Thursday, February 23, 2017

Jute Erosion Mesh As a Seed Cover

Lawn Upholstering? 

Jute erosion control mesh is not burlap - it's a fabric woven with extremely coarse yarn and large holes.  The mesh is commonly used for erosion control along new road construction while grasses and shrubs are being established. It is biodegradable, and within a couple of years, maybe more in a dry area, will decay and turn into organic material in the soil.

I'm using it like a mulch to protect newly scattered buffalo and blue grama grass seed and native wildflower mix. It should prevent my seeds from blowing away, discourage seed-eating birds and hold moisture.  It is definitely weed-free, which my compost is not.  It supposedly decomposes in a couple of years, so I will write more than this post about how it works.
Upholstered Lawn

It does look like I carpeted the lawn, and the neighbors are looking at me funny.

Seeds first? Mesh first? 

It doesn't matter, unless you want to rake the seeds into the dirt. I scattered the seeds first, didn't rake them.

Applying the mesh to a flat area.

The rolls I used are 225 feet long and 4 feet wide; 90-100 pounds of tightly rolled fabric that is heavy and awkward to handle.  I moved it with a furniture dolly until enough had been unrolled to lighten the roll.

This was the least hassle method I could think of.  If you have a flat area, do the longest possible strips first. On a slope, start at the top of one side of the seeding area.
  1. Put the roll at one end of the site, with the free end coming from the bottom of the roll so you will be able to unroll it without picking it up.
    Unrolling the Jute
  2. Unroll enough to fold under a few inches and secure it with 3 stakes.
  3. Push it with your foot to unroll it to the other end.
  4. When you reach the other end,  unroll it a few inches past the end of the seeding area and cut it.

    If you are ending at a wall, grab a bunch of warp threads (the lengthwise ones) and tug some fabric loose to leave enough to cut and fold under.  Don't pull the crosswise threada - it just unweaves.

    NOTE 2: This stuff is hard to cut.  I used an old pair of trauma shears (also known as "EMT scissors"). My "craft scissors" weren't doing the job, and I didn't want to ruin my poultry shears.
  5. Straighten the mesh, get the wrinkles out, tuck the end under and stake the end and the edges.
  6. Flop the roll over so you can unroll it back towards your starting point.

    NOTE the Third: On a flat area an overlap of an inch or two is enough, with a stake every 4 to 6 feet.  On a slope, the recommended overlap is 4 to 6 inches, and you should stake every 2 feet with some stakes in the middle of the strip.

Applying the mesh to a slope.

  1. Place the roll with the free end coming off the bottom of the roll, as show  above.
  2. Fold the end over 2 or three times to make a secure place to put the stakes.
  3. Stake the top end in 4 or 5 places and push it downhill.

    CAUTION: Be sure you have something at the bottom heavy enough to stop the roll.  And keep pets and humans out of the way.
  4. Straighten the mesh, get the wrinkles out, tuck the end under and stake the end and the edges.
  5. Carry the roll back up the slope and repeat.

The jute is biodegradable, but what about the stakes?

Biodegradable*, of course. I didn't want to have to dig the wire staples out of my yard in a few years.

Applying in a planted area. 

It's easiest to apply this to bare dirt, but you can work around plants.
  • If you only have a few shrubs and trees, you can cut the mesh as you apply it to make room for the trunks. 
  • If you have some low-growing plants, apply the mesh over the top, then go back and cut "X" openings or straight cuts and pull the stems through.
  • If you have turf or clumping grasses, cut the grass as short as you can and apply over the grasses. They will grow up through the mesh.

Planting after the mesh is installed.

Grass and other small seed can be scattered and then watered in.  For small transplants pull the mesh apart and plant through the hole.  For larger ones, make x-cuts to make room to dig the hole.

Mowing over the mesh.

Uh ... you probably can do this with the blades set as high as possible, but I have no plans to mow my grass. 

About that "chemical smell".

