Blue Eyed Grass, Annoying Weed or Pretty Native Plant?  It Depends!

Blue Eyed Grass, Annoying Weed or Pretty Native Plant?  It Depends!

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!

Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium rosulatum) in a Centipedegrass lawn in late March. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

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.

Blue Eyed Grass clump brought into the Calhoun County Extension office for identification and control recommendations in February 2021. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

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!

Winter Annual Weeds, a Great Place to Hide Easter Eggs

Winter Annual Weeds, a Great Place to Hide Easter Eggs

As a boy in a small town in Georgia we had a St. Augustinegrass lawn. My dad started the lawn before I was born. That lawn was still doing fine when I left for college at age seventeen. I don’t remember weeds in the lawn during summer months. I do fondly remember winter “weeds” in that lawn.

To see clumps of winter annuals in our yard and in neighbors’ yards was a natural part of the transition from winter to spring. They added interest to what

Bluish Easter egg hidden in chickweed

Blue Easter egg hidden in chickweed. Photo credit: Larry Williams

would have been a plain palette of green. It was expected to see henbit with its square stiff stems holding up a display of small pinkish purple flowers in late winter and early spring. A clump of henbit was a great place to hide an Easter egg, especially a pink or purple one.

Wild geranium, another common winter annual, offered another good hiding place for Easter eggs with its pink to purple flowers. Large clumps of annual chickweed would nicely hide whole eggs. Green colored eggs would blend with chickweed’s green leaves.

Pink Easter egg hidden in crimson clover and hop clover mix

Pink Easter egg hidden in crimson clover & hop clover mix. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Crimson clover with its reddish flowers, hop clover and black medic with their bright yellow flowers were good hiding places for Easter eggs. Plus clovers add nitrogen back to our soils.

I never remember my dad using any weed killer, he rarely watered. The lawn was healthy and thick enough to be a deterrent to summer weeds. But during fall and winter as the lawn would naturally thin and go dormant, winter annual weeds would run their course.

I’ve heard that the sense of smell provides our strongest memories. I remember the first mowing of the season with the clean smell of chlorophyll in the spring air. It was refreshing. Once mowed and as the heat took its toll, by late April or mid-May, these winter annual weeds were gone. What was left was a green lawn to help cool the landscape as the weather warmed. The lawn was mowed high as St. Augustine should be, played on and typically not worried with.

Most people have winter weeds in their lawns that let us know spring is near. Perhaps we worry too much with these seasonal, temporary plants that may have wrongly been labeled as weeds. Besides, how long have we been doing battle with these weeds and they are still here. Most lawns have countless numbers of winter annual seeds awaiting the cooler temperatures and shorter days of early winter to begin yet another generation. By May they are gone.

Timing is Everything for Spring Lawn Fertilizing

Timing is Everything for Spring Lawn Fertilizing

Our trees and vines are flowering and lawns are starting to green up naturally, but one glance at the calendar and it is still early spring.  The last official frost date for the Florida panhandle can be into April depending on location.  We know our day time and night time temperatures are still fluctuating every other day.  We also know the stores and nurseries are stocked with shelves and pallets of fertilizer.  So the big question is when can I fertilizer my lawn?

Ryegrass

Overseeded ryegrass on a centipedegrass lawn.

My answer after years of practice is always it depends, but my non-scientific rule of thumb to homeowners is wait until you mow three weeks in a row and make sure you’re past the last frost dates for your area.  If you need to mow three weeks in a row for height, then your lawn is actively growing and most likely we are into a temperature range good for fertilizer applications.  If you apply fertilizer to a lawn that is dormant, the fertilizer will not be taken up by your roots and it can leach below the root zone wasting money while not improving the lawn and possibly causing environmental concerns.

With that said, there are some factors to consider.  We always recommend doing a soil test first.  This can be done in advance of spring.  Your test results might indicate having sufficient nutrients in the soil, so not applying would save you money and the lawn would still look good.  The soil test will also indicate what nutrients are in excess or lacking, then you can apply only the nutrients needed.

I have found that fertilizer is still very much misunderstood.  When I ask homeowners whether they consider fertilizer to be medicine or a stressor, most will answer medicine and we all know if a little medicine is good, then a bit more is better.  However, it is more accurate to think of fertilizer as a chemical stressor.  If my lawn is unhealthy, then I force my lawn to grow and it can further weaken my plants.  Think of it like this, if you’re not feeling well at night before you go to bed, should you consume one of those big energy drinks?  Not if you want to sleep and hopefully feel better in the morning.  Apply fertilizer when the lawn is ready and capable of having a positive response when spring fully arrives.

