September 11, 2013 | by Mark McDonald
Winning the Weed War: Safe, Simple, Cheap


By Mark McDonald

From golf greens to baseball infields to front lawns, our efforts to grow grass are blunted by a bugaboo – nutsedge.

This common weed (Cyperus rotundus), commonly called “nutgrass,” is found throughout the U.S., emerging from small tubers to stubbornly poke through fescue, Bermuda, tift, most turf species you can name.


More stubborn than a divorce lawyer, nutgrass will grow most anywhere.

Your guide here does not claim to be an expert, nor even a master gardener. Rather, I stand before you as a rank amateur who found a nutgrass control technique that works. The details in a second. First, the background.

On the palatial grounds of Stately McDonald Manor, I have turned a traditional back yard from lawn grass with thirsty shrubs to a mixed bag of cactus and other drought-resistant plants amidst crushed gravel. The goal: a semi-desert, Southwestern, nativo look with a margarita whang for flavor.

I designed an outdoor kitchen with patio and seating area, then North Texas fisheries biologist-friend Bob Lusk literally opened doors when he got permission from a Lake Texoma-area rancher to remove selected red cedar. In a win-win deal, the landowner got rid of water-sucking cedar while we utilized Bob’s portable sawmill to fashion the framework and latillas (sticks) for a one-of-a-kind pergola.

Next I scrubbed the remnants of lawn grass and installed a plot of artificial turf, planting blue agave and other water misers. I had my own little slice of desert, minus dust storms and coyotes.


Landscapers say nutgrass is harder to control than the national debt.

Oh, but here comes nutgrass, rising like the federal deficit to poke its head through my crushed gravel. I had green sprouts popping up like zits on a schoolboy.

I started chopping with a garden hoe. This disturbed the surface, encouraging more growth. In desperation, I sought a chemical solution. Frustration mounted as the nutgrass ate Roundup for breakfast. Priced at $18, a container of Round gave me a temporary knock-back, but never the TKO.

A local naturalist suggested I try his grandmother’s remedy: Mix a half-cup of salt with a few tablespoons of liquid dish soap in a gallon of vinegar. Spray it on the nutgrass, making sure to avoid apply to neighboring plants you want to keep. Desperate, I was ready to try anything.

Next day, I took $2.89 worth of vinegar and sprayed the nutgrass. Forty-eight hours later, the nutgrass shriveled to the ground in a toasty brown wisp. DOA.

True, this is a limited sample and a series of 98-degree days with zero rainfall probably enhanced the treatment, but thanks to a common household product, once-mighty nutgrass is on the run. I’m winning.

You probably will, too. Try it. And thank Grandma.


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