I've traded the last week of my gardening life (and probably the last cooler temperatures we'll see until September or October) for a weed-free front lawn. As I sat on my hiney for 30 hours, more or less, carefully pulling out the crabgrass and other invaders, I had plenty of time to wonder if I'm truly just a crazy Luddite - or if I'm doing the environment (and us) a huge favor by handling a perceived problem the low-tech, non-chemical way.
Scene: The front lawn, where the goal is a carpet of buffalograss.
The center of the lawn was plugged 2 summers ago during late July and early August, with half dead plugs of buffalo grass. It has filled in nicely, but it still had some crabgrass and prostrate spurge that managed to come through this summer, probably at least in part because Greg had mowed it very low this spring to help it green up more rapidly.
Along the edges and between the lower flower bed and the main body of the lawn, where there had been remnants of the old mix of fescue, Bermuda grass, and weeds, Greg added more buffalo grass plugs this spring, so those areas had lots of open soil this spring that had filled in thickly with weeds since then.
(Important note: The back lawn, which was the first area we plugged two summers ago, is looking great and needs almost no weeding at all this summer.)
Conundrum the First:
The standard way to manage a buffalo grass lawn after plugging is simply to mow it regularly at about 2" height. Slowly, as the buffalo grass fills in, fewer and fewer weeds will germinate; those that do germinate will be chopped off and stressed, allowing the buffalo grass to continue getting thicker each year. We could certainly do that, but I wanted a weed free lawn faster than that. Greg really wanted a weed free lawn too.
Conundrum the Second:
Why, in heaven's name, do I care about having a weed free lawn? I've never worried about it before. Mulling over this question, I realized I want to be able to choose not to mow the lawn at all, during the summer, because I love the soft, fluffy look that a buffalo grass lawn gets without mowing. However, ANY weed shows up starkly in that situation, because the weed is almost invariably taller, stiffer, and/or a wildly different color of green than the softly undulating, gray green of the buffalo grass..
Also of significance regarding this question of weeding, my weeding mantra ("One year of seed, 7 years of weed") kept running through my brain. Any crabgrass or other weed that I allowed to seed into the lawn this summer would simply mean more weeds germinating in future years.
Conundrum the Third:
Why not judiciously use an herbicide? Although buffalo grass is notoriously sensitive to herbicides, there are a few that are labeled for it, and Greg keeps reminding me that "antibiotics" are occasionally necessary and useful. But I just can't bring myself to use the darn things except against plants such as poison ivy - it would be too easy for me to keep justifying the tradeoff as far as time goes, probably leading me to a quick and rapid slide down a very slippery slope. I also knew, though, that Greg would have no such qualms - and therefore I also wanted to give him his weed free lawn before he took matters into his own hands!
So, despite my periodic plunges into feelings of total ridiculousness over spending so much time WEEDING GRASS, for Pete's sake, I kept at it - and I am happy to report that the front lawn is now weed free (or, at least, as weed free as it's going to get this summer) and gracefully descending into dormancy as the heat and drought of another prairie summer take hold.
Ironically, I have no pretty pictures to share with you of my newly pristine lawn. Did you catch the part about the lawn descending into dormancy? That means that the photos I took this morning make the look dead - not the sort of image that inspires. In person, the health and vibrancy of the lawn is obvious. In a photo (at least, in MY photos), not so much. So I'll share pictures after the next good rain, when the returns to its soft, gray-green beauty.
A final thought: I'm not sure that buffalo grass is a good option for most American yards these days. The cultural fixation on vivid green, crew cut carpets in front of each home - weed free and, often, actually maintained by a mow, blow & go crew - is simply not in sync with a buffalo grass lawn. I can't imagine anyone else in this country being as...stupid?...stubborn?...dogmatic? as I've been to hand weed even a tiny area of lawn, and I can't imagine anyone in this country willingly and knowingly accepting a lawn that isn't weed-free from the get-go. So, while I love our soft carpet of buffalo grass lawn, I can't really recommend it for others without pointing out its serious (to the typical American gardener/homeowner) limitations.
That said, I'm going to be thoroughly enjoying our soft, gray-green carpet of grass for the rest of the summer without feeling the need to mow or fertilize it and rarely feeling the need to water it. I'm really glad that we made the switch to buffalo grass. It was definitely the right decision for us.