I grow food at the Master Peace Community Farm in Prince George’s County. We have sandy coastal soils, which is often the case for most Marylanders east of Interstate 95. Starting about the middle of June (right now!), these sandy soils can harbor my arch rival and gardening nemesis: Bermuda grass. I want to share with you how to rid your garden of this horrible weed without relying on herbicides, and how to keep it out of your garden so that you can get on to better things in life, like growing food!
Bermuda grass is an especially feared weed because it reproduces by underground runners that poke out the ground elsewhere, creating a network that can quickly take over a garden. Unless you get it all up and out of your soil, you’re just buying yourself time until it comes back. There isn’t one product that you can buy or one way to deal with Bermuda grass, you have to understand its weaknesses and get ‘em where it hurts. With these simple steps, though, you will prevail over one of our most feared weeds.
Bermuda grass loves full sun, and won’t thrive in the shade. Also, you learned that it reproduces not with seeds but with underground runners. Therefore, dealing with Bermuda grass can be broken into two areas: 1) Get it up, and 2) Keep it covered.
Get it up Most weeds you pull and, well, they’re gone. Not with Bermuda grass. I suggest that you dig into the ground where it is, preferably with a digging fork, and loosen all the ground around the weed. Then, pulling up all the soil around it, you can then shake off the roots and get it out of your garden. If you leave any bit of root in your garden, it will continue to grow. While we like to encourage composting of all your garden waste, you may want to throw it away in the trash instead. Unless your compost bin is very hot and well managed, it can often survive the process and be put back in your garden when you spread your finished compost.
Keep it covered Once you have it up and out of your garden, you want to keep it that way. Immediately mulch the area. If it’s a path, use high-quality contractor-grade landscaping fabric under the mulch. If its in a garden bed, use non-glossy newspaper, whole sections at a time, overlapping, which will decompose over the growing season. Then, cover the area with lots of leaves or wood mulch.
The best way to keep it from coming back it to shade the area. We do this at the Master Peace Community Farm by growing plants in that area. Plants like beans are great, they grow quickly and within two or three weeks create a thick shaded area. Marigolds also do a great job. We use plants like these on the boarders of garden beds and grass to prevent it from creeping in from the sides.
Bermuda grass might seem like an impossible barrier between now and harvesting, but it can be overcome. Be persistent and proactive, it can be done!
It is helpful if you know what a carrot seedling, turnip seedling, etc looks like in it’s early stages. Otherwise, you have to wait until they grow into something you recognize before you thin them out.
Here I am with Suzanne Lewis. We are going to give you a little tour of the mansion’s vegetable garden and show you how it all came together.
This is the layout of the garden. As you can see, you don’t have to be limited to squares and rectangles. We followed the natural curve of the bed and allowed the shape to match the other planting areas around it. What you see is mostly greens; lettuces, kale, collards and chard. If you notice, there is an oak tree in the background which gave us a few shade issues. The more shady area and the time of year naturally lent itself to planting greens.
Once we established the rows, we placed the plants around to get an idea of spacing and what plants we wanted where. This is Suzanne putting the first plant in the soil. That is always an exciting time, full of great expectations!
I just thought I would let you see Mrs. O’Malley and Chef Canby getting in on the action.
Well, that concludes our tour. I hope you enjoyed it. Join us throughout the summer to see our progress.