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Desperate for a rose garden but overwhelmed by grass

Lbpetals z10b
January 7, 2019

I welcome any and all advise. I have a decent sized urban back yard that lacks character. It's a large rectangle full of cheese weed and dead/dying but somehow thriving Bermuda grass. I want nothing more than a garden to plant all my roses that are languishing in pots but the idea of digging out all that horrible grass stops me in my tracks. I am wondering if there is a way to plant my roses and companion plants without having to dig out all the grass.

Comments (53)
  • chris209 (LI, NY Z7a)

    The goal is to bury the cardboard so that it is no longer visible. You probably want to have a soil delivery and bury it under a good thick layer of fresh soil. Hopefully then even in dryer climates it will retain enough moisture to work. I wonder why the grass still wouldn't be smothered if covered in cardboard and a foot plus of soil, even in dry conditions? Digging up grass is a nasty job and wasteful, so I would certainly give this method a try first. We created large beds this way and it worked like a charm.


  • Lilyfinch z7 mid tn

    Just in case it matters , I have Bermuda too and I am not able to smother it with cardboard and mulch . Now I did not try cardboard and dirt then mulch . But Bermuda is relentless. It creeps under for yards !! i did a terrible thing too , paid someone to take a layer of grass off and leave me beds that way with some farm equipment. I didn’t realize that the topsoil he scraped off had all the good stuff ( totally should have known better !) and most of my roses there did terrible till they died .

    I hope you can find a solution that works for you ! I hate the thought of using round up but it kills Bermuda ...

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    I tried using newspapers and straws for weeds in a new garden last year, it didn’t work. I will go back to GrassBGone from Walmart. It worked on grass at my other garden in NY.

  • Lisa Adams

    It’s those creeping roots that are the biggest problem when using cardboard and soil/compost. Mine ran under the cardboard only to pop up on the other side, rooting along the way. I thankfully knew to sift through the topsoil, remove as many roots as I could find, and dump it back over the area. I’m sure it wasn’t best for the soil structure, but at least it remained. The roses and plants have done fine in the new area, but I still have some grass that returns. Lisa

  • Embothrium

    If you resort to a glyphosate herbicide spray be sure to keep it well away from the roses. In my experience if you even talk about using it within earshot of roses they develop spray drift damage afterward that looks like rose rosette disease.

    One thing that can be done to prevent sideways spray drift is to use a small rubber gasket to mount the top half of a used bleach bottle on the sprayer nozzle. So that spray blowing sideways hits the walls of the bottle half and drips down, instead of floating away to get on non-target plants.

  • erasmus_gw

    I am scared to use herbicides around roses though I have a rose friend who swears by Grass B Gone. I have tried it myself. I worry about confusing RRD with herbicide damage. I have to use a strong brush killer herbicide on poison ivy.

    When I first made rose beds I dug out all the grass or most all of it. They stayed pretty grass free for some years. Now I have major Bermuda grass problems in some of my beds. When they get into the rose roots it's very hard to get it out.

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    Yes, it’s a chemical spray, not organic. I have used Grass B Gone in the rose bed for a couple years, it won’t kill the roses. It costs about $6 at Walmart, it saved me a lot of time.

  • Amanda Zone10Socal

    Yeah cardboard won’t work for bermuda. It has taken us 2 1/2 years and we are almost rid of it although it keeps trying to get under the fence with the neighbors yard. I solarized it with a layer of plastic and that did kill most of it although we still had to dig it out. I think what saved us is that it was poorly installed sod to begin with so it was just layered on hard dirt, and fairly easy as bermuda grass goes to peel away and throw in the trash. You really do have to put something else there to shade and crowd it out or it will come back. Roundup works if you do a few rounds but you still have to deal with the sod if you want to put something else there. Also, it’s really not fun trying to dig bermuda grass out of thorny rose bushes. There is definitely a California thing of just putting a ring around the bushes and weed eating right up to them. You probably have to be generous with water if you do that though.

    Now to get rid of the nutgrass....

  • Lbpetals z10b

    Thank you everyone for your comments, I live in Southern California and I really want to avoid chemicals since I have dogs and a ton of birds in the yard. The yard has been neglected for so long that the grass grows over a mat of dead grass and weeds when I get any rain. I am so tired of looking at it that I was considering hiring someone to rip it all out with an excavator! I really do appreciate all the input.

