How I Got My Knees All Dirty: Ribbon Grass Dig Out

Yesterday, I started digging out all the ribbon grass that I no longer want in my garden.

This is the before picture of the grass.

It's too invasive. It has zero winter interest. I think voles like it in all that dead grass. It must go.

Tools of choice for this job were a Cape Cod Weeder, a hand rake, and some gloves.
Tip of the garden hat to Annie in Austin for recommending I get a Cape Cod weeder. I have no idea how I gardened all these years without one!

I used the hand rake to rake out as much loose grass and leaves as I could and then I followed up with the Cape Cod weeder to dig out the grass roots a section at a time.

I knelt in the dirt to do this, which is how I got my knees all dirty.

I am thankful that I can still kneel on the soft, cool ground to dig in the dirt, and I'm JUST as thankful that I can stand back up afterwards.

The result after about 50 minutes of raking and digging by hand is that I've removed 75 percent of the ribbon grass.
That's a very good start, if I do say so myself. Another 30 minutes or so of digging and most of that blankety-blank grass will be gone. (I know the grass won't be completely gone, but it will be gone enough that what remains I can weed out as it sprouts.)

Some tips for others who have some digging to do this spring:

- Work in small sections. No matter how big a digging job looks, if you do it a square foot at a time, a little at a time, you can get it done!

- Always buy the best tools you can afford. The two tools I used are well made and they make the work easier. I can do the work without worry about the tools falling apart.

- Get started.What are you waiting for? Why are you procrastinating? You've dreamed all winter of getting back out into the garden, so just go out there and get started. This was literally the second good day to work outside in the garden this year. I went straight home after work, changed in to my gardening jeans and headed out to the garden.

- Don't over do it the first few times you get back to gardening in the spring. I decided to start with about an hour's worth of work so I wouldn't end up with blisters, a sore back, aching knees, sun burn, etc. I just wanted to do enough so I could see some progress and I can definitely see some progress. Remember, a runner doesn't start out by running a marathon after resting all winter; a gardener shouldn't start out with an all day gardening marathon on the first nice day of spring.

- Don't plant ribbon grass. A friend gave me a start of this when I first moved to this new garden. I was desperate to plant something. Too desperate. I was vulnerable because I'm a gardener and I like to plant. I believe this ribbon grass is probably Phalaris arundinacea. Watch for it, avoid it, don't take a start of it.*

The happy end to all this digging is that I'll end up with a pretty large area to plant something else in, which is what every gardener wants, right?

(*Okay, you can plant ribbon grass if you have an area where nothing much will grow, or you have a slope or hillside and you need to plant something for erosion control. But do not plant it in a flower bed and think you will contain it. You will not contain it.)


  1. Good work Carol, and way to not push yourself too hard, so you can still get up. That is the part that seems to be getting harder for me. Working on the hill, just keeping from rolling down to the bottom is a balancing act. ;->

  2. Way to go Carol. I agree whole heartedly that it is good to be able to stand up after being on your knees for some time.

  3. Good going with the Ribbon Grass - I have never heard of a Cape Cod weeder. I was certain you were going to say it was a hoe.

    Those were great tips ... it's so easy to be over-enthusiastic out in the garden when spring first arrives.

  4. OK - so I think this gives me the courage I need to just say to heck with my ribbon grass and yank it out. I actually BOUGHT mine - if only I had known! I just thought it was attractive and didn't ask enough questions. And that Cape Cod weeder looks very interesting - I'll be checking that out. Of course it's too late for the good advice about not overdoing. I've had a stiff shoulder and neck most of this week from the hour or two I spent shoveling compost and peat last weekend!

  5. i actually had ribbon grass die out in my garden. guess i was lucky. i planted jewelweed in its place and that is so much nicer.

    never heard of a cape cod weeder like kate and luvmygarden. sounds great.