Bahia mix

Wakulla County Extension office mixed species turf.

Here are some items you should know before you fertilize the lawn.  Fertilizers used in Florida should have a license number that begins with F followed by a series of numbers.  It is important to check your fertilizers before you apply.  You need to know what type of turfgrass you have in your lawn.   We have a lot of bahiagrass and centipedegrass lawns in the panhandle.  Each will require a different regiment.  You are only allowed to apply one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per application and you should never apply more than the recommended rate.  I always refer to a childhood fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” when thinking about plant health.  Slow and steady makes for a better lawn in the long run.  This means you need to measure your lawn, understand how to calculate the nitrogen and then apply correctly with the right equipment and spreader patterns.  We also recommend very little phosphorus (the middle number on the fertilizer bag 15-0-15) for Florida lawns.  Our soils are usually sufficient and this is another item your soil test results will confirm.

Remember, your local Extension office is always here to help especially making sure you treat the lawn right.  Think before you apply because your long-term goal is improving the lawn quality.

 

The Florida Fertilizer Label (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss170) and General Recommendations for Fertilization of Turfgrasses on Florida Soils (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh014). T. W. Shaddox, assistant professor; UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314

Homeowner Best Management Practices for the Home Lawn (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep236).  Laurie E. Trenholm, professor, Extension turfgrass specialist, Environmental Horticulture Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Bahiagrass for Florida Lawns (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh006).  L. E. Trenholm, professor, turfgrass specialist, Department of Environmental Horticulture; J. B. Unruh, professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center; and J. L. Cisar, retired professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale REC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Centipedegrass for Florida Lawns (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh009).  J. B. Unruh, professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center; L. E. Trenholm, associate professor, turfgrass specialist, Environmental Horticulture Department; and J. L. Cisar, professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale REC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

 

 

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2021

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2021

We are back with new topics and guest speakers for 2021! All sessions are Thursdays at noon CDT or 1:00 p.m. EDT.

There are two ways to join the Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! webinars:

1. Facebook Live – Follow us on Facebook and follow individual webinar Events.
2. Zoom Webinar – Pre-registration is required for Zoom. Users must have an authenticated account (free at Zoom Link). Be sure you have security settings up to date to prevent connection delays. Links to Zoom registration will be added to the topic one week before the webinar and a closed captioned recorded link to YouTube will be available approximately one week after the program. (Underlined words have active links!)

 

Date

Topic

Panelists

12-1 pm CDT

2/4/2021

Weeds
Reference links

Dr. Chris Marble, Beth Bolles, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

3/11/2021

Spring Vegetables
Reference links

Dr. Josh Freeman, Matt Lollar, Sheila Dunning, Evan Anderson

4/8/2021

Lawns

Dr. Bryan Unruh, Dr. Pat Williams, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

5/13/2021

Herbs

Beth Bolles, Julie McConnell, Mary Salinas, Trevor Hylton

6/10/2021

Ornamental & Turf Diseases

Dr. Phil Harmon, Stephen Greer, Larry Williams, Matt Orwat

7/29/2021

Beneficial Insects: Predators!

Dr. Adam Dale, Beth Bolles, Julie McConnell, Danielle Sprague

8/12/2021

Open landscape topics Q&A

Beth Bolles, Mark Tancig, Matt Lollar, Evan Anderson

9/9/2021

Beginning Beekeeping

Amy Vu, Ray Bodrey, Evan Anderson, Matt Orwat

10/14/2021

Invasive Species

Dr. Stephen Enloe, Dr. Pat Williams, Dr. Gary Knox, Sheila Dunning, Ray Bodrey

11/4/2021

Houseplants

Marc Frank, Dr. Pat Williams, Stephen Greer, Matt Orwat

12/9/2021

Selecting and Maintaining Trees

Larry Figart, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams, Matt Orwat

Missed a session and want to catch up?
All webinars are archived with closed captioning on our YouTube Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Playlist.

 

 

Pusley Control in Florida Turfgrass

Pusley Control in Florida Turfgrass

Florida pusley has a low, spreading habit.

Florida pusley and its relatives, Brazilian and large-flower pusley, are common sights in lawns and landscapes during the summer. These prolific and tenacious weeds are closely related species in the genus Richardia, in the Rubiaceae family which includes coffee, bedstraw, and the plant from which the emetic ipecac is derived. With their thick leaves, low and spreading growing habit, and bright white flowers, they can quickly take over bare spots in a lawn and become quite a nuisance.

Because bare spots are a magnet for pusley (and weeds in general), one method to help prevent