Monday, April 30, 2007

Ornamental grasses

This weekend, in the garden, I learned the hard way the meaning of the word "invasive". About 3 years ago, I planted a small pot each of Miscanthus sinensis, and Phalaris, or Ribbon Grass. Both of them are invasive, it turns out, and they've spent the past 3 years fighting it out over a patch of ground at the side of the steps down to the garden. They're both pretty, especially the big tall Miscanthus - it produces these tall white plumes which stay in the garden all winter, waving in the breeze. The way it's worked out is the smaller Ribbon Grass pokes out first in the spring, and then the Miscanthus takes over and hides everything else. But it hasn't succeeded in killing the Ribbon Grass. Yesterday I decided they both had to go - they've spread from 2 little pots to cover about 15 square feet, and no end in sight!

First, I went at the area with the rototiller, but soon I discovered that the planting area is also where one of the underground sprinkler hoses is installed, so I couldn't keep using the machine without the danger of severing the sprinkler line. So it was time to sit down on the ground with a hand trowel and start digging it up by hand. I worked all day, and finally quit when I was too tired to go on - there's still a few feet left to go. The roots were so mashed together, I had to stab them with the trowel to try to sever them in order to pull a bit out. One of them (I think it's the Ribbon Grass) has a long underground root system with joints, kind of like a foxtail weed, and out of each joint, a new sprig of grass can grow. Everywhere I looked, I could see these pinkish fangs of grass poking out, ready to leap into action. Good thing I started now, until they'd been able to sink more roots down. In the midst of all this tangle of grass, a delphinium had managed to take hold, against all odds, so I had to try to remove the roots without disturbing it. It must be pretty hardy to have held out against all this bossy competition, so I think it will be OK.

I'd have liked to keep a little of the Miscanthus, it's so pretty, but logically I realize that I'd just end up doing this all over again in a few years' time. I know just pulling them out won't be enough, either; the way these plants work, if you leave a little scrap of root in the ground, it will regenerate and put up another plant, so I'll probably be hunting these things down for a long time. Once summer comes, if things are desperate, I can give them a good blast of RoundUp and kill them that way, but I prefer to avoid the chemicals if possible.

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