Recovering From a Sea of Black Plastic

Asked April 23, 2013, 4:07 PM EDT

Last winter my husband and I moved into a house with a yard that was not touched in the previous five years – really, five years. Prior to that, the owner put down a layer of black plastic covering the entire yard. We’ve removed most of the ivy and blackberries along with random bedframes, yard unbrellas and enough balls and shoes to outfit a grade school class we’ve found as few as one and as many as 5 layers of plastic each separated by 1-2 inches of dirt. Below the last layer of plastic the ground is like clay, with slugs but no worms (lots of worms in the top layer though). We’d like to start fixing it up on a small 10’ x 20’ area of the yard beside the driveway. There are two large shade trees with the roots close to, and in some cases above, the surface. We’ve removed most of the plastic and envision the area covered in low maintenance ground cover plants of different heights. We will be building a fence and gate at the back of this section that will have concrete stepping stones for foot traffic. The ground cover near the gate needs to be able to withstand occasional foot traffic as we will be wheeling a lightweight trailer over it a few times a year.

We need help making this area suitable for planting – should we bring in loads of dirt to raise the ground level and cover the tree roots? Should we add amendments and till into the existing dirt (this would be difficult with all the roots)? I have heard good things about lasagna gardening – maybe layering cardboard and leaves with grass clippings from the neighbor’s yard and letting that decompose would be good. We’re hoping for a low cost and organic method to making this a thriving area for plants that can hopefully prevent many weeds – any suggestions you can offer would be greatly appreciated. If you have any suggestions for ground covers that grow well in the Willamette Valley that won’t be too aggressive spreading into the neighbor’s yard please include them. Thank you for your help.

Linn County Oregon

1 Response

Begin small Start by covering the area of tree roots with "weed" cloth Put "imported" soil on top of weed cloth This will reduce the number of tree roots that invade the new garden bed Suggest you consider building raised bed with wood side boards