Several reviews of jute erosion mesh complained of a "fuel" or "chemical" smell and leapt to the conclusion it was full of toxic waste.  The smell is normal.  In an early stage in the production of jute yarns - the step called "batching" - the fibers are treated with an emulsion of oil and water (about 1/4 oil and 3/4 water with a bit of emulsifier) to soften them and make spinning possible. Without the emulsion, the fibers break and it's a mess.

The "jute batching oil" is usually made by distilling naturally occurring complex hydrocarbons (yup, petroleum) and can have little odor all the way to a strong "fuel" smell, depending on which brand of batching oil was used and how many Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbons were in it, and how long ago the jute was batched. Other batching oils are made from inedible vegetable oils

Jute batching oil is biodegradeable and there isn't enough of it in the jute to impede seed germination. For the past few years, a patented batching oil has been available.  It reportedly has less odor, uses less oil, and is more easily decomposed.


The Online Fabric Store* sells it by the yard. A full roll is 75 yards, and it comes sewn into a tidy burlap wrapper.

* I get no commissions from these links.


Ryan Beck said...

I've been enjoying following your blog about buffalo grass. I'm building a house and am planning on putting some buffalo grass seed down on the bare soil this coming spring. I'm in southwestern Iowa. What did you use to spread the seed? I was planning on using a regular push broadcast spreader but I had heard that the buffalograss burrs might not flow through that very well. I'm also planning on using the Jute blanket or something similar on a pretty steep (maybe 30 degrees) slope to try to get the buffalograss established there. I've got a pretty big area (1/2 to 1 acre) so I'm hoping to keep it low maintenance and to never have to mow the steep part of it. Any tips or advice for my area or for getting the buffalograss established on the slope? I'm trying to follow all the guides I can find, but I'm worried about the slope. I'm planning on spreading, raking it in, and then covering it in the erosion control blanket.

Lazy Gardens said...

Ryan - Ask the seller of the seeds what works best for 100% buffalo.

I hand-scattered it from a jar with holes drilled in the lid. My problem was the tiny, light and fluffy Blue Grama seeds not wanting to fall out. If it had been all buffalo burs it would have been easier. Just scattered it about half of the bag walking o0ne way on the yard and the rest walking the other way. The buffalo was dyed green (it had been treated for faster sprouting) so it was easy to estimate coverage.

Jar shown here - really fancy DIY.

On the slope, consider using those straw or jute "snakes" staked across the slope to slow water down while the grass gets going. And some cross-slope furrows might help. Make a furrow to lay the snakes into. How long is the slope?

And I HAVE GRASS!!!!! It's sprouting despite the snow, sub-freezing nights and other weather crap.

Ryan Beck said...

Thanks for the advice! I contacted the seller so I'm waiting to hear back. If the spreader doesn't work I like what you came up with and will probably do something similar.

That's a good idea about the snakes, I have some silt fence left over from a different part of the site and I may use that at the upper part of the hill to slow the water down, and maybe pick up some of those straw wattles. The back yard is a big hill, the bare area is at the bottom of the hill, maybe 100 to 150 feet wide and going 30 feet up from the base of the hill. Above that it levels out to the undisturbed part of the hill which has brome grass. My long term plan is to slowly kill the brome and replace it with natural vegetation and wildflowers.

Congrats on the grass! I'll be following your updates. It looks like you previously had success with the plugs so I'm interested to see how everything goes with the seed.

The Lawn Care Rocket Scientist said...

When I over seeded my buffalo lawn with blue grama, I was told to mix the blue grama seed with sand, and then use any typical lawn broadcast spread. The sand wouldn't let the blue grama seed fly off.

Lazy Gardens said...

Mixing with sand definitely helps spread those weightless grass seeds ... I used play sand and some coir to dilute the seed for spreading.

The jute keeps seeds from being blown away by the 20-40mph winds across the yard. It makes seed-sized windbreaks. And the moisture retention is improved.