Sow There! Bermudagrass hates shade, and other long-term plans, June 12, 2020

Sometimes you need to look the enemy in the eye. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
June 12, 2020 

For decades I’ve railed against privet as my most-hated garden nuisance. Sentiments certainly have not faded. However, the major privets in my life have thankfully been removed. And just like a battle-ready warrior, I’ve moved on to a new foe.


Why now?

I’m certainly spending more time in my garden. Was I unaware in the past? Did the plant’s heinous impact suddenly grow more fierce? Why does it seem to be making this mad dash to gain territory, despite my increasing exertion to yank, pull, deprive and mulch?

An article in Field Science (a magazine dedicated to turfgrass),, notes that Bermudagrass does not tolerate shade. I’m certain there are some folks who would argue this point. However, I realize the unmanageability of my tangle of Bermudagrass corresponds with the cutting of all trees from my property a year ago.

Thank you Field Science, for being so scientific.

Buckets filled with Bermudagrass, ’tis the current bane of my backyard. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

The outrage! Not only is the shade gone, but Bermudagrass has crawled quickly across my little universe.

Life has many battles and even more choices to make. In some ways, the grass if fine. It covers up the soil, looks green, loves Chico’s summer heat. All might be tolerable if it could just keep to itself. However, the very essence of Bermudagrass is to infringe upon the rights of all other plants.

A year or more ago I scored a truckload of mulch from some amenable tree trimmers. Ha!

As mulch decays, it does deplete the nitrogen from the soil, but I didn’t care. I wanted that Bermudagrass to suffer — without water, without nitrogen, without love. Surely the mulch should smother out the subterranean onslaught of roots and shoots? To further darken its growth path, I layered the bottom of the mulch with cardboard, recycled from the boxes accumulated from my home-delivered groceries during those early days of sheltering-in-place.

Nope. Each day the grass gasps for breath, emerging from the woody mound, snaking its way across the splintered wood as it reaches toward the fenceposts, the defenseless tall fescue, the raised bed. I dig and curse, yanking fistfuls after fistful. For two square feet of territory, I may fill an entire five-gallon bucket with its claw-like spokes.

Defeated, dejected and down-right angry, I have to take a break. There are other things to do now, like worry about how the heck I can teach elementary school children in the days of coronavirus.

Just when I’m not looking, just for a few days, the plant must note that I have temporarily put down my spade and gloves. That’s when the star-like seeds appeared, the torturous last barrage of hatred in the form of tiny seeds that scatter joyously when yanked with an angry fist or mowed by my meek electric mower. The seeds, by the way, can stay viable for two years, lurking among the defenseless blades of “good seed.” The good seed I sow in vain each fall, somehow hopeful that the enemy will know it is outnumbered.

Some good advice on keeping the encroachment to a minimum include ensuring the “good grass” is in great health, and that you mow at the highest possible setting. Also, shade helps.

As has been the case in the past, my research turned up additional sour advice: Cover the infested area with black plastic for six months or two years, depending on which websites you read. Mulch doesn’t create great soil due to the aforementioned depletion of nitrogen. (LaDona, my erratic gardening guru adds nitrogen under her mulch for just this reason). The Press Democrat,, suggests “sheet mulching” with cardboard and six inches of composted greenwaste, then waiting up to two years. Am I expected to have this kind of patience? Where would I find this amount of composted greenwaste? I don’t cook in an industrial kitchen.

Specific chemicals are sometimes suggested,, and I can understand why some folks resort to this option. I’m just not ready to bring out the poison guns.

There is hope, of course, in the longer scheme of things. Pre-emergent chemicals, applied at the right time for two years could kill off most of those seeds, if I manage the timing before those tiny enemies take root.

Here also remains the longer view: An oak tree in my yard is now as tall as an NBA basketball player, and some day, some day, one fine day, it will cast the shade that “Field Science” claims will see the decline of the virulent beast.

I’ll learn to pick my battles. About two years ago I was given two potted Indian peach trees. They were a gift from the amazing Ernie Dalton, who gave me a tour of the Nord School garden, I finally put the peach tree in the ground and have been ensuring it gets water. You guessed it, the Bermudagrass likes water as well. For the sake of that future soft-skinned fruit, I will continue to fight. I will dig until my fingernails are ragged to keep a circle of peace around this tree… until the tree grows and slowly gains victory through shade of its own creation.

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