This page contains photos and description of my ongoing effort to rid the yard of invasive weeds and establish native species. I am not a gardener, so this has been a lot of trial and error, but a great learning experience both in terms of general gardening as well as becoming familiar with native plants.

The lot size is .44 acres and is located near the Minnesota River. Even with all of these photos, it’s hard to convey the sorry state the yard was left in by the previous owners of this house. Not only did they let the buckthorn, white mulberry, wild grape, and numerous weeds take over the yard, but they also used a raised garden bed as their own private landfill. I’m still finding trash out there. Someone forgot to tell these people that old soda cans, small electronic devices, plastic trash bags, and numerous other items do not qualify as compost. Over the last year and a half I have become quite handy with the chainsaw, axe, shovel, tiller, and wheelbarrow. One of the most useful tools in my arsenal is the Weed Wrench for pulling buckthorn. I have the medium size, which can pull plants with trunks up to 2″ in diameter. Wearing this shirt is also very helpful.

I’ve had to call in lawn care services to remove large bulky items such as the rotting railroad ties used for the garden bed (a.k.a. landfill) border, and a huge dead tree that fell over in the storm. I wanted to keep the dead tree, or plant a snag it its place, but couldn’t find any practical way to do it. I’ve also applied Roundup more times than I can count – as much as I don’t like chemicals, drastic situations like this require it.

The project began in 2007 with a landscape consultation and design by EnergyScapes, which specializes in native landscapes. The design was amazing, but we couldn’t justify spending so much on the yard (although I don’t think the estimate was at all out of line with the amount of work that needed to be done.)

In late summer 2007, with the help of a neighbor who donated some of her garden plants, I started planting. In early spring 2008 I began planting with some plants ordered online from Prairie Nursery. I also explored some local native nurseries such as Prairie Restorations and Outback Nursery.

In summer 2008 I got serious about clearing out the backyard mess, and starting tackling the buckthorn and white mulberry. I bought a tiller and killed off a significant amount of the lawn (which was in very poor shape to start with), and planted many plants along the south side of the house, generally following the EnergyScapes design. In the fall I tilled toward the back of the lot, on the east side, which was chock full of weeds. I spent several months, going into spring/summer 2009, killing off very persistent weeds in that area, and continuing to remove buckthorn and other larger shrubs. In fall 2009, I finally dismantled the out of control wild grapevine, got rid of more buckthorn, and additional bulky items (like an ugly cement block wall, whose purpose was unknown) as well as more trash.

Finally, with the weeds under control, I planted some northern white cedar where the grapevine had been, and some native winterberry and nannyberry shrubs where the ugly cement block wall had been. Lastly, I seeded the area (some 1500 square feet) with a low growing prairie mix in the sunny area, and a woodland edge/savanna mix for the more shaded area, both purchased from Prairie Nursery. To keep the birds out of the seed, I covered it all with 5 yards of shredded leaf compost purchased from Herman’s Landscape Supply.

A nice bonus was that being out in that area of the yard so much, I had spoken with a neighbor about buckthorn, and he removed a considerable amount that had been growing right on the edge of his property. Follow along with the photos below to see the progression of the yard. I didn’t take any official “before” photos, but I hopefully have enough photos around the yard during the first couple of years to give a sense of what shape it was in, and how it’s changed.