Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Next step in sucking less

Although, according to the dog, we definitely suck MORE.

When last we saw my front yard, it was looking like I'd taken to planting sod while drinking my 13th cocktail because WHOOPSY the lawn had been flipped over.

Thankfully, I meant to do that. And, thankfully, I rarely drink 13 cocktails in one sitting because - yarf.

The next thing to do, once the grass plugs showed up, was to tarp, mulch and plant the yard with the new less water sucking meadow grass and wildflowers.

And while that may all fit nice and neatly into one little sentence there, the process was nothing quite so little. Or nice. Especially when you consider how fucking hot it was in NorCal this past weekend. And if you consider that I first ran six miles (yay! Short taper distance!) and afterward I had a bachelorette party (not mine obviously) waiting for me.

I knew the exhaustion was going to be extreme. Which is why I was sort of hoping that High Country Gardens, the folks from whom I purchased my 210 (!) grass plugs, would have lame shipping practices that would result in the plugs not showing up until Monday. So that I could spend Saturday preparing for a night of binge drinking by methodically lining my stomach with mashed potatoes, dinner rolls or something equally absorbent.

But no. They're reliable over there at HCG, and when you say, "I want my stuff to ship on 9/21." It arrives the Friday of that week, just in time to be planted on the weekend and before it can totally die in the box because you're too busy working or taking the dog to the beach to do serious work like planting a meadow in your front yard like you would be if it showed up on the Monday you were secretly hoping for.

You understand - I'm lazy and I procrastinate. I was hoping their shipping methods would support these character flaws of mine. But they did not. Which, in hind sight, is a good thing since this time it would have meant a big box of dead grass and a bunch of money down the toi.

Anyway. Enough about my laziness.

Inspired by Knittah's recent comments, I'm going to press on in a sort of How To-sy way. And I'll try to add helpful nuggets in there as we go, but if I miss something, leave a comment and I'll try to answer your question if I know the answer. Which I might not.

And on that note, of not knowing everything (shhh! don't tell!), I also don't know everything about planting a xeric meadow, even though this series of posts may lead you to believe that I do, what with the numbered lists and all, but let me make it clear that I've never done this before and don't know if it'll take so just know that I'm not saying this is The Way to do this, but rather just the way *I* am doing this, so follow my How-To at your own risk. Personally, I'm optimistic about the results.


To introduce some sort of meaning to my How-To, you'll recall that steps 1 (cut up the sod) and 2 (flip it over) were covered in a previous post in which Bubba was nearly swallowed whole by a sod cutter.

For Step 3, then: Tarp the yard

I'd say "weedblock" or "Weedblock" or "landscape fabric" or whatever, other than "tarp", here, but the fact is that you can use most tarp-like materials to perform the function of blocking out weeds and you don't need me telling you which brand or type of material to use. Also, I'm not a shill for these products and merchants I mention and I don't want you thinking I am and then being all pissed when your "Weedblock" gets a tear just because you stepped on it when it was stretched tight and now you have to cover that hole with more tear-happy "Weedblock".

Not that this has necessarily happened to me. One hundred times.

Anyway - the point here is that once you've cut the sod and turned it over so that the decomposing grass can provide a nice compost for your new plugs, you should still tarp it to keep other weeds from invading your meadow and choking out your precious meadow grass plugs. Because I hear that this can happen. And I don't want any part of it.

Also know that when I say, "you", I mean "me", but it always comes out that way.

Step 4: Get some mulch and then go for a run while Bubba unloads it onto the tarp.

This came from Mountain View Garden Center and is just thin gorilla hair mulch.

Technically, you can be a good wife and unload it from the back of the truck because he was so nice to go pick it up during the week, which involved him shoveling it into the bed of the truck while wearing his nice work clothes and shoes, but you don't have to is what I'm saying.

You can just go for your run and then come home and rake it out, making sure that he makes note of how you just ran six miles and are totally awesome for immediately putting on your work clothes and getting down to business.

And, I will say this about Bubba, he's always the first to give me credit for doing anything remotely helpful. In fact, sometimes I think he may give me *too* much credit, but let's not go spreading that around.

Step 5: Water the mulch

We've capped the sprinklers, so are using this hose stand sprinkler thingee in the mean time. It's fine.

Now, this step, and the future ones where I tell you to water things, may seem counter-intuitive to the whole "suck less water" idea, but to get these guys established, I'm told that they will need to be watered at the outset. For root establishment and what not, so just do it and then hope to hell that they do establish and grow because if they don't we'll all look a little stupid for ignoring blatant instructions.

