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Permaculture solution to Bermuda grass

 
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In my mind I think of permaculture as working with nature instead of against it. So what is the permaculture solution for bermuda grass?  I have it everywhere.  I have put down weed cloth topped with wood chips, tried cardboard topped with wood chips.  Also up to a foot deep wood chips.
I'm redoing my garden. I have finished making my two new hugel beets I extended an other raised bed. Now I'm weeding the paths so I can put wood chips down.  I decided to remove the fence so I couldn't get into a area close to the fence.  The only way I could remove it was to soak it down with water, and dig it out with a shovel. There was weed cloth on both sides of the fence that overlapped, but the bermuda managed to climb through and tangled so tightly in the wire fence even my son who is very strong couldn't pull it out.  There is a mat of  roots very thick under the weed cloth.  The path on the outside of the garden has a mat of bermuda grass and soil over weed cloth, like a carpet.  The garden isn't suprising because those wood chips were several years old. The path on the outside is the strange one because I put down new weed cloth and wood chips Last year.  Even the path on the other side of my roses isn't this bad and I used cardboard instead of the weed cloth (it's the same wood too).  I don't know why the wood chips in that area broke down so fast.  Maybe because it's between my veggie garden and a flower garden, so it gets water where the other paths rarely get water. I water the veggie garden, and those wood chips  took several years to break down, I don't know.
As I'm trying to get this muddy mess clear of weeds I was wondering what the permaculture solution would be.  I have heard lots of negative comments about weed cloth, but it lasts longer than cardboard, and at least it let's water through, and doesn't kill to soil.  Cardboard is great but doesn't last.  I have had wood chips 12" thick and still had Bermuda come through.  If I just live with it it gets into the veggie garden, it seems to be able to find every crack and crevice. Then it's competing with my veggies. So what is the answer?  When I was younger, and dumber I would use roundup. Don't use that terrible stuff anymore.  
The only answer I can come up with is remove all the surface weeds, put down new weed cloth, maybe cardboard on top of that and a thick layer of wood chips, then maybe spray anything that finds a way through with vinegar.  This is not working with nature.  I would love to hear suggestions, and or comments. Thanks
 
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:I have had wood chips 12" thick and still had Bermuda come through.



Jen, I get this! Bermuda grass is the number 1 problem in my garden. I've been at this place for 12 years and have been battling it the entire time we've lived here. One thing I finally figured out, is that I have to accept that it's an ongoing job to keep it under control. It never goes away. Even people who do use round-up say it comes back after a couple of years.

I have the best success with double layers of cardboard and thick wood chip mulch. That lasts about two years, then it must be redone (that's this year's project). Even when it initially pokes through, it's easy to pull at that point because there's no soil to attack itself to.

Weed cloth was my biggest disaster. Even though it had a thick wood chip covering, within a matter of weeks, Bermuda grew right on up through it and eventually bound the cloth to the soil with a massive layer of stolons. When I bought the weed cloth, I got one that was guaranteed to work. Turned out they only guaranteed it if you used a six-inch layer of their rubber mulch.

I'm sorry my answer is not more hopeful. I would love a better answer for this problem. Let's hope someone with some experience has a solution!


 
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My motto is I'll let almost anything grow that's not Bermuda grass...so my theory after years of fighting it is to plant cover crops when it is dormant and to think of it as a chop and drop mulch when it's starts growing.

I have let creeping Charlie roam freely where ever it likes along with Johnson grass in my beds that have blueberries, flowers and some peach trees and in the fall I sow oats and austrian winter peas as a cover crop on the big gardens.  Now I'm scything beautiful thick pea growth in areas as needed to plant...the Bermuda is still there sleeping and will come back when I turn my back in the heat of the summer where we will sickle it to lay down as a much needed mulch around plants.

Where ever there is bare soils I try to immediately sow some buckwheat or some fast growing annual.

I know this isn't a solution where it grows year round or probably not a good solution for everyone as it is a bit labor intensive but maybe not as much as trying to stay ahead of Bermuda grass existence all together?

Over many years we have gone to extremes, even sifting the soil at our old place to remove root fragments, digging and removing over and over...and have spent way too much precious time fighting it. I've never used weed cloth or herbicides but have tried cardboard in a few places without success.




