September 8, 2008

Homeowner Kills Weeds With Tarp

By JULIE H. MANN For the Maryland Gazette

Many homeowners wage rigorous chemical warfare on weeds, applying regular doses of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides.

They do it to eliminate grubs, crabgrass, wiregrass, spurge, chickweed, and clover.

Not Wendy Osborn.

The longtime Severna Park gardener decided last year to invest in a radical approach. She went green, using passive solar power, plastic and patience to rid her family's lawn of pesky weeds.

Surprising their neighbors in Chartwell, Mrs. Osborn and her husband, Mike, swathed their front lawn in an expanse of heavy- gauge black polyvinyl chloride tarp.

From the street to the front steps of their white two-story Colonial house, the Osborns' once weedy lawn vanished under a black tarp last August, during a severe drought.

Heavy slabs of slate and chunks of rock anchored the yards of thick black plastic.

Through last year's hot, dry autumn, and 2008's mild winter, rainy spring, and average summer, the tarp deprived the Osborns' lawn of water, sunlight and nutrients.

Powerful heat and darkness killed the weeds.

"I wanted to use a greener approach," Mrs. Osborn said.

She tried it successfully before, in the back yard. "We did apply a small amount of herbicide, to get things started," she said. "Bermuda grass, or wire grass, is extremely hardy. You pull it, and think you've got it all, but its roots are extremely long and deep. ... It has to be smothered to really go away."

The black tarp dries weeds to a crisp. Then they decompose, leaving behind clean-looking soil. The obvious drawback is looking at the tarp for three or four seasons.

"I'm sure the neighbors will be very glad to see the tarp go away, since we've had it on the lawn for a year," Mrs. Osborn said.

She checked on the ground recently, and was pleased that it looked rich and fertile, with nary a weed or blade of grass in sight. Weeds have a powerful ability to regenerate, even under harsh conditions. "Within three weeks of removing the tarp the first time, weeds sprouted," Mrs. Osborn said. "So we had to put it back for a little longer. Then it was effective."

For the front yard, the Osborns will install a sprinkler system and sod, rather than seeding the lawn.

Because water is a precious resource, she said that sprinklers on timers are more conservative than watering with hoses. "Everybody wants a beautiful lawn, but I wanted to achieve it without loading the ground with excess chemicals."

She and family members recently designed and installed a paved walkway, and islands of drought-tolerant plantings in their sunny front yard.

"It's been fascinating to see what we could do with a passive weed killing system," Mrs. Osborn said. "Going green has been a lot less work than spending all that time and money using chemicals." {Corrections:} {Status:}


(c) 2008 Maryland Gazette. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.