How to Identify and Get Rid of Nutsedge in Your Lawn

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close-up of yellow nutsedge

Is some of your grass growing twice as fast? It might be nutsedge, a perennial weed that looks like grass. If you ignore the impostor, you’ll have a relentless weed that chokes out your lawn. 

Nutsedge is among the most challenging lawn weeds to manage. But with the correct control methods and proper identification, you can eventually send the weed packing. 

What is nutsedge?

Nutsedge, commonly called nutgrass, is a grass-like weed in the sedge family. It forms dense colonies and grows faster than regular turfgrass, becoming a showoff two to three days after mowing. Let the weed grow tall enough, and it will develop seedheads. 

Grass stems are round, while nutsedge has a three-sided triangular stem. Its hairless leaves are thicker and stiffer than most grasses and grow in groups of three from the base.

Uproot nutsedge to uncover a tangled root system made up of rhizomes (underground roots) and tubers (chickpea-sized balls often called ‘nutlets’). When the perennial weed dies in fall, its rhizomes and tubers survive the winter and sprout new plants in spring. 

Yellow nutsedge vs. purple nutsedge

Yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) and purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus) are two perennial species of nutsedge that commonly invade lawns. But how can you tell them apart?

Yellow nutsedgePurple nutsedge
Seedheads are greenish-yellow, straw-colored, or gold-brownSeedheads are dark red to purplish brown
Can grow up to 3 feet tallCan grow up to 16 inches tall
Leaves are often longer than the stemLeaves are often shorter than the stem
Has light green leavesHas dark green leaves
Has pointed leaf tipsHas rounded leaf tips
Tubers develop at the rhizome tip Tubers grow in chains along the rhizome
Reproduces via tubers and seedReproduces via tubers

How to get rid of nutsedge in the lawn

Nutsedge is a tough weed to control (it’s right up there with tricky dandelions). You’re up against numerous underground tubers that will give rise to new nutsedge plants. That’s why active management of tuber production will eventually allow you to defeat the sedge.  

Combining mechanical, chemical, and cultural control methods is the best way to manage nutsedge weeds in your lawn. 

Mechanical 

Mechanical control methods are ideal for small sedge infestations. Your options are persistent pulling and digging

Persistent pulling

As soon as sedge leaves sprout in spring, pull them from the ground. If you can remove the sedge before it develops five to six leaves, you can help halt tuber production. A sedge in its early stages hasn’t formed new tubers yet. 

Instead of developing more tubers, the existing tuber must use its reserved energy to produce a new sedge plant. Persistent pulling will weaken the tuber and eventually kill nutsedge.

Digging

If constant weed pulling drives you nuts (pun intended), your second mechanical option may offer a faster solution. But be prepared to sweat. 

Dig at least 10 inches deep and 10 inches beyond the aboveground leafy sedge. Your goal is to remove the whole underground root system, including tubers and rhizomes that have spread far and wide. 

Once you’ve removed the nutsedge, fill the hole with soil and top it off with sod or grass seed

Digging up nutsedge is best performed in early spring before tuber development. 

Chemical 

Yellow and purple nutsedge are not broadleaf or grassy weeds –– they’re sedges. Many common herbicides will have little to no effect on controlling nutsedge. So before you go spraying chemicals on your lawn, it’s essential to research your product and ensure it’s labeled for sedge control. 

The best time to apply post-emergent herbicide is when foliage is in the three to eight leaf stage, before tuber development. 

Avoid mowing the lawn before and after applying the herbicide. You want the sedge to have enough foliage and time to absorb the herbicide. The number of days to allow before and after mowing varies depending on the product. Always read and follow the product’s instructions before application. 

The Clemson Cooperative Extension recommends herbicides containing the following active ingredients for nutsedge control: bentazon, halosulfuron, imazaquin, or sulfentrazone. The chart below shows the effectiveness of these ingredients against yellow and purple nutsedge according to the cooperative extension. 

Active
Ingredient
Yellow
Nutsedge
Purple
Nutsedge
BentazonGoodPoor
Halo-
sulfuron
Good to
Excellent
Good to
Excellent
ImazaquinFairGood
Sulfen-
trazone
Fair Poor to Fair

Cultural

You’ll succeed most with nutsedge control when you combine your mechanical or chemical measures with cultural control. In other words, your control efforts will prove futile if you’re encouraging an environment that invites nutsedge to return. 