 
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Dang........

My plan is to try this:  Run Chickens for a while (until the dirt is pretty much exposed). Then sow a diverse mix(deep tap rooted, leafy broad, leafy tall, etcc) of Cover crops in hopes that they take over.
                               
The dormant months I might try using straw bales to 'snuff' it out and then seed to cover crops when possible. Also to plant a border of trees or shrubs as Bermuda likes the Sun and hopefully this shading of the 'borders' would weaken it enough to allow the cover crops to maintain the area.

Also I am thinking of with time planting out a root barrier crop of Comfrey around the area which will double as a source of mulch and feed for chickens, as well as a source for poultices and oi-infusions for salve.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thanks everyone, sounds like it's one of those things I just have to keep fighting. Oh well, it is what it is.
Ben that may work, or at least help. The only place on my property you won't find bermuda grass is the chicken yard.  I never see them eat it, but only one weed survive in the chicken yard (sorry I don't know what it's called). I just pull that up and add more wood chips.  It's a catch 22 though.  The only plant besides that weed I have seen them leave alone is mint and lavender, they might still dig it up when they are searching for bugs thought.
Back to work.
 
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Jen, I truly understand and sympathize with your dilemma. I have been having difficulties co-existing with it as well because it insists on strangling my food plants and I spend about an hour every week pulling it from places it needs to not be. It comes into both sides of my yard from the neighbors and I am not allowed to replace it on the nature strip out front either. This grass is seriously impressive though.

Please ignore my fat finger there, I was taking a picture rather precariously up over my head. That grass is almost 8 feet up! Despite the fact that I whipper snipped its attachments to the ground below almost a year ago. I was interested to see how long it would last, and it still has, in a light pole.....

You may try large tarps to solarize the grass where needed. It does take significantly longer than when getting a normal garden bed ready for the first time, a few months for me. I have had the best success with larger tarps, and weighing the edges down quite well. I had to do this in Houston, Texas. Here my yard just is not big enough for solarization to work. I know that is not exactly working with nature, and I wish I knew a better way to do it. The other thing I do is pull the offending grass and add it to my fermented plant juice.

Here, because it is coming in from both sides, I patrol my fence lines every three days and pull them before they can get too established. While I normally skip gloves, I find I get more of the stolons and roots out if I use them for this. I tried using vinegar on the grass where it is coming up in the patio here, but so far it has just laughed that off..... Maybe some day, we will be able to breed that amazing resiliency into our preferred leafy greens! Good luck!
 
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Here is how I "beat" it. I sprayed it all down with a 20% citric acid solution, strengthened by joy soap as a surfactant (1TBL per Gallon) I then put down heavy mulch, 18 inches of arborist wood chips. Finally, during the dormant season, I throw all my scraps into this area to encourage the chickens to keep it scratched. The chickens will actually dig up and eat the tubers and rhizomes when they begin to sprout, however, I find it best to keep the area loose with a Broadfork, keep it mulched, and to continue to hand weed every chance I get.

It eventually does go away, for the most part, however it will be a constant battle to keep it from returning.

I am in the process of getting creeping thyme established as a cover crop.
 
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The best results I ever saw with pervasive, unwanted grass was when I was about 7 years' old.  Our neighbour, who worked as a millwright, brought home a couple of long pieces of old conveyor belt.  It was about 1/4 inch thick, heavy, and opaque.  Mr. Gray just unrolled two large rolls of it, enough to cover his entire garden plot, right over the tall stand of Twitch Grass that had had completely taken over and grown to aye height of about 3 feet, situated as it was over the remains of an old manure pile.  He left it for a year.  I was fortunate to see the results. The next Spring, Mr. Gray rolled that conveyor belt back up to reveal a completely bare, black soil, ready to cultivate.  I do not know whether the twitch grass survived or not, (it probably did), but the complete blockage of the sun provided by the conveyor belt combined with the accompanying buildup of heat beneath it, sure gave them underground rhizomes something to think about. Trouble is: conveyor belt in the desired thickness and area is so damned heavy, you'd need a tractor or forklift just to move it!  Good luck, and don't be shy of asking others for help.  In my experience, most people are very happy to be able to lend a hand.
 
