En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
2 ratings

Sunday - October 14, 2007

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Problem Plants
Title: Elimination of nutgrass from native flower bed
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Nutgrass!*#!* My new bed in NE Austin wraps around a hot sunny SW street corner. Grass wouldn't grow there [I wouldn't water it.] I removed the turf [mostly stickers] to a depth of about 4", carefully sifting the clay soil to remove all roots etc.; then amended with sand. peat moss, compost, et al. I planted lavender, purple fountain grass, Mexican feather grass, a couple of yucca, a couple of retamas, some salvia and an so-far-unused soaker hose. All are thriving ... as is the nut grass. I've dug and dug, trying to get deep enough to eliminate those blasted reproducing 'nuts' and roots. It just gets worse. I'm almost resigned to hand-painting each blade with some toxic, non-specific weedkiller. Are there other solutions? If not, which toxin would you recommend? I don't suppose flaming them with a hand-held propane torch would do any good either. Before my efforts there was no nutgrass there ... or at least it wasn't apparent. Please help!


We couldn't agree more on your evaluation of nutgrass, as well as the adjectives you have associated with it. Purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus) is a sedge native to Africa and central Europe (north to France and Austria), and southern Asia. It is considered one of the most invasive weeds known, having spread out to a world-wide distribution in tropical and temperate regions. The difficulty in controlling it is due to its intensive system of underground tubers and resistance to most herbicides. Tubal dormancy is perhaps the most important of the adaptations that enable nutgrass to persist. That is why nutgrass can re-emerge after you thought you had eliminated it by herbicide or weeding.

Some of the suggestions made by experts on how to control this pest include making sure the drainage of the soil is good. It is also supposed that it can be shaded out by vegetation around it. Populations of viable nutgrass can be dramatically reduced by repeatedly turning the soil at one to two-week intervals to expose the tubers to the sun. Unfortunately, in your flower bed situation, these are probably not terribly practical. As noted above, the tubers are resistant to most herbicides, and if the blades of "grass" are broken off, the tuber carries on, and one to two inches of new growth will be visible within a day. Oh, and it's one of the few plants that plastic mulches cannot affect.

It would appear that part of the reason this nuisance showed up has to do with your bed preparation. You took out grass, with which nutgrass finds it hard to compete. You dug down 4" in the soil, sifting and preparing it for planting. Nutgrass tubers can be as deep as 18", and disturbance of the soil no doubt enabled some of those dormant tubers to get close enough to the now-cleared surface and begin to make themselves known. In other words, you did all the right things to prepare your bed for the new plants (all of which we consider fine selections), and in so doing, also prepared it for the thriving of nutgrass, hiding out in that soil. We know you don't want to hear this, but there is no magic cure. If the soil is kept fairly loose and moist, it will be easier to pull out those long strings of tubers. That is about the only satisfying thing about nutgrass, is that you can get a string of the rhizomes and tubers going, and pull out a bunch in one operation. If you were considering getting on your hands and knees to paint with herbicide, it would be just as easy (and much safer for your other plants) to just pull the !*#!* stuff out. And please, no flaming with the propane torch. You could singe those little blades, and fresh ones would pop up from the tubers protected by the earth. Meanwhile, some of your intended plants could be crisped!


More Problem Plants Questions

Controlling live oak suckers in Florida
July 20, 2014 - How do I kill emerging live oak sprouts coming from mature tree root system
view the full question and answer

Low Water Use Plants for a Pond Island
November 06, 2014 - We have a medium sized pond/tank with a small island covered in black willows. The pond loses a lot of water and we were told it was partially due to the willows. We want to remove them and replace ...
view the full question and answer

How to eliminate roadside thistles
May 26, 2015 - When we drive along the highway we see lots of wildflowers and no thistles in the median. How does the Highway Department keep the thistles out? Here in Kerrville, we are overwhelmed by thistles thi...
view the full question and answer

Getting Rid of Firecracker Flower
July 16, 2015 - We live in the Tampa area of Florida. We planted Russelia equisetiformis under some palm trees 10 years ago. It has grown deep among the palm tree roots. We want to kill the Russelia without harming ...
view the full question and answer

Prevention of algae scum on standing water
December 16, 2007 - Because your answer to a previous question has resolved an "issue" referent to proper care of our cordgrass plants, I'm back to ask your advice. The pond behind our condominium complex is man-ma...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center