For years, I have battled one of the most annoying and invasive plants to have taken residence in my garden. Despite pulling it out by the bucketful, it sprouts again in days!
This perennial garden enemy, Cyperus spp, is often known as nutsedge, nutgrass, chufa sedge, or swamp grass. However, it is not a grass, but instead, a sedge that is identified by the triangular shape of the stem. If you roll the stem between your fingers, you should feel its triangular shape. Additionally, other distinguishing characteristics include leaves that are light green to yellow and waxy to the touch.
The two most common species in this area are yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) and purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus). Yellow nutsedge is more prevalent because of its cold tolerance. It produces a single tuber at the end of rhizomes and grows 12 to 16 inches tall. Purple nutsedge grows tubers in chains along rhizomes and only grows 6 inches tall.
The “nut” is a tiny tuber growing beneath the soil that can remain dormant in the ground for several years, sprouting new plants when moisture becomes available. In addition to tubers, this plant sends out rhizomes that reproduce at an alarming rate. The rhizomes form patches that can grow up to 10 feet wide, sprouting its tough grass-like leaves above the ground, thus making it difficult to control.
While this somewhat invasive plant has caused many a groan from gardeners, it has one redeeming quality … it is edible. In Southern Europe, it is cultivated for its palatable tubers, called earth almonds or tiger nuts, and for the preparation of horchata de chufa, a sweet, milk-like beverage. Furthermore, William Woys Weaver even suggests growing nutsedge for food in his book, “Heirloom Vegetable Gardening.” Praising the tubers’ similarities to other nuts, he says, “In texture, nutsedge is somewhat mealy like a chestnut, yet with a distinct almond-like flavor. Country people used it as an almond substitute in cookies and confectionery. It was even pounded with sugar to make a type of faux marzipan once quite popular among the Pennsylvania Germans.” (Caution: Do not eat it if you are unsure it is a nutsedge plant.)
However, to most gardeners, it is still considered an exasperating weed. Thus, what are some options for controlling nutsedge in your landscape? Attack the top, never letting the nutsedge mature. A juvenile plant has three leaves, while a mature plant has five. More than five, and you have work ahead of you.
1. The best control is prevention. Keep your lawn healthy.
2. Address drainage problems by aerating your turfgrass and adding compost, as nutsedge thrives in moist soil. Therefore, hold back water, if possible, by watering only the plants that need it.
3. Mulch your garden with polypropylene weed cloth, as solid black and clear plastic mulches do not suppress nutsedge. Its sharp blades easily penetrate the plastic. Top the barrier with decorative mulch to provide another layer of shade.
4. Look for herbicides that are formulated for nutsedge control. As always, read the label and follow directions. Note that for serious infestations, repeat applications over several years may be required to achieve complete control.
5. Tilling a nutsedge infestation can cause more problems by spreading the tubers.
6. Solarizing for six weeks in the summer can reduce nutsedge. By tarping the area with 4-mil thick plastic and weighing down the edges, a greenhouse effect can be induced to bake weed seeds, tubers, and rhizomes.
7. Despite the nutlets breaking off, hand-pulling is still the recommended method of management when a small area is invaded. When you see a nutsedge sprout, begin to attack it immediately by digging deep, digging it out, and removing the little tubers if you find them. Beware that the nutsedge will sprout again in a few days, but don’t give up. Dig again … dig again … dig again.