The line separating what is a weed and what isn’t often comes down to where the “weed” is growing and who is managing the area it’s growing in. Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium rosulatum), one of the most complained about lawn weeds this winter/spring falls squarely in that category! Native plant enthusiasts and homeowners looking to add native wildflowers to their landscape value the plant for its low maintenance, star-shaped blue blossoms in spring. Professional and home turfgrass managers, however, loathe the plant as it masquerades as grass to the untrained eye, looks messy in the cool months, and can displace turf during spring green up. While Blue Eyed Grass can be a pretty landscape plant, our focus today is on learning why it is such an annoying weed in turfgrass areas and exploring control options if it becomes a problem!
For starters, Blue Eyed Grass (BEG) is not even a grass, though it does look an awful lot like one! It is actually a member of the Iris family and is more closely related to spring beauties like Gladiolus, Iris, and Crocus than any turfgrasses. The flowers, appearing late March through April, are a dead giveaway that we aren’t dealing with a grass, as are the flat leaves arranged in bunched fan-shaped rosettes. BEG is considered a winter annual plant in Florida, meaning it sprouts from seed in the fall, grows through the winter, then flowers and sets seed in the spring. Because it grows while lawn grass is dormant, it is very noticeable during its entire lifespan. Though BEG can tolerate a range of soil types, it prefers to grow in moist areas, making it right at home in Panhandle lawns and landscapes in the winter as we experience regular to excessive rainfall throughout our cool season.
All the above characteristics make BEG an annoying weed in lawns. It hides in turfgrass very well until the turf goes dormant in the dead of winter, leading most homeowners to ignore it until it becomes a problem in the spring. At this point, BEG is nearing maturity and is more difficult to control without damaging the turfgrass. BEG also thrives in our climate and can outcompete poorly managed turfgrass, especially if the lawn exhibits the soggy, compacted conditions that heavy lawn foot traffic and winter/spring rainfall cause. So, what is a homeowner to do?
The first step in controlling BEG is maintaining a healthy turf. Ensure you’re treating your turf well during the growing season by fertilizing appropriately, mowing frequently at the correct height, and irrigating properly. Sending turf into the dormant season stressed by poor growing season management is an invitation to winter weeds. Other cultural practices that can help mitigate troublesome winter weeds like BEG are periodic mowing during the cool season to prevent weeds from going to seed and being diligent about not frequently driving on, parking cars on, or otherwise excessively compacting the soil, a common cause of unhealthy turfgrass.
After implementing the above cultural practices in your lawn management regime, you may also need chemical herbicides to achieve a clean cool season lawn. There are two basic options for BEG control. First, a fall (mid-late October) application of a pre-emergent herbicide like dithiopyr, prodiamine, or pendimethalin can be very effective at preventing winter weeds from occurring at all. If you happen to miss this fall pre-emergent application, a timely post-emergent application of 2,4-D or other general broadleaf herbicides works nicely as well. (BEG and other cool season weeds are best controlled with post-emergent herbicides in December and January before they mature and begin to set seed. Plan applications accordingly!)
While Blue Eyed Grass can be an attractive addition to the landscape, it is never welcome in turfgrass! To prevent this and weeds from becoming a problem, use smart cultural practices to maintain a healthy turf and make timely herbicide applications when needed. For more information on controlling Blue Eyed Grass and other winter weeds, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office!