I am going to be honest. The project to replace some measure of my lawn with perennial landscaping has been a task that I have put off for years. Why?
It is freaking hard work. With the temperatures in Iowa hovering around ninety degrees the past couple of weeks and humidity to match it did not bode well for making progress. However, the drought-like conditions in my region have made me look at my lawn in a different light. Watching the grass go from green to a yellow green and some patches turn a desiccated brown will make anyone rethink their landscaping approach.
This particular chunk of my yard is a mess. To say that the soil conditions are challenging would be an understatement. The top layer, which was put down with the sod that came when the house was built, only goes down a few inches before reaching a compacted layer of sand. The top layer is also rock hard even when there is moisture falling from the sky. I have watched water just flow across the grass without percolating into the soil in moderate storms. Ugh.
In some locations the compacted sand is also nearly rock hard. Like break it up with a mattock hard. Needless to say, grass was never going to thrive in this kind of soil let alone under drought conditions. It has always seemed like the perfect place to build a large pollinator retreat.
Sod busting is no easy task. I cannot imagine what it would take to break through soil that had feet of roots, but even a few inches of twisted grass roots makes for tough sledding. In the following picture you can see the pile of sod chunks that I have accumulated over the past couple of years of building mulched beds around my yard.
With the grass taken out I needed to amend the soil so that it would hold some moisture and actually provide nutrients. A haphazard mix of peat moss, composted manure, top soil, and vermiculite was worked into the soil prior to planting. This is similar to what I have worked into other planting beds and it seems to do the trick with sandy soil. As the yard dries out you can see the grass near the mulched beds stays greener longer due to the soil nearby actually holding moisture. With climate change taking hold and our weather getting more unpredictable the ability of your landscape to endure dry periods will become increasingly critical.
Planting is the fun part. Mid-July must be the time of year that our local garden centers decide to discount plants because I found sales all over town. The first batch of twelve plants in this bed included six Blue Steel Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Steel’) and six Little Goldstar rudbeckia (rudbeckia fulgia ‘Little Goldstar’):
Both of these perennials are drought tolerant and adored by pollinators. The Russian sage plants had bees all over them at the garden center. That is a good sign.
Also, in the picture above you can see how mangy the grass is in this section of my yard. This is probably the best this section has looked in years. There are no tears being shed at its removal.
A lot of shredded cypress mulch was laid down to keep the moisture in the soil and keep the weeds at bay. This section of the yard is like a crabgrass nursery, so I will need to come through and conduct some cultural controls. Otherwise known as weeding.
Part two to follow soon.