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    There is Organic Rose Forum on Houzz. Check there people might have more good ideas to garden without chemicals.

  • lkayetwvz5

    It's been a long time since I had to deal with Bermuda - well not since I left California! So not sure this will work or not. But if you don't want to spray RoundUp…..When I want to bare-icate an area I go to the lumber yards and ask for their lumber tarps. Usually they are free. These are the big poly tarps that are on the milled wood shipped on flatbed trailers from the PNW and Canada. It's white on one side with the company logo and some are black on the underside. You want the black ones. Lay them down with the black side up and weight them down. If you are going to use landscape timbers buy them and use them as weights, or filled flower pots or 5 gallon pails filled with water. Let the sun fry that grass for several months. Here it works. After a couple months the grass usually comes out pretty easy with a 3 or 4 tined long handle digger.

  • vaporvac

    Iktwvz, do you lay these tarps down over the winter? I have the similar issue and want to plant all of the Roses for my Arbor next to my brick wall since I don't yet have the arbor and I'm tired of keeping them in pots. I figure I can replant them or take cuttings at some point in time. I would like to do this around March so I'm also interested to hear these ideas. With the grass B gon does one then have to dig out the grass? Also, at what time of year does one apply the grass B gon and how long does it take?

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    Vaporvac, I spray grass B gon in the spring or summer, sometimes after a week or 2 I had to spray the 2nd time to some stubborn grass. I don't dig out the dead grass. Since I packed the garden with so many roses, I can't bend down to pick up or pull the dead grass in most of my rose gardens, there is not much room between the roses. Lol

    Anyone knows how to kill this ground cover in one of my rose bed?


  • Amanda Zone10Socal

    I used clear plastic and bricks to weight it down in the summertime, cause it really gets the heat going to boil the grass. Maybe black works better?

  • Amanda Zone10Socal

    This page has the instructions for using the clear and black plastic I guess they work a little differently http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7453.html

  • vaporvac

    Thank you Summers and Amanda. I think I might try the grass be gone since I don't think I have enough time for the plastic. Maybe I'll try doing the plastic now and if it Not Dead by Spring I'll use the chemical. I didn't see that you had a link. At first I thought the weed you were talking about where youur roses! Lol! :-) The weed you show is vinca. It's not actually weed but it can be invasive. There's vinca major and vinca minor so I don't know which one that is but it is a variegated one. When mine grows where I don't want it to, I just rip it out by the roots and it doesn't really come back. Actually, that's the only ground cover I really want in my yard because I hate euonymus and Ivy as it grows up my trees. At least with the vinca my bulbs broke through it. However I don't want it everywhere and I have a lot to take out to put in another bed.

  • bart_2015

    Black plastic works well. I'm so, so sorry to read that so many people still use herbicides. They are not only poisonous and dangerous for roses, they are for people, too, and have become so widely used and abused that they have gotten into the groundwater by now and poison food crops, animals, etc.Glysophates have been banned here in Europe, I believe, thank Heaven.

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    Bart, I can’t put black plastics between thousand roses in my garden. Any other ideas without grass B gon? It doesn’t kill or hurt roses. The us farmers use RU for their crops, that’s much worse than grass B gon.

    I have an army of rabbits living in my yard, getting more every year , they eat my roses, and there is no dead rabbits.....can RU kill rabbits? I have tried 5 lbs bubble gums to kill them, but they loved the taste........may be I should give RU a try......