For now though, just water the mulch. This will help it mat together and be less fluffy so that when you go to plant, you don't have to wade through quite as much mulch to get down to the tarp and dirt. Plus, less will end up in your nose and I know you'll appreciate this as much as I do.

I do not enjoy mulch splinters in my nostrils.

Step 6: Distribute the grass plugs

Go ahead and say they're "SO CUTE!" because everyone else did.

Now, if this were, say, six years ago and I was still in that phase of my life where I didn't think two minutes ahead into the future, I would have just sat down at one corner of the yard with the box of plugs and started planting away. And not until I'd gotten, say, 3/4 of the yard planted would I realize that WHOOPSY I'd been planting the plugs too close together and SHITSHITSHIT had run out of plugs altogether.

Then there'd be some pretty elaborate swearing and either some mad cap unplanting and replanting or a race to the internet to order more plugs.

Thankfully, this is not six years ago and instead of engaging in that back-in-the-day-of-Finny madness I instead thought five minutes into the future (see mom, I AM growing up) and took one flat of plugs at a time (each flat has 70 plugs) and started dropping them at random but evenly dispersed intervals beginning at the far corner.

And don't you just know that the side of the yard at which I started was much more densely populated with tiny grassy plugs than the side of the yard at which I finished. And then all I had to do was grab a few from one side and toss them over to the other side in a way that was still random but less congested so we wouldn't have any unseemly bald spots in the event that the grass actually grew in right.

WOO! I learned from past mistakes! I'm growing as a person!

Step 7: Make dip

Not Hidden Valley, but still good.

Don't be ashamed if, at this point, you'd rather go inside and make some ranch dip and sit on the porch eating it with a big bag of potato chips, because I was right there with you. All this prep work is monotonous and, with all your neighbors standing around watching you organize fluffy grass poofs in your front yard, one can get a little self-conscious and feel like retreating into a big bowl of Leave Me Alone With My Craziness, but stay with me.

This dip is for the plugs. I hear it helps keep the plugs from drying out when you plant them and helps them establish sooner so that you don't have to wait forever and a day for your meadow to prove to your neighbors that you're not a total hippie loon.

This dip is a creepy thing though, let it be known. I added the recommended 1 ounce of dip to the recommended 4-5 gallons of water in my super old ass bucket with the broken handle grip and watched in grotesque amazement as this shit congealed into a spooky mass of dirty Jell-O.

Note that the dirt was already in the bucket and I don't believe it hurt anything.

Step 8: Scratch the plugs

Now, I forgot to take a photo of this process, but let me describe it to you.

See, each plug is like a tiny plant you might buy at the nursery. So when you take it out of the tray, it's got a mat of roots at the base, just like you'd find on your average 4" petunia seedling.

What you want to do here (and thanks to my garden savvy neighbor for reminding us of the crucial importance of this step) is "scratch" or cut the base of this mat off and "scratch" or slice down the sides of the root ball so that you have an open frayed end on your seedling - still holding onto some soil - but not all bound up in there with no hope to grow.

You can do this on all your plugs ahead of time to save a step at planting time, or, if you're like me, you can enlist the help of your Scratch Happy husband to do this while you start planting so that all the plugs are scratched by the time you reach them with your trowel with the intention of dipping and planting them.

We found that a standard box cutter worked really well for this. Just don't try to catch a flight afterward, ifyaknowwhatImean.

Step 9: Commence to planting

With your dip all jiggly and waiting (PORNO GARDENING ALERT), grab your pointiest trowel and get to work, already.

Goes like this:

Dig a hole
UPDATE: punching through the landscape fabric with your pointy trowel and planting the plug in the soil below.
Dip the plug
Plant the plug

Bubba and I did that 210 times in the course of about two hours. It was monotonous and it was blazing hot outside and the neighbors kept coming over with their kids to tell us how we could be doing it better, but in the end it got done and Bubba and I still speak to each other even though I had to make a sudden escape to the backyard when the neighborhood boy began telling me how we should be watering our "lawn" and wouldn't be satisfied with the explanation that this wasn't going to need to be watered for much longer but thanks for your help, buddy, and hey isn't your dad calling you?

I'll say it now, I have no patience for children and I have a really hard time hiding it. I'm sorry you had to learn about it this way.

Step 10: Survey your greatness while watering your new future meadow

Like I said before, there is watering involved in this process even though the desired end result is no watering at all.

So, now that your plugs are tucked into their own individual holes with goopy greatness covering their tender roots, you must water. And water good.

And if you know what song is going through my head right now because of that last statement, I'm glad you and I can be crazy together.

