Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And then we built a giant litter box

I've been plotting what to do with the left side of the front yard, under the dogwood tree.

And by "I've been plotting" I mean that I emailed Scott and asked him if he'd design a grass/meadowscape for me. And because he is awesome, he agreed. He drew up an incredible plan that incorporated drought tolerant grasses and wildflowers, all in the color scheme I wanted. And then he gave me a bunch of seedlings. And now Greg is concerned because I natter on about Scott all the time. And Scott will probably stop answering my emails after reading this, because I'm bordering on swimfanning here.

Thank goodness I never got an itch to plant this side of the yard before because I was reading a recent issue of Fine Gardening and they mentioned that dogwoods have shallow root systems that resent being disturbed. I won't be able to use a sod cutter, sadly. I'll have to move more slowly than I'd like, slowly smothering the lawn and using very small plants so I don't cause any damage to my 75 year old tree.

I started with the area outside the drip line, where we'd had our giant dirt pile all spring:

It was weedy but still mostly clear of sod. I worked with my half moon edger (that Greg sharpened with his Dremel tool) for an hour or so and made slow progress.

Then Greg came out with the pickax and cleared the whole area in about 15 minutes while I fretted, "Watch for roots!"

We ran into one tiny root so I didn't worry too much about piling the mulch on comically high.

Next Scott and I are going to make a trip to Wind Dancer and do some shopping, then I'll have to carefully start to smother another section of the lawn. I was going to use a method described here where you use 8" of wood chips to smother the sod. It's supposed to be more effective than smothering with cardboard and it supposedly maintains better soil health, BUT. What do I do with all those wood chips afterward? I don't want wood chips in my landscape. I supppose I could keep moving them around as I smother new parts of the lawn but that seems like a pain in the ass.

Any input from anybody who has removed sod under a fussy tree would be welcome.

In the meantime we're enjoying our giant cat toilet.


  1. When we smothered our front lawn, we did 2-3 sheets of newspaper with 3-4" of mulch on top. It definitely sunk down with rain, so it didn't stand up as comically high as I had feared (our lawn was already more than a few inches above the sidewalk and I had visions of this hilariously awkward foot-high garden). As it is, it's probably about 3-4" higher than the sidewalk now, but I'm okay with that since I can do creepers/trailers around the edges. Anyway, this method smothered our lawn extremely well, but it did not disturb any of the (really, really resilient) roots from our two maple trees (one silver, one red). Every time I plant something - and I mean EVERY DANG TIME - I run into roots. Usually they're really small roots, but they're there and require my root saw to get through them if I have to (often I just scootch them over) (I'm sure professional gardeners will be horrified at this, but I am lazy). Anyway, no experience with fussy trees, but hopefully this info is encouraging at the very least.

  2. Hahahahaha...I love it...you may be the first garden blogger I've ever seen who worked in a Swimfan reference ;-) Seriously, it was an honor to be asked for my humble little opinion...especially since the rest of your garden looks so lovely already!

    You were so smart to research the trees roots. When I was digging the last little bit of the north hell-strips this spring, as I got up near our 3-year old Persian Ironwoods, I ran into a total tangle of roots. I kind of panicked for a second! Seriously, this was the first year they actually started to look like real TREES...not just sad sticks with a few leaves all Charlie Brown Christmas'd on top. I was sure I had damaged it forever and would get reprimanded by the Friends of Trees Tribunal. Luckily, the tree seems fine...but at least worrying about the tree kept me distracted from worrying about something else :-)

    Oh...and that sidelight is D I V I N E !

  3. I think your plan is going to look killer all lit up! I can't wait to go shopping. And I'm so envious of your Persian Ironwoods--they are so beautiful.

  4. I think this would definitely work, I'd just have to do very small sections so I don't deprive the tree of air. Of course, maples are on the same list as dogwoods, so maybe I'm being overly cautious.

  5. Thanks for all the giggles. And thanks for the info about the dogwood being fussy. I have an old dogwood too that came down with a slight case of anthracnose this Spring and now I'm trying to figure out the best way to landscape around it for next year. I wanted to do a gravel patio and some lush plantings around the perimeter but I'm really worried about disturbing it or creating too damp of an atmosphere and it sounds like my worry was well-founded. I'll try to get a look at that Fine Gardening.

  6. You are accomplishing so much this year. What are you doing for the rest of your gardening life?

  7. Here's the article: http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/planting-under-a-tree.aspx It was from Issue 105. Be sure to post whatever you do so we can commiserate. :)

  8. Oh, haha! Maybe I've been overly cavalier about the maples?

  9. If you fill it with (insert the name of any soft, crumbly, semi-dry substance here) they will come. You will correctly gather that means I am VERY tired of cleaning up my neighbor's cat s**t in my garden. Glad you're being careful with your dogwood. They are fragile and touchy, but SO beautiful!