  • Amanda Zone10Socal

    Bart, I don’t spray anything, but I have a “special” spray bottle of herbicide for when the bermuda gets between the cracks of the sidewalk :( it’s impossible to get out and will spread back all over the yard if you leave it. I tried pouring boiling water on it about ten times, and it would look dead for a couple weeks and then come sprouting back :( desperate times :(

  • frances_in_nj

    Well, I'm fairly recently (in the past 2-3 years) on the wagon of using no herbicides. I really sympathize with the impulse to use them but ... they are pretty bad. A couple of thoughts: 1. For weeds between roses, why not try horticultural vinegar? It doesn't really work as something to apply to a huge area, but if you are just targeting weeds between roses, its pretty effective. I got it mail order, not sure what kind of store would carry it locally (garden center?) Do get the horticultural stuff, its way more concentrated than regular. The other thing for this purpose is plain old boiling water, again, not really practical on big areas, but on small spots it is really effective. 2. I know its easy for me here in damp New Jersey to talk, but I had some thoughts re: the cardboard thing that might help even in a dry climate. So, put down your cardboard and wet it well. Then, rather than using compost or wood chips, mulch it with straw. A LOT of straw, like 2 feet deep. The beauty of this is that, unlike chips or compost, straw is a piece of cake to apply, it weighs nothing and you can do this thick layering even on a big area really quickly, with no endless shoveling of heavy mulch (when the organic gardening people talk about thick mulching, honestly my first reaction is "Really??? Me and what army??!!" But with straw, a middle aged woman with limited physical resources and limited time can do a lot of thick mulching pretty quick!) Then, wet the straw thoroughly. I think it retains water better than chips, too! If you are impatient, like Yours Truly, you can even cut holes in the cardboard/straw and pop in a few roses. For those in dry climates, you'll probably have to re-moisten the straw some, but hopefully not as much as with other materials. (Or maybe apply black plastic on top of the straw to get the process started?) Anyway, just a suggestion and like I said, I realize I have no clue as to what those in truly arid climates have to contend with but maybe some of this might help!

  • lkayetwvz5

    My experience as stated above for the lumber tarps is because black plastic is too flimsy for a kill - the lumber tarps are tough and will survive several years of being exposed to sun. I put them down wherever and whenever I have to deal with weeds and grass that isn't easily controlled. Part of my vegetable gardens were under these tarps all summer because it never stopped raining here and much of my necessary gardens never got planted. I also kept my patio garden project covered until I could get to it so the weeds didn't invade that yet again. Here's a picture of those tarps just before I removed them to start .

  • sharon2079

    I don't know that covering the grass will necessarily work... I got the idea from this board to do it... and so I laid out the cardboard here in Florida. The St. Augustine grass just sent runners underneath it. and it still grew. After 10 months the cardboard was still there, and so was the grass.... and I had layers of the cardboard.... Heck in Missouri, where I came from, if you left something laying in the yard for a week the grass would die out and the weeds would come up... Here in Fl. some grass just keeps growing... though personally I think St. Augustine is just a "fancy" name for crab grass.... I don't see much difference. I hate it.

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    Frances dear, using 2’ straw!?! I won’t see my roses! Lol Most of roses are planted in a suburb garden, people would call the town if I piled up 2’ straw all over the front yard. :-) Some of the organic ideas are super naughty. :-)

    Boiling water would kill any plants for sure. I have tried that idea on a patio once to kill the weeds, it’s pretty dangerous for all ages. I also tried vinegar on the patio too, it didn‘t kill the weeds, but vinegar could kill roses.

    I started a organic garden in the country last year, I put down newspapers and thick straws in the rose beds, didn’t spray anything to JB, but the weeds and grass took the beds over in no time. I killed the grass but still have a lot of weeds. I put down more straws around the roses for the winter months ( in country garden only). If farmers can have cows in their front yard, I could pile straws everywhere I want in the country, but straws won’t look good in a suburb front yard garden though......my country garden is no longer a organic garden due to rose midge.

    Everyone has a prefect green lawn by using weed killer in my suburb neighborhood. You just don’t see a lawn with weeds. I think this all started with the seniors in my neighborhood. All the seniors order their weeds killer spray 4-5 times per summer. They all have beautiful lawns. I am wondering why they are still kicking. You would think they’d pass out by now with all these years lawn treatments.......lawn care is a big business in the US.

  • Jasmine B

    I had a delivery of free mulch which i slowly brought into the backyard in the green bin, and i just left it on the ground during thanksgiving, 1-2 feet deep over the winter. So over the winter we got several inches of rain, and by april the grass was gone and the mulch and broken down into rich dark soil. My yard is rocky clay.

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    How do you get free mulch? That would save me a lot.

