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managing overgrown weed jungle

 
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So I’ve got about a half football field size portion of my back yard that has been a problem area for years. It is directly below a electrical wire (about 50 ft) so it has been allowed to grow and then cut back, burned, sprayed, etc over the years to keep the growth down. The entire area was burned I want to say more than 5 years ago, and 2 years ago it was cut down to the ground with a bob cat, so we’re looking at roughly 2 years of growth now. This year I’ve decided to finally tackle it so I can start converting this area into a garden.

I’ve been doing this manually, since I don’t want to further contaminate the soil with herbicides, and I’d rather not burn it. A lot annual weeds like ragweed, some wildflowers, grasses, pokeweed but there’s also a lot of vine honeysuckle, Amur bush honeysuckle, and poison ivy. I am trying to get as much as possible done before the ivy leafs out, because I’m extremely allergic. im essentially chopping and dropping everything that is currently growing here, I’m also spreading a lot of seeds in the process, so thinking that sheet mulching with a few thick layers of cardboard will be the next step after I get everything leveled.

I already know these weeds won’t die easily, so I’m wondering if anyone could advise me on the next steps, should I plant something immediately, since I won’t be using herbicides, to try to compete with the vines? Should I pile the whole area as tall as possible with mulch and compost and just start planting on top? Should I attempt to keep it clear for a season and plant in the fall? Anyone else convert a large overgrown area like this into usable garden space before?  

I will add a couple pics of the area in summer time as well as now.

F797A8C7-2410-4A31-885F-99806943173A.jpeg
In summer (cat for scale)
In summer (cat for scale)
E47BF21E-2647-403E-B45B-862551F7F1BD.jpeg
In summertime
In summertime
2D7139F6-A114-467C-8F00-5C89F50242D3.jpeg
Now picture 1
Now
A095FF53-D929-4BA8-A463-DF3D2E5120A2.jpeg
now picture 2
Now
 
Posts: 618
Location: Northern Maine, USA (zone 3b-4a)
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this may sound like a lot of work but we did this to a similar area on my brothers property. his was covered with red dogwood and wild raspberries . he got a brush saw and leveled everything. we then covered everything with cardboard, a lot of cardboard! then got the local arborist to bring in 2 truckloads of wood chips. once spread out it was 10-12in. thick. let it set over the winter. in spring we planted into holes dug after pulling the chips back, then covered the holes back with the chips after planting. a few weeds still managed to sneak thru the 1st summer. just pull them . the 1st year the veggies did ok but he kept mulching with more wood chips on top every spring and now the soil there grows very well 4 yrs. later. the wood chips break down into nice black soil with no need to weed. just be careful not to mix the chips into the soil. on top is ok but mixed it in will rob nitrogen. this is what worked for him. good luck!
 
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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I agree with the idea of tackling an area this size with cardboard plus a cover mulch, but would add two more suggestions...1. Flatten or press to the ground, rather than cut, as much of the stuff as you can.  I have done this with a 55 gallon barrel, either empty or partially filled with something for extra weight.  This is because the new sprouts that will come up from the roots of some things will have sharp spiky points that can poke up through the layers.  The coarse grasses are particularly likely to do this.  But if you press the stuff down the old growing points will often continue to grow along sideways under there till they die out.  If you can gather the materials on site and can accomplish the flattening/cutting and layering it on fairly quickly, I would actually wait till during the growing season when everything is growing actively and you will get better control.  Provided you handle the barrel with gloves, this should give you less contact with the poison ivy than any kind of hand-chopping.  2.  For the areas with the worst stump, especially those not flush with the ground or stuff that won't flatten easily, consider getting some big pieces of scrap carpet and lay these down on it, in overlapping layers.  Leave them for a year or two, and then move on to the next section.  This stuff won't break down nearly as fast as cardboard and so will continue to smother the stuff for as long as you leave it there.
 
pollinator
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Alder Burns wrote:I agree with the idea of tackling an area this size with cardboard plus a cover mulch, but would add two more suggestions...1. Flatten or press to the ground, rather than cut, as much of the stuff as you can.  I have done this with a 55 gallon barrel, either empty or partially filled with something for extra weight.  This is because the new sprouts that will come up from the roots of some things will have sharp spiky points that can poke up through the layers.  The coarse grasses are particularly likely to do this.  But if you press the stuff down the old growing points will often continue to grow along sideways under there till they die out.  If you can gather the materials on site and can accomplish the flattening/cutting and layering it on fairly quickly, I would actually wait till during the growing season when everything is growing actively and you will get better control.  Provided you handle the barrel with gloves, this should give you less contact with the poison ivy than any kind of hand-chopping.  2.  For the areas with the worst stump, especially those not flush with the ground or stuff that won't flatten easily, consider getting some big pieces of scrap carpet and lay these down on it, in overlapping layers.  Leave them for a year or two, and then move on to the next section.  This stuff won't break down nearly as fast as cardboard and so will continue to smother the stuff for as long as you leave it there.



I’ve become a fan of the crimper/roller approach to managing fields and are looking at this unit for our BCS tractor. It reminded me that I had seen images of cover crops being crimped by hand, using something like the device described in this post.
 
Leah Nam
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Thanks so much for the suggestions! We’ve been going out every day that it’s nice enough and just walking all over the stuff trying to compress it down, will definitely try the barrel idea. I do luckily have access to as much cardboard as I could ever want. And some old carpet scraps so I will try those over the big stumps. Really appreciate everyone’s feedback!
 
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cut it down and rake it up into a compact compost pile then plow the rest of the space all under, and keep tilling the soil after the weed seeds sprout again, every time the weed seeds start growing again turn soil over again
just $0.02 from an old phart
 
pollinator
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Location: Denmark 57N
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What we did with a similar area was to press it all down, using a fence post and a length of rope. Take your fence post tie the rope to either end, use a piece long enough to make a loop between the two ends that is large enough for two people to hold onto (from the same side) when the post is on the ground. then push the post over the weeds and stand on it, use the rope to lift it up and forwards and stand on it again.. it will bend everything down just like the barrel but I think it's easier to manage. What I would then do as I am most definitely lazy is cover the whole lot in a silage tarp and wait a full year. after the year everything will be dead most will have rotted and you'll only have weed seeds to contest with.

another way would be to  cut it short enough for your lawnmower to deal with and mow it twice a week for a couple of years. most things will die off from that, and you'll be left with grass and a few hangers on.
 
Leah Nam
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Update: the electric company has been clearing brush underneath the power lines and came and levels the majority of this the other day! We’re supposed to have good weather this week and we got a big load of cardboard dropped off yesterday!
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[Thumbnail for AAE5821C-5AC1-4A6E-BCB0-1247C779F8D9.jpeg]
 
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Location: Russia, ~250m altitude, zone 6a, Moscow oblast, in the greater Sergeiv Posad reigon.
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Any updates? Was the mulching successful? Garden growing well?
 
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