The Q&A Archives: Hard Soil And Weeds

Question: I have an 8x10 area next to the house between the walkway that is hard soil, lots of cement close to the foundation and many different grasses and weeds growing. There is also a plumbing pipe exposed and the dirt around it is sunken some.

I bought 10 bags of topsoil and mulch but don't know where to start. How do I remove the grass and keep it from growing back? Do I plant the flowers and then add the topsoil or put the top soil and then plant?

I envision this area as a place for a bench and some stepping stones and maybe some ground cover or some rose bushes. Help!

Answer: If the existing soil is too compacted to till or dig up with a shovel, it won't be hospitable to any but the toughest plants -- most of which are "weeds." I'm afraid that if you simply top off the area with an inch or two of soil, the existing weeds will pop right through, and any new plants you put in will have very shallow root systems because they won't venture into the compacted sub-soil.

Ideally, you should dig up the area and incorporate organic matter such as compost to improve drainage. If this isn't feasible, you might want to create some raised beds, using stones or wood to create mini retaining walls. Then fill these with at least 8" of good topsoil. (This will take quite a bit of topsoil, however -- most likely more than the 10 bags you have now.)

If this isn't an option, then I'd go with containers. A few large, well-maintained containers will create a nice setting. If you don't like the scraggly, weedy area, consider laying down some cardboard or newspapers and covering the area with mulch. Then place the containers and your bench on the mulch and enjoy.

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