  • Amanda Zone10Socal

    LA City sanitation will just drop off a truckload of mulch if you request. I had a 4 foot tall pile in the front yard that the bermuda grass was very happy to grow through. It appreciated the fertilizer.

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    Wow, that’s good to know. In NY state everything costs $$. It costs about $200 for a truck load mulch (4 yards).

  • Jasmine B

    The following year the coverage of mulch was a lot more spotty over the yard (some isolated clumps left), and i did get a lot of grass (more like tough as nails rope) growing through it, but that first year when coverage was very thick across the whole yard i didn't get grass growing through it.

  • vaporvac

    summers, will any of the city tree trimmers or private companies drop off their chippings? Mine are thrilled to do so as they then won't have to pay a tipping fee. When I had the majority of my 100 old oak taken down, I had them leave me all the chippings piled in my yard. I've almost used them all in the two years since. They definitely killed the grass although it's now encroaching and will climb up the pile if I let it. Unfortunately, I just recently had the eureka moment to plant my pot pets in the now sunny front yard and don't have the time for mulch to work. Plus, I have to finish cleaning, painting and installing fencing. What really works well after weeding and probably before for most short rooted weeds is carpet. It's fantastic and won't break down if not natural fiber. One can mulch on top, but I leave mine showing in my back garden. You should try it, summers. I don't think my neighbors would be too please if I put it in my front, however.

  • Rosylady (PNW zone 8)

    Since you mentioned excavators, I thought I would chime in, since that's how I had our old decrepit grass removed. The entire area is approx 60x80. The grass took up about half of that area. In most of the area the grass was removed, we put down new sod, but we also enlarged the old flowerbeds into the space where the grass had been.

    What lilyfinch said is very true: if you have your sod scraped off by a machine, it may take some of your topsoil with it. In my case, I had no topsoil (part of why the grass was so bad in the first place). So, after everything was removed and graded, we brought in soil to put on top.

    I'm in the process of "creating" a thicker layer of topsoil by adding manure and mulch and letting the worms work that down. It's a process, but already in 2 years I see a BIG difference when I dig a rose hole in this garden!

    Here's what we started with:

    After the excavator:

    And here's the after:

    Oh, and I wanted to add: there is a machine you can rent to lift sod. It works very well. Then you have to haul it away, and that's the harder part :)

  • vaporvac

    Jasmine, that has been my experience, as well. The key was digging a deep trench to delineate beds or put down a deep physical barrier. Of course, it's easier for the grass to grow Over the barrier, but one can at least week wack it before it takes root. I think it's hard for us with large gardens and alot of rain. I have every invasive one can think of with about 5 species of wild grape alone. A lot of digging as no amount of anything will kill. It just goes dormant looking for an opening. Small weeds are more easily eradicated, at least temporarily; it's the creeping grass and feral euonymus that I really despise.

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio

    There is a product called Iron X (which is just chelated liquid iron solution) that I use for weed control in my lawn. It is safe for fescue, bluegrass and ryegrass, but will kill bentgrass so I wonder (don't know) if it would also kill Bermuda grass.

    If you decide to try it, be sure to read the label carefully. It can only be used a few times a year on a lawn.

  • vaporvac

    rosylady, your hedge is dreamy. I love that as a backdrop for roses and what a sound barrier! I would be sitting in that bench all day taking in the scents. Congrats on the new landscaping and soil! : )

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    Oh, I had 9 trees cut down in Dec 2017, didn’t think to ask the tree services for the mulch!! My town used to sell mulch for a cheaper rate at $30 per yard, then they sold the mulch place to a mulch business. Now it costs $45 per yard. Nothing is free here in NY state. I used to get 9 yards from a place for $25 per yard at the end of season, but it was too much driving with my little 4x8 trailer , it only could hold 1.5 yard each trip.

    I will try PA county office, they might have free mulch there for my country garden. :-)

  • vaporvac

    Try calling tree trimmers also.... private companies. Tell them what you want.... oak, etc. We also don't have city mulch available or compost. What they collect bi-weekly and compost goes to the parks. I'm OK with that. I only compost my leaves and small tree cuttings, but there's a lot of that. Wood chips work really well for me.