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We still have a bit of what I call "compromise lawn" that my husband likes to mow and the lawn is moving into my woodchipped garden paths and beds. It got to the point that the path was almost all grass. I used a pitchfork to get those chips out and moved them to another part of the yard where the grass is patchy then replaced with fresh chips. I'll probably need to do it again next year, but that beat back the grass quite a bit. It was a small area, but it only came out to about an hour of work.

Old owners had several beds mulched with river rock with weed cloth underneath. Of course, the grass has gotten in there too. Those have been a pain to take out. Besides the rocks, the weed cloth falls apart in my hands getting bits of plastic everywhere and the grass anchors it to the ground. Go with wood chips (and cardboard if you want extra security). If you're going to have to fork it out and redo it every couple of years anyway, might as well do it with something relatively easy and cheap to replace.
 
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My property was infested with Bermuda grass when I moved in 30+ years ago. As my gardening friends said back then: roundup doesn't kill it; it just slows it down a bit. The thing about this noxious weed is that the roots go down FOUR FEET! - and if you miss a piece of root, it grows back. I always say if the landscape fairy granted me one wish, it would be for no grass to ever grow on my property! Some time ago, I pulled carpeting out of a small room, and threw the carpet by my back door to keep down the mud and dust. After 5 years, the carpet was really shot; when I pulled it up, that was the only part of my yard to have no more bermuda...so I proceeded to go to used carpet places and help myself to their carpet that was going to the dump (they were thrilled: it saved them dump fees). Eventually I carpeted almost 1/2 acre and left it down for 5 years, since I know that works. It's not "organic" but it is reusing trash, allows water through, and is the ONLY way I've ever found to get rid of the nightmare. I put the carpet pile down(easier to walk on), and when it's done, it finally does go to the dump. I then put down weed cloth which can last for decades if it is not exposed to sun, which breaks it down. It's easy to weed on top of, or if you get the weeds when they are small, I just spray with the vinegar/soap mix. I use Dawn dish detergent, even though it comes from the evil P&G which I try to avoid.
As an aside, my roses had aphids last month; I sprayed them with soapy water, but apparently used to much dish soap: almost killed the roses!!! So that is clearly an important ingredient.
 
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I live in Phoenix. I really admire the tenacity and resilience of Bermuda grass here. It is about the only kind of lawn grass that grows here without a lot of maintenance.

It also creeps into my garden I am trying to keep it out of the basins I dug for the trees, but I think that will just slow it down.

About the only things I have seen that outcompetes Bermuda are the mint I planted ... but those comes with its own problems. The mallows will also block Bermuda from growing if their tap roots gets established.

Some of the things I have in mind to try:

 - I am seeding white dutch clover in my lawn so that I have something green during the winter season when Bermuda grass goes dormant. I am curious about how that would interact. I don’t think clover grows deep enough roots to act as a border, but I wonder if they can grow thick enough to discourage Bermuda from popping up out of the ground. The Feacue I had cultivated had kept the Bermuda from enroaching, but they are not as resilient in the Phoenix heat.

 - I am considering planting other aggressive plant species like mint: horseradish, sunchokes, asparagus, bamboo (either clumping or creeping)

 - the creeping thyme sounds like a great idea, and I might try that in the garden.

 - my okra bed last year was pretty good about keeping out the Bermuda ... but I think that is as much because my chickens sheltered there during the Phoenix summers.
 
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Sweet potato is effective at controlling Bermuda grass over the area that it covers.
 
Ho-Sheng Hsiao
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Mike Turner wrote:Sweet potato is effective at controlling Bermuda grass over the area that it covers.



Interesting. Do you think this is true for any tubers that grow deep? Or is it something about the sweet potato itself?
 
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Having been an organic small-scale farmer for over a decade, worked on multiple farms in multiple hardiness zones, I truly feel like most of my creative energy and manual labor has gone to dealing with grass.
I have seen & used nearly every method mentioned in this thread and more. This really is a challenge, for sure. Everyone who has posted thus far has given some great suggestions. For the homestead-scale gardener I will add another:
Since I spend a ridiculous amount of hours at work pulling weeds and dealing with grass on the farm, the last thing I want to do when I come home to my homestead garden is pull weeds and deal with grass. Instead, I simply... gave up. Yep, that's right. I don't do it.
I now plant all my fruits, veggies, legumes, wildflowers, and endemic plants in container pot planters!

