Upon moving to Washington a year ago, my husband and I decided that we would first find a school district that we liked for our kids (for their short time left in high school), and then look for a house within the district. With that in mind, we decided that the smartest thing to do would be to rent initially, and then buy after we had lived here for a bit and had explored the area (and after the kids graduated). With a house to sell in Pennsylvania, that made the most sense, since we didn’t want to have to rely on contingencies or the house not selling as quickly as we would have liked. So here we are, in a rented house, with our kids and our greyhound.
Now I am pretty picky about landscaping. If I don’t like it, I want to rip it out and redo it. Ask my husband; he’s had to live through (and pay for) that several times. Right or wrong, I attribute my fickleness to my Type A personality. So imagine my anxiety caused by a rental home where my options are limited – well, let’s be honest – nonexistent. Currently, I have a fenced yard that is in dire need of some attention. Apparently, there used to be bamboo all around the perimeter of the yard, which was ripped out by the latest owner. What remains is a sunken border of dirt and various river rocks haphazardly strewn about with no rhyme or reason. There is a raised bed that flanks the steps from the patio to the lawn, with privets and rose bushes and the occasional day lily. No ground cover or mulch kept weeds from popping up everywhere and anywhere they pleased. On any given day, I am treated to fresh bamboo shoots in the middle of the lawn which pop up almost instantly like a jack-in-the-box. I can handle the bamboo, thanks to my trusty garden shears. Since the bamboo runs so far below ground, there is no point in digging up the roots; that would require me to dig up the whole yard.
Being in a rental, I cannot justify spending hundreds of dollars to hire a landscaper. Were this my house, this would have been taken care of within weeks of moving in. Not doing so means that I am left to my own devices, pulling weeds almost daily. And then pulling my hair. Not fun.
With a greyhound, and being environmentally conscious, I knew that I could not use toxic sprays such as Round-Up to eliminate the weeds. Pulling weeds required time that I simply do not have. I had to find something else. Admittedly, I did spend about $50 on mulch to dress the raised beds, and that has eliminated the weeding in that area. Instead of landscaping fabric, I resorted to old newspapers, which helped keep costs low and served as an effective weed barrier. Luna thought the mulch was fun, and there were several times where I found myself filling in the holes she dug and replacing the mulch that she stole and chewed on. A generous sprinkling of cayenne pepper dissuaded her from nosing around in my freshly mulched raised bed. Yes, I have to reapply the pepper every once in a while, but it’s easier to “sprinkle” than “fill in” and “re-mulch”.
Now, for the perimeter of the yard. It is gross.
The beds are uneven, full of weeds and moss, and the occasional river rock. I’d estimate that there is about 1500 to 2000 square feet of this mess. As a tenant, I cannot justify the cost of re-grading, putting down landscaper’s fabric, and mulching that with no benefit such as a credit on my rent. I am struggling to accept that the beds will have to remain lumpy and unmulched, but I don’t have to allow weeds to grow, which left me to research pet friendly weed killers. Here is what I found:
1. Boiling water – for large areas, boiling water is supposed to kill any and all plants.
2. Vinegar – it may take several applications for this to work. I do use this, but I add a bit of dish soap to help the vinegar stick to the plant leaves. The sunnier it is when you use it, the better.
3. Salt – will kill all plants and will make the soil unsuitable for plants to grow again.
4. Sugar – makes the soil organisms go into overdrive, which is unsuitable for plants. Apparently, you are supposed to put this around the base of the plant/weed. To deter pests, add equal parts chili or cayenne pepper to the sugar.
5. Cornmeal – contains a pre-emergent that stops weeds before they start. Does not kill existing weeds.
6. Last, but not least, pulling them by hand.
The beauty of these items is that they can be found in my pantry or grocery store. I’ve mixed vinegar, salt and dish soap and sprayed it on a sunny day. I even went to my big box home repair store and picked up a one gallon pump sprayer. My issue is that if I don’t apply it once a week, the weeds get away from me, which explains the picture above.
I see that some stores carry what they market as “Pet-Friendly Weed Killer” but I’m skeptical. My biggest fear is using something commercial, and then finding years down the road that long-term exposure is harmful or deadly to pets. Here I am, stuck between a river rock and a hard place. I am in a new place, wishing I could invite new friends to my house, but I’m terribly embarrassed by the state of my yard. I can’t and won’t spend hundreds of dollars to landscape a yard that is not technically “mine,” and I get mixed results from the natural remedies. I absolutely will not resort to Round-Up, despite it’s ability to essentially wipe out the weeds in a day or two.
My other option: buy a bag of grass seed and try to grow grass. That won’t solve the leveling problem, and will make mowing harder with the river rocks. Throw in the worst drought Washington’s seen in a long time, and that’s just not a realistic solution.
So, what’s a girl to do?