  6. I'm embarassed to say that we actually purchased our ribbon grass. We thought it added texture. Two weeks after we put it in it was twice as big as everything around it. Four weeks and it was a monster. It does great in a pot--which is where it went after we dug it up.

  7. It's nice to know that I managed to avoid at least one thug. Glad you are happy with your progress!

  8. Congrats on all the hard work. Isn't it terrible how we get these things into our gardens and then need to get rid of them with so much effort? Hopefully the prospect of getting more planting room is exciting for you!

  9. I think I want one of those weeders..

  10. That is one horrible looking garden job, Carol...I'm glad the Cape Cod Weeder could help. And glad I don't have Ribbon Grass!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  11. We were just taking inventory last night of everything that needs to get done in our yard this spring. Beds to redo etc. But, that is as far as we got. The thoughts....

  12. Every year I get a start of ribbon grass from my friend, and like Weed Whackin', I put it in a container. All by itself. And I make sure the container is on concrete, and not dirt. It must not like wintering over in a container, because every year I have to get a new piece. It looks nice grouped with other container plants.

    How deep do the roots on that ribbon grass go? For that job I would have gotten my spading fork and pried it all up and shook the soil out of the roots. That Cape Cod weeder looks like it could rip the "sod" into chunks. I suppose if you don't have clay soil, that's all it would take. Is ribbon grass one of those thugs that grows from every bit of root?

  13. If that same friend shows up with a start of some ZEBRA grass, thank her for it and put it in the garbage with the ribbon grass, Carol!

  14. Work in small sections - check, one right after another and another and another.

    Always buy the best tools you can afford - Partial check, I buy cheap shovels but everything else is meant to last. I could break a cast iron handle on a shovel. I always have at least 3 on hand. - I don't want my shovels to last to the point they become 2 pointed either :)

    Get started - not a problem. I'm scratching at the door alongside the cats to get outside.

    Don't over do it the first few times you get back to gardening in the spring - Now I'm in trouble. I start each year by traveling south to start work. Away from home, feeling the warmth and with the 'client' paying my expenses I end up working at least 10 hours/day right off the bat. The first 2 weeks of the season leaves me wishing for a spine replacement and a supply of muscle relaxers.

    Don't plant ribbon grass - Well there must be someone in the neighborhood I don't like.

  15. Mr. WiseAcre, we always get the top-of-the-line shovel from Agway. I forget if it has a twenty-year guarantee or a lifetime guarantee. The first thing we do when we get it home is wrap tape around the handle where it says lifetime guarantee. When it breaks (notice I didn't say if), we unwrap that protective tape, bring it back to Agway, and get our replacement free of charge.

  16. I also have a problem with the not overdoing it part - Hornet Mode is so hard to resist. I like the last suggestion the best.

  17. How have I avoided ribbon grass...I have so many thugs, well really I just have three very aggressive thugs.

    I also have a problem with over doing it...hours pass and I have forgotten to stretch....good advice to start slowly and build up.


  18. Through it wasn't ribbon grass, I just put in a new bed yesterday and had to lift the sod. You're right one step at a time is how you have to do it! I'll avoid ribbon grass, thanks!

  19. A lot of progress made there Carol. As far as tools and alot of things go you get what you pay for, so a good tool is far worth the price. :)

  20. Great job on all your tips.

    I've never heard of ribbon grass, likely a variety Florida doesn't grow. However, I've been digging up perfectly good grass to expand beds. Here we take it out in sod squares and of course I have to move what I take up to another spot showing signs of weakness. Not fun. Definitely hard on the back.

    Hurray for you on a new place to plant more garden goodies AND so glad you are getting some gardening days in up your way!
    Meems @HoeandShovel

  21. i appreciate your advise about tools and not over-doing it. i failed to put on gloves when i first went out to dig, and i had a big blister on the inside of my thumb within minutes of working! i also felt like i did a bit too much all at once, and i am not in good shape at all. it is hard to stop though, when you've been waiting so long to get out there!


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