I realize that this is not economically viable for a commercial-scale farming operation. However, our 60 container pot planters provide our household 56 meals per week and zero hours dealing with grass.

PS- Most of the rest of our meals consist of un-marketable "ugly" fruits & veggies gleaned from the farm.
And on the homestead I'm having a blast experimenting with companion planting perennials permaculture-style in pots. :-)
POTS-angle_2021.03.02_BackyardRegeneration-CROP-SCALE-800px.jpg
a section of our container pot planter garden
a section of our container pot planter garden
 
Aimee Hall
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Mike Turner, that is exactly what I plan to try! Now that my perennials are getting well established along one fence line I intend to try sweet potatoes all along there. I have been debating how I want to keep them inside the garden bed though as it has no border and opens up onto a shared driveway. I have a lot of options but I also want to keep it very cheap too. I will report back how it works for me but will likely be another 6-9months before I can say how it works for me. Established sweet potato vines should live here year round.

Mike Kenzie, that is awesome. Much of my garden is also in pots! However, I still have to fight the weeds regardless because the grass will just grow right on up and smother shorter plants, even growing through the fence several feet up from the neighbors on both sides. Though I agree entirely with your approach and I am very glad it is working for you. The solarization actually worked best for me in a market garden of about 10 acres. The tarp sizes needed to really seem to work well are too large to be accommodated by most urban lot farmers unfortunately. Your garden looks very lovely! Have you had any particularly successful companion plantings? I find in my pots, onions/garlic go well next to almost everything with a small bit of space to fill. I also find radishes and beets enjoy filling up small spaces not needed by other things, even fruit trees. =D
 
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I find if I top up the cardboard every couple of months it eventually clears up.  And to weigh it down well with bricks or whatever you have. If you don't keep an eye on it it will eat the cardboard, so a fresh layer is needed whenever you see a blade grow through. I am now trying a grand experiment where I am putting a wormfarm on top of the cardboard in the hope that they will migrate as it breaks down and I will end up not only with weedfree but also rich soil. Will keep you posted.
 
Mike Turner
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Ho-Sheng Hsiao wrote:

Mike Turner wrote:Sweet potato is effective at controlling Bermuda grass over the area that it covers.



Interesting. Do you think this is true for any tubers that grow deep? Or is it something about the sweet potato itself?



It works for sweet potato since it forms a thick mat of leaves and stems over the soil and also grows fast in the summer heat.  It doesn’t work with Irish potatoes since they don’t form a mat over the ground and they go dormant in June when it gets hot and the Bermuda grass takes off.  Bermuda grass rhizomes will also damage their tubers by penetrating and growing through them.
 
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I looked into this about 15 years ago when it snuck into my lawn.  The short answer is..... YOU CAN'T GET RID OF IT.

A quick search for "Bermuda Grass Roots" found this, and many other links that will explain the same thing.  
Bermuda grass flourishes in sites with full, direct sun and good drainage. It has superior heat, salt and humidity tolerance and, unlike Centipede grass, is very drought tolerant, too. Though the majority of Bermuda's roots stay within 6 inches of the surface, they can reach 6 feet or more in depth.

https://www.pennington.com/all-products/grass-seed/resources/all-you-need-to-know-about-bermudagrass
 
Mike Kenzie
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Aimee Hall wrote:Mike Kenzie, that is awesome. Much of my garden is also in pots! However, I still have to fight the weeds regardless because the grass will just grow right on up and smother shorter plants, even growing through the fence several feet up from the neighbors on both sides. Though I agree entirely with your approach and I am very glad it is working for you. Your garden looks very lovely! Have you had any particularly successful companion plantings? I find in my pots, onions/garlic go well next to almost everything with a small bit of space to fill. I also find radishes and beets enjoy filling up small spaces not needed by other things, even fruit trees. =D


How tall are your pots? Actually, I don't really spend "zero" hours. I do weedwhack the grass around the pots once a month. :-)
I've had success with green onions + basil. Bele + sissoo spinach. Thyme + begonias + basil.
POT-bele_and_spinach_by_BackyardRegenerat.jpg
bele and sisoo spinach
bele and sissoo spinach
 
Aimee Hall
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My smallest pots are only 12" and work great for things like green onions, herbs, greens like sorrel, beets and the like (even Thai chilles seem to thrive in the small pots making what look like lovely tiny trees) which lets me get a lot more in. My taller pots are around 2 feet and obviously they do not have nearly as many issues but filling them with quality compost is pricey, and the planters themselves are not cheap. So I save the big ones for fruit trees mostly (But these are also so heavy after being filled they are difficult for me to move them around to get to the grass growing up -_-). Then my medium size (Between 15-18") gets most perennials (like okinawa/surinam spinach), tomatoes, peppers, etc.

