Thursday, July 23, 2015

De-Grass-ing the Outdoor Riding Arena

After a few weeks of disuse and a lot of rain, my 8-month-old ring suddenly tried to turn into a lawn. Even though I dragged it! This post chronicles some of the things I did to combat this grass, which turned into a monthlong battle.

1. Grooming

I started by dragging the arena twice in one week, using a chain harrow with the tines pointed down. They were both nice long sessions with a variety of patterns. This met with moderate success. Some of the grass was uprooted. I know this because after dragging I spent half an hour picking clumps of grass out of the footing and trying not to lose too much of my rubber. However, I initially thought dragging did a much better job than it did because it does flatten the grass and cover it with dirt. A couple days later, it popped up again! Clearly this would require more than dragging.

Look, problem solved!

Back to the drawing board.
2. "Biological controls" (i.e. donkey grazing)

Nope, this didn't work (he trimmed the grass without uprooting it) but it sure was cute!

3. Hand-weeding

I never felt this was a particularly good option for the large amount of grass that was growing, because there just aren't that many hours in the day. However, I do it with the edges on a regular basis so I did try it with one corner. It took 45 minutes to do about 4 feet in each direction from the corner, and I didn't even get all of it because I ran out of steam. The other problem was that some of the roots had worked their way down into the base of the arena, so pulling them up also pulled up chunks of base! Eek. My conclusion is that weeding by hand may be useful as a regular maintenance measure, but cannot solve a problem that's gone as far as mine has. I think when I do pull things by hand, I need to kill the roots and release their grip on the base first. Which brings us to...

4. Chemicals

After the failure of the dragging and weeding, I bought a 1.5 gallon sprayer from Tractor Supply for $10. Hoping to avoid harsher chemicals, I first tried a homebrew of vinegar, salt, and dish soap (ratio is 1 gallon vinegar : 1 cup salt : 1 tbsp dish soap). At first I thought this was magic because within 12 hours the grass turned dead and yellow. However, it never seemed to spread to the roots and a week later it was all greening up again. By two weeks out it was almost indistinguishable from the untreated areas (and my sprayer was still full of persistent soap suds). We had a lot of rain during that time so maybe in a drier climate it would be sufficient.

One day after application, the vinegar spray seems like a winner.
8 days later, the grass is turning green again.
I finally resigned myself to the full-on chemical solution: glyphosphate (the active ingredient of Round Up). I bought an off-brand, Compare-n-Save 41% concentrate, a gallon of which costs $27 and supposedly makes 85 gallons of spray, because it was far more economical than Round Up. It mixed easily (aside from the added soap suds) and doesn't have a noticeable odor.

It took weeks to actually get the spraying done because we have had so much rain. Every day I had time to spray, they were calling for thunderstorms and I didn't want all my time and money rinsing off with the rain. When I finally got it done, the application process was rough. It took about 5 hours in three sessions for me to spray the entire 66'x198' arena, including the edges. Lugging the sprayer around with the carry handle or the unpadded shoulder strap got old fast, and sweeping the wand back and forth caused some repetitive stress pains (which seems really pathetic, I know). I think down the road I may want to invest in a backpack sprayer or, better yet, a tow-behind for my tractor, but I couldn't say no to the sprayer I have for $9.99.

After the glyphosphate killed off all the grass, a few sessions of dragging uprooted it all. Now it's just an ongoing maintenance task to prevent recurrence.

The photos below chronicle the progress:

3 days after spraying the far end (yellow area).
8 days after spraying the far end (now brown).
8 days after spraying the edges, casual raking uproots many clumps of grass.
After spraying entire arena, before dragging.
After dragging. Victory!!!