It’s Nuts, Y’all

Karen Ott Mayer

In my first garden built on a Missouri farm, I came to know a relentless interloper called bindweed. A terrible, mangled mess that mats a garden like a woven rug, I gladly left it behind when I moved back South. For years, I longed for that farm, but never once that weed.

In my recently dug hill garden here at Moon Hollow Farm I have found a new sworn enemy: Nutgrass. Just like fire ants, the weed had largely remained off my radar in another garden built 25 miles north at a former residence. This persistent, slender grass-like weed is really a sedge and multiplies by setting its long underground runners. From above, the weed looks line an individual blade of grass that’s easily pulled by hand – which I happily did in the spring.

Had I read more, I would have realized this weed is also a bit sinister, silently wishing a naïve hand will pluck if from the ground. Why? Because then it simply set more runners and produces more plants, laughing quietly behind your back. My lovely tulip bed, the raised bed packed with white yarrow and a fledgling dahlia bed all succumbed to a dense grassy mat by late summer, just about when scorched-earth gardening happens. When the heat relented, my resolve returned and I began earnestly figuring out how to control the beast in the raised beds and hoop house.

If hoping to avoid the chemical route, options do exist. First if all is out of control, mow it down simply for some instant gratification. Because I was dealing with a large area, I then chose the smothering method. I covered the hoop house floor with plastic, cardboard, old tax records and anything else that felt weighty. I walked away and then dealt with the raised beds where I found good news. Filled with soft, friable pro mix, the boxed developed a record-breaking crop of nutgrass; but with a hay fork, I found the whole mat could be pulled out in chunks and tossed aside. I spent less than an hour in each 4 x 10 raised bed. Using a tined tool instead of a shovel prevented the dreaded chopping of the runners.

Despite my brilliance, anyone who has dealt with nutgrass knows the real trick is preventing its early establishment. If you see one blade, get it gone. If you see two blades, it’s time to sell the property and move – preferably to a large city with acres of concrete.

Karen Ott Mayer published her first garden-themed article in 1999 in Mississippi Magazine. Since then, she has traveled extensively across the U.S. and around the world, where she’s worked with media and business affiliates in various travel, horticulture, agriculture and health care fields. Today, she works in Mississippi, on her farm, Moon Hollow Farm, in the hills of northern Mississippi. Moon Hollow Farm is her focus now, growing cut flowers!