By this time it was mighty hot and I was jealous of the grass playing in the sprinklers.

Anyway, we watered (or, to be honest, Bubba watered while he shooed me off to the shower because he knew I felt nasty and really wanted to shower but was feeling guilty leaving him to water my future meadow) each individual plant and the overall future meadow until it was pretty well soaked and then, in the evening (and each with a cocktail) we did it again.

And then on Sunday, when I was in a hot rage thanks to Brett Favre and his old man football antics (RETIRE ALREADY DAMN YOU), we went out and watered again if only so that Bubba could introduce some comic relief into my life by surreptitiously watering my shoes/feet/legs/hair while pretending to water the future meadow.

He knows when I need a laugh and WOW did I need a laugh at that point. And no drinks because YAY I was hungover from the aforementioned bachelorette party and was nursing a swift little headache.

Freshly watered and ready to grow. Or so I hope.

Step 11: Wait and meanwhile order some bulbs

My plan is to randomly plant some wildflower bulbs in and amongst this meadow grass so that maybe one day it will look something like a mini meadow out there, so while this stuff decides whether it's going to live or die, I ordered a lot of wildflower bulbs.

Because shopping is the best medicine when you're worried that your big gardening bet isn't going to pay off and you might have just made a very public ass of yourself, so better to cover it with flowers.

I got some wildflower bulbs and I'm happy to say that I have managed to create a big old project for myself to dread because when these many bags of bulbs arrive I will be out in that yard for many hours getting them all planted.

But that's OK. It will give me time to talk to each seedling and remind them that they should grow big and strong and not make me look like a loser. Even though I will then look like a big freak for talking to my plants.

Take the good with the bad, I guess.


  1. What a great post and a brilliant idea. I've been lurking with intent over the last few months and have been inspired to think about running. Although not to the extent of actually doing any. The garden should be great and what a wonderful idea to actually suit the climate and cut down on watering :) Keep up the good work!

  2. I love this. You got me exploring the High Country Gardens website and daydreaming about doing something like this in our yard in Tennessee. Looking forward to following the progress of your lawn as it grows.

  3. If you were singing altered Devo songs in your head by the end, I would say the sun maybe fried your brain.

    I would never do this. Not enough patience. With kids or grass plugs. Good for you for keepin' on.

  4. Water! Water Good!

    But Finny, did you wear one of those cute Devo hats? Maybe you will need to whip the plugs?

    And look at it this way, if the meadow doesn't grow you can always have the yard re-sod. *ducks*

  5. I get all of this except the landscape cloth part... while keeping weeds from growing up into your meadow doesn't it also keep your grass from growing down into the ground? I've done something similar to this in the past (smaller scale using the lasgna method of ground prep) which disuaded me from a larger project. Kudos on your efforts.

  6. Crafty - Welcome! Yes. I look forward to this no water meadow. But not as much as I look forward to having this race behind me. When you start running, watch out for the "Race Bug". It catches as soon as you can run two consecutive miles, I've found. And then you're hooked forever!

    Suzy - Do it! I love that website. Although - BEWARE - it's highly addictive. And when you're on their email list, you'll get these irresistable deals like 2 for 1 wildflowers. I know.

    Kris - Had I realized how much work this was, I might not have done it either. But, I got ahead of myself ordering stuff and couldn't NOT plant them once they arrived. Waste is not something I do.

    Knittah - No whipping plugs - more like they whipped me. I was fried after all of that work. There will be no re-sodding. I decided that wherever they don't *take*, I will just plant more bulbs or other plants. It will be highly random. AND NO SOD. Funny lady.

    Alice - Actually, I should have noted that with the landscape fabric you dig *through* the weedblock when you plant the plugs. Which is why using your pointiest trowel is key. Just punch through the fabric and dig the hole. I'll add an update - good call!

    This keeps weeds down and plants up :)

  7. So, your garden is like Jon Gosselin's head? But not so dooshbagy?


[2013 update: You can't comment as an anonymous person anymore. Too many douchebags were leaving bullshit SPAM comments and my inbox was getting flooded, but if you're here to comment in a real way like a real person, go to it.]

Look at you commenting, that's fun.

So, here's the thing with commenting, unless you have an email address associated with your own profile, your comment will still post, but I won't have an email address with which to reply to you personally.

Sucks, right?

Anyway, to remedy this, I usually come back to my posts and post replies in the comment field with you.

But, if you ever want to email me directly to talk about pumpkins or shoes or what it's like to spend a good part of your day Swiffering - shoot me an email to finnyknitsATgmailDOTcom.