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The return of the grow & kill season

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POSTED March 15, 2010 2:16 a.m.

The rains are less frequent. The mercury is inching up toward 70 degrees. And the gopher mounds are popping up more often than Meg Whitman for governor TV commercials.

It can mean only one thing in Manteca – the return of the grow and kill season.

I’ve already found a way to convince the neighbors I’m even crazier than they already think I am. They thought I was a bit over the top last year when I chopped down three trees in the front yard, tore out brick flowerbeds and some sidewalk, and then ripped up the entire lawn to plant six trees and 110 bushes including 22 roses.

How am I topping that? Easy, I’m digging up half the stuff I planted and moving it.

No, I’m not training to become the next gardener at the Winchester Mystery House nor have I crashed head first while bicycling. It was a battle last year trying to keep the dogwoods and maples I planted from turning to toast. I had misjudged the shade canopy, the need for the shade from a grapefruit tree I removed, plus the health of a 50-year-old walnut tree.

While most people were celebrating Christmas, I was busy with the chain saw taking down most of a 40-foot plus walnut tree and cutting it into little pieces to fit into green waste Toters.

Knowing I had a mess going in the front yard I did what anyone else would do – I started digging up the backyard. The folks at Orchard Supply Hardware can tell you I was the only one buying bare root roses in early January. There are now 37 roses in my back yard plus two western red buds and three lilacs along with four crêpe myrtles, a sycamore, and a California pepper tree I planted the previous year. I did leave one of seven trees that where there when I bought the house standing. I’ve got about a fifth of the backyard situated the way I think I want it complete with the start of a brick walkway.

Like most people who can’t explain why they like yard work, I’ve been busy the last month or so weeding. I’d like to say I’m staying a few steps ahead but in reality my bid to keep weeds down naturally was a great dismal failure. I now go over areas that I’ve weeded looking for the telltale signs of some weed showing life armed with Round-Up so I can kill it before it grows. As they say, better living through chemicals.

Of course, my weeding method is also a bit unorthodox. Everything I plant has a basket made from chicken wire beneath it. The chicken wire helps keep gophers that tunnel into the yard slim and trim.  I learned the hard way years ago that gophers view my gardens as the equivalent of a Hometown Buffet where they can feast on everything that’s put before them.

So when I go to weed I dig up the bush complete with chicken wire basket, pull off the weeds – roots and all - and then dig the hole a bit deeper, and replant it. The deeper holes are to allow for easier watering. I also learned my lesson about being cheap and not using mulch which is a great way to combat weed and retain moisture.

Now I’m ready for the next big project:  What to do with the remaining four feet of the maple tree trunk and its root system.

I got my first hernia about 14 years ago from taking out a 200-pound root ball on a blue spruce using nothing but shovels and an ax. You think that would have killed my enthusiasm for removing trunks by myself and that I’d be hiring someone to grind them down instead.

Fifteen trees later I’m still going for it. My fixation with tree trunks makes Captain Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick seem like a passing fancy.
This one, though, is going to be a bit of a challenge. Freely translated that means it may take me longer to get rid of it than for the state to build the Bay bridge replacement span.

It will be worth it as the space I am now clearing by moving shrubs into better shade and gearing up to remove the roots is large enough to accommodate at least 40 more roses. That – combined with what I already have – will give me 99 roses putting me well on the way to matching my previous yard record of 158 roses.

Why, you ask, do I want that many roses?

How else can I have so much fun cursing and killing Japanese beetles and going after aphids?

The more you plant the more you have to spend resources to combat pests and weeds and buy fertilizer which in turn helps plants grow and attracts even more weeds and pests.

That’s the beauty of the grow and kill season. It is never ending.

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