Your planters look SO good. I will have to try some of these combos! I have been putting my basil in under my tomatoes and green onions tucked in everywhere there was the tiniest space. They are amazing! And something you can never have enough of. lol
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I put wood in the bottom of large pots, then a layer of compost, the wood chips, then I fill them up.  Saves money on compost, and I don't have to water as often.
 
Mike Kenzie
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Aimee Hall wrote:filling them with quality compost is pricey, and the planters themselves are not cheap. So I save the big ones for fruit trees mostly (But these are also so heavy after being filled they are difficult for me to move them around.


TLDR: I'm slowly making the whole operation more affordable and more abundant... one month at a time. :-)

Planters are certainly expensive when purchased new. That's why the great majority of my planters I have purchased on the used market: yard sales, garage sales, Craigslist, social media, etc. When you see the word "antique" though, run away. For me that's a euphemism for "over-priced" - often they are asking for more than was originally paid for the pot!

Also, I only let myself buy one new pot a month. This makes it more affordable for me as I'm not getting everything all at once. It also helps me hone my skills too as I am "failing small" - one pot at a time - along the way as opposed to "failing big" and getting discouraged.

I move my big container pot planters around with a hand truck dolly.

It took me quite a few years to get my composting skills down and all my composting systems properly operational. Nowadays, between my multiple composting worm bins, compost tumbler, compost tea brewer, and bokashi bucket... I'm not buying compost any more. And though I do plan on composting my humanure again one day, my current living situation does not allow for that unfortunately.

I have a friend that has completely replaced perlite with biochar on his aquaponics farm. I can't wait to test this in a container pot planter. If it works, then I will build my own biochar kiln and stop buying perlite.
:-)

POT-MOVING_WITH_DOLLY-26Mar2021_BackyardRegeneration-CROP-SCALE800px-CROP.JPG
Moving a container pot planter with a hand truck dolly by BackyardRegeneration.com
Moving a container pot planter with a hand truck dolly by BackyardRegeneration.com
 
Aimee Hall
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That is great Mike, and I do agree! I am accumulating mine slowly but carefully to stay under budget, I grow everything from seeds that I can, etc. My planters are self made wicking containers so they require practically no additional watering from me at the expense of being heavy. I do use the hand truck once I get them out and to firm ground but I am too lazy to move my fruit trees every 2-3 weeks to week around them. lol! I know I shouldn't be, there are just so many other things I would rather do than move 100 containers just to get rid of silly grass. -_-
 
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:Thanks everyone, sounds like it's one of those things I just have to keep fighting. Oh well, it is what it is.



You say working with the nature not against it...
I see in Bermuda Grass first of all the erosion control number 2 in the world and all kind of happy animals from pigs to rabbits/guinea pigs (in Tractors) and where they have been another aggressive ground cover like pinto nut will support further intensive grazing plus keeping Bermuda grass at bay.

Your Veggie plots
The patches you grow your veggies will be a permanent task to get rid of Bermuda grass or you remove it throughout by digging deep and pick stolon by stolon until nothing is left.
Then surround these with Vetiver Grass walls (Hedgerows)
Vetiver Grass is the only one that lets Bermuda Grass no chance to crawl back into your Veggie plots if they are fully grown, usually within 5-6 month.  
Beside this is Vetiver Grass the Nr 1 erosion control and supplies in young stage with another nutritious grass for your livestock or as mulch for your beds as it produces never seeds.
The roots can go to 4 meters (some people say even up to 7 meters) straight down and recovers so also lost nutrients back to the surface.
 
moose poop looks like football shaped elk poop. About the size of this tiny ad:
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