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How to Get Rid of Bermuda Grass

Establishing a backyard garden in this part of the world means dealing with Bermuda grass. As a novice gardener I once tried to use an organic herbicide meant for Burmuda and other invasive grasses. After a heavy dose of this spray the grass just looked at me and laughed. That's when I knew I was in for a real challenge.

In the years since I've been tried to find earth-friendly ways to get rid of Bermuda grass. I tilled, it came back with a vengeance. Pulling by hand worked but the runners that Bermuda uses to spread always came back into the garden within a month. The larger my garden got, the more time it took to fight. Clearly I had to find a permanent solution. I actually found two:

1. Cardboard and mulch: Cardboard has been a saving grace in the garden. In the three summer  seasons I've lived here, I have done two garden expansions with cardboard and mulch. I haven't used anything else, and I certainly haven't used any chemicals. I expanded 50 x 25' to 50 x 84' using cardboard and mulch.

2. Digging by hand: It's as much fun as it sounds. Basically, I use a combination of double digging and trenching to dig up all Bermuda grass and its roots. The key here is digging and maintaining a trench around the garden where grass grows to keep runners from getting into the garden. I started experimenting with this method last year and have been surprised at how well it works. I've had virtually no problems with Bermuda grass getting into the adjacent garden. It can't leap over the trench and as long as the trench stays at least 4" deep, the shallow roots do not spread below that depth. Here is the trenching method I'm using:

  • With an edging tool, I go along the outside edge of my new garden space. The edging tool goes about 6" deep.
  • In the area that I'm converting to garden space, I loosen the soil with a small garden shovel, again about 6" deep. 
  • I pull up the clumps and remove all grass (including the roots!) and put grass and roots in a large container to dry out. Once it's dry it goes into compost, but I make sure it's good and dead. If it has seed heads, trash or burn it. 
  • A hand cultivator is the perfect tool for loosening soil to get to stubborn roots. My favorite is this one from Corona Tools. The forked end works to get roots while the flat edge is useful for getting a super sharp trench edge.
  • I pile all my soil in the bed while leaving about a 4" wide trench. We end up with a nice, loose, deep bed of soil. 
  • To maintain my trench, I go over it with the flat side of a hoe and move any soil from the trench back into the bed. It takes a few minutes and I only have to do it about twice a year. So much easier than fighting back Bermuda grass!
Bermuda grass grows in full sun areas, so everywhere that requires Bermuda removal is a great place for full sun crops including herbs, flowers, and veggies. It's an excellent trade: Bermuda grass for beneficial plants.

New edged bed.

Having a shallow trench keeps Bermuda grass at bay

Basic trench edge.

Front: A new expansion Back: Last years bed

A bed I made last year using the trenching method.

As you can see, trenching around the garden is a pretty simple way to keep Bermuda away from the garden. By using a combination of the cardboard/mulch method and the trenching method, you can kill Bermuda grass and keep it out. 

How do you keep invasive grasses out of your garden?


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