together – this is old pasture land after all). The conventional wisdom when gardening over sod is “dig it up, turn it over, put more dirt on top, mulch around it, and it’ll just compost down into the soil and you’ll have a lovely garden in no time!”
This does not apply when the grass in question is quack grass.
Quack grass forms long (and I mean long, we’re talking metres long) roots with nodules on them that run along under the soil and pop up new shoots every so often. You know you are dealing with quack grass when, upon pulling out a sheaf of the stuff, you also get a handful of dirt trailing stringy, tough, long white roots that are a good two millimetres around with periodic little bumps on them. If you see that … give up any ideas you may have had about mulching, turning sod, raised beds, and landscape fabric. You need a whole different strategy.
First of all: you have to clear the space. All of it. You can’t have grass walkways between your beds – that just gives the quack grass a source of nutrition for the roots that will reach from the walkway into your garden bed and crowd out your vegetables. You need to clear the entire garden area and at least a 1 metre border all around – two is better. If you can do this in late fall, that’s great, early spring works too. Start by tilling it all up: rake out any big chunks of roots and nodules and toss them outside the garden, then let the turned earth and roots dry out in the sun and wind for a week or two … then do it again. The idea is to kill off the new plants as they get settled in, cutting them off from their source of energy before they get a chance to feed the roots and start again. Eventually, you’ll have brown dirt with just a few quack grass plants popping up every so often. Pull them out when you see them, or slice them off with a hoe – the objective is to starve the root system by removing any green leaves as soon as they appear. This will be your ongoing job … if you let it take hold, before you know it the entire garden will be overrun and you’ll be back at it again.
Don’t despair if you get a little behind though … I noticed that the areas that had never truly been cleared were far worse to dig out than the areas that were clear last summer, but had gotten over grown by fall. Stay ahead of it as much as you can, knowing that the longer you keep the entire area clear, the more likely you are to truly eradicate the stuff completely.
I’ve given up on raised beds in my garden and am going with raised rows instead: when the weeds come up along the edges of the raised beds, you can’t easily attack them with your weeding tool as the wood of the raised bed gets in the way, so the weeds take root and then you’ve lost that part of the battle. With raised rows, the edges of the rows just gradually fall into the paths between the beds – you can dig weeds out of the paths as well as the beds with the same ease, and walking on the paths compacts them and defines them in contrast to the raised piles of soil that form the beds themselves.
My research tells me that the most important thing with quack grass is to keep that clear perimeter: if you can keep one metre around your garden clear of the stuff, then it won’t poke up between your garden plants, and you can harvest carrots that don’t have stringy quack grass nodules growing through them like some kind of alien tentacle. I’m going to try growing potatoes in the perimeter: since you have to hill up the ground over the potatoes during the growing season, you’re weeding as you do that anyway – and apparently they can outcompete quack grass to some extent anyway. I’m sure I’ll have a few tubers with weird tentacles grown through them, but I can live with that.
So far, I’ve completed most of the tilling: about 800 of the 900 square feet of my garden has been cleared and is presently drying out in the sun and wind. Landscape fabric was the worst mistake I made: it didn’t work, as the roots of the quack grass had just grown right through it, and removing it was hard work as the soil on top was so heavy that lifting the fabric just caused it to tear and hacking through it with the mattock just resulted in tangles of fabric and roots. Ugh. I won’t make that mistake again. When there’s quack grass near your garden, you want a free hand to get down into the dirt and pull the stuff out – landscape fabric and raised bed borders just get in the way.
It does feel good to see so much clear brown dirt out there. With my new arched row covers that The Boy made me for Christmas, I can probably even plant a few cold tolerant things this week!
Once I get the garden cleared and re-fenced, I’m seriously considering housing some geese in a moat around the outer edge. They eat grass shoots, I hear…