  • Amanda Zone10Socal

    With our drought the city had to chip a lot of dead park trees, so they had an overabundance to get rid of, that’s why it was free delivery, in the past they would charge. We do always have free mulch pickup spots, made from what they collect in the green cans.

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    Will do that! Thanks vap! :-)

    raee, I will check out Iron X! Will it hurt roses if I use it in the rose garden. I have all kinds of weeds inside the rose garden. Where do you buy yours?

  • Lilyfinch z7 mid tn

    This company advertises here and I have heard great things . See if it’s in your area ! I am way out in the country so did not have luck . There is a giant furnace place that gets everyone’s chips. There is an option to pay for a drop, which makes you go ahead of people if you want . Take a look.


  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio

    Summersrhythm, I do not know, since I've never used it in a flower bed. Roses do need some iron, but just like with humans, too much is likely toxic, which is how it works on weeds in a lawn. I would be very careful to not get it onto the roses. It is much stronger in iron than an iron containing fertilizer like Ironite.

    I bought mine at Gardens Alive (you could ask them about use in a flower bed). Both Bayer and Ortho make similar products. Look for Fe HEDTA (iron HEDTA) as the active ingredient.

  • summersrhythm_z6a

    Thanks Lily and Raee! The weeds in the rose beds were taller than my roses at one time, my neighbors thought I quit gardening. Lol Will take better control this coming season.

  • vaporvac

    I hope we've all been there summers! : ) Mine seem to shoot up over night! : (

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio

    Oh yeah, I generally don't have to do a lot of weeding due to good mulching, but this past summer I would be walking around the yard thinking I was caught up for a while then would spot a 5 foot tall weed!

  • vaporvac

    Gardening keeps you humble, that's for sure! ; )

  • chris209 (LI, NY Z7a)

    We get the free mulch also from local tree trimmer/removal companies. At least in our town, they have to pay a fee to drop it at the landfill, so they are more than happy to deliver it at our house and keep the extra money.

  • Karen R. (9B SF Bay Area)

    I have a lot of bermuda grass around my roses. Way too much to kill out, and I won't use chemicals. After I plant, I manually keep up with above ground growth of about a 3' diameter around the rose. The rest, I just use a weed-eater. Been many years like this, and the roses do fine.

  • erasmus_gw

    I have been using a rechargeable Worxx weedeater for a couple of years now and like it a lot.

  • vaporvac

    Karen and erasmus, thank you. Maybe I'll try that for the immediate problem and cardboard to get rid of it all longer term. I think If I can dig a deep angle trench around the perimeter, I can keep new grass entering and can focus on just killing the grass in the beds. That's doable in the spring.

  • philipatx

    Not all grasses are the same, and Bermuda is probably one of the worst do deal with. (Our city promotes its use because it is cheap from seed, drought tolerant, will survive a nuclear bomb, etc... By the same logic, they should promote Cockroaches as house pets.)

    I hate Bermuda grass, in case you didn't figure that out.

    You are in a dry climate, and Bermuda grass runners can (and probably will) be over 8 inches deep where they are well protected from drought and heat extremes (including some of the treatments described above). They can run for several feet undetected before popping up and populating a new location in your garden -- in my case, among the cacti and agaves. (You haven't lived as a TX gardener until you've tried to extricate Bermuda grass from your agave bed... Extra points if fire ants are involved...)

    I hate to say it, but physical removal followed up with judicious applications of herbicide on stragglers that reveal themselves will probably be your best option. I have succeeded in completely eliminating the stuff inside of a year that way, but the bed preparation was pretty back-breaking.

    I don't recommend *spraying* herbicide. Get a cheap foam brush and paint the offending stragglers so as to avoid any overspray that might otherwise affect your garden, and make sure you have a deep physical barrier b/w the lawn and your flower beds. Bermuda is ruthless. Stay after it, and don't let it get ahead of you once you have your flowers down.

  • flowersaremusic z5 Inland NW

    Google Free Mulch and you will find there are tree trimmers, both private, and those with the power co., who would gladly dump all that mulch at your house rather than pay the city dump. They have to dispose of it somewhere,

    When you see the city tree trimming trucks trimming branches and limbs away from power lines, you can approach them and ask if they will bring it to your house.

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