Ready to make your lawn less attractive to nutsedge? Here’s what you can do: 

1. Improve watering techniques

Nutsedge can thrive in almost any soil, but it prefers moist soils. If your watering routine leaves your lawn wet for long periods, you may need to make some corrections. 

The best time to water the lawn is before 10 a.m. Early morning watering allows the lawn to absorb moisture before the afternoon sun evaporates the water. 

But that doesn’t mean you should avoid the sun at all costs. Because if you water in the evening, the lawn won’t dry. 

Another technique is to water less often but for long periods. This method encourages a strong root system and allows the lawn to dry before the next watering. By watering too often and for short periods, your yard never has a chance to dry and remains consistently moist. 

2. Correct drainage issues

Your lawn will be more susceptible to nutsedge if it’s having drainage issues. If puddles are forming in your yard, you might want to call in a pro to remedy the problem. 

But remember, fixing moisture problems doesn’t guarantee a nutsedge-free lawn. Nutsedge might prefer moist soil, but it can thrive in dry soil, too. Combine the corrected drainage issue with a mechanical or chemical control method for best results.  

3. Fix broken sprinkler systems

A leaking sprinkler system is a common cause of moisture problems and an open invitation for nutsedge. 

4. Avoid contaminated soil

Need to buy a truckload of soil for your landscaping project? Ask your supplier if the soil is free of nutsedge and tubers. If the supplier can’t guarantee clean soil, use a different soil supplier. The last thing you want is to introduce tubers using contaminated soil. 

5. Encourage a healthy lawn

The healthier your lawn, the more resistant it will be against nutsedge invasions. Proper lawn maintenance includes routine mowing, aeration, dethatching, and fertilizing. 

How is your lawn care routine shaping up? Give your turf the maintenance it deserves with the best treatments you can do for your lawn

FAQ about nutsedge

1. Is nutsedge edible?

Nutsedge might be a pain in the yard, but yellow nutsedge tubers are a treat in the kitchen. Also known as tiger nuts, chufa, and earth almonds, yellow nutsedge tubers have a sweet almond taste. Purple nutsedge also has edible roots. 

So is nutsedge a healthy snack? Here are potential health benefits of yellow nutsedge: 

Rich in nutrients
May encourage healthy digestion
May reduce blood sugar
May improve heart health
May fight infections and boost immune system
May have aphrodisiac properties

Caution: Never consume nutsedge that has been treated with an herbicide, fungicide, pesticide, fertilizer, or other chemicals. 

2. Why is nutsedge bad for the lawn?

Nutsedge isn’t a plant most homeowners want to see sprouting in their yard. Here are some disadvantages of nutsedge that will have you grabbing the herbicide: 

Nutsedge reproduces at an alarming rate.
Its rapid growth can ruin your lawn’s aesthetic a few days after mowing.
Nutsedge can choke out healthy grass and overrun your lawn.
The sedge can invade your flower bed and vegetable garden.
Its numerous tubers are a headache to control.
Nutsedge competes with your turf for nutrients, water, and space.

3. How do I prevent nutsedge in flower beds?

Don’t let nutsedge steal the show from your tulips and daffodils. Here are three ways you can help prevent nutsedge from invading your landscape beds: 

Increase shade. Nutsedge doesn’t grow well in the shade. Plant a tall, dense ground cover or shrub that shades out the weed. Keep in mind that low-growing ground covers won’t shade out nutsedge. 
Install landscape fabric. Love it or hate it, landscape fabric can offer a temporary weed-control solution. Cover the fabric with mulch, such as bark or gravel. 
Avoid contaminated soil. If your soil supplier can’t guarantee tuber-free soil, don’t use it in your landscape beds. 
Remove nutsedge as soon as it sprouts in your flower beds. Otherwise, it will produce tubers and grow out of control. 

Don’t go nuts –– hire a pro

Removing nutsedge isn’t easy. But preventing nutsedge isn’t easy, either. Maintaining a healthy lawn that competes against weeds can eat up hours of your weekend. 

From regular mowing to renting a dethatcher, lawn care can be demanding. Why not hire a local lawn care professional who can ease the burden? A pro can keep your lawn in tip-top shape so that it has a strong defense against nutsedge. Call in the pros and save yourself from a nutsedge infestation. 

Main Photo Credit: Homer Edward Price | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

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