Posts Tagged With: japanese beetles

The Dandelion Disaster (or, My Front Yard)

As an organic gardener, I find that lawn care rates way down on my list of fun garden tasks. Sure, lawns make a great spot for playing, and they serves as a restful counterpoint to flower-filled beds. They're worth having, in the right place. But lawns as practiced by most Americans–perfect green turf, untouched by flowers or weeds–are completely unnatural. Mama Nature does not like monoculture. She's all for a a fine mix of species, each fulfilling their part in the ecosystem.
And dandelions (along with other weeds) are nature's way of preparing the soil for more substantial plant life. Ever wonder why dandelions have those long taproots from hell? It's so they can pull nutrients up from deep in the soil. Weeds thrive in spots with bare, compacted, or depleted soil because they're adapted to survive there. They pull up the nutrients, die off, and return the nutrients to the top layer of the soil. Over time, that prepares the soil to support other plant life–grasses, tress, flowers, or what have you.
So what's this got to do with my lawn, you ask? Well, my lawn's a bit patchy, which means that the dandelions loooove it. I've never been one for the perfect lawn; I'd far rather spend my time weeding flower beds, pruning, and speaking gently to my tomato plants. 
But I do want my front yard to be presentable (although my standards for a presentable lawn are considerably lower than my neighbors'). My lawn is full of clover (good for returning nitrogen to the soil, stays green all the time, doesn't get very tall), a couple of kinds of grass (which gives a really weird green-and-brown marbling effect in the winter, when the warm-season grasses die off), and violets, which I like for their flowers. Even a few dandelions are ok. The problem with the dandelions is that they grow so much faster and taller than everything around them, making it even more obvious when I've shirked mowing.
And as an organic gardener, I'm not going to pour chemicals on my lawn to create a perfect green turf I'd be afraid to let the neighbor kid play on. Which means that my dandelion control of choice is hand-weeding. The front yard's only about 40' x 30', so hand weeding is possible, although tedious. I spent about two hours weeding with my trusty hori-hori knife this week, and I'd say I got about 90% of them. I dug them out, trying to get as much of the taproot as possible. I followed up by applying corn gluten, a natural corn byproduct that inhibits germination. The corn gluten will prevent the seeds that will inevitably float into my yard from taking root. 
In the process, I gave myself a huge fat blister on my right palm. I look like I'm working on a stigmata.
Other current front-yard products include applying milky spore to target those damn Japanese beetles that keep detroying my roses. Normally I have a live-and-let live philosophy when it comes to pests. I figure if enough of them show up, a predator will also arrive for an all-you-can-eat buffet. But the Japanese beetles don't have any natural enemies here, and hand-picking them off my plants isn't cutting it. Milky spore is a natural bacteria that targets the grubs. Over a couple of years, it kills of the grubs in the soil, reducing the beetle population and improving the lawn whose roots the grubs have been feasting on. 
And finally, I'm digging up one of the hell strips to prepare it for planting. If I had thought ahead, I would have smothered the grass there with newspaper and mulch last fall, which would kill the grass and ease up the digging in spring. I did not think ahead, however, so I'm stuck stripping the sod by hand, a torturous process that always takes three times as long as I think it will. I only managed to strip about one third of my 16' x 8' strip in a couple of hours. On the upside, by taking it slower, I was actually able to walk the next day.
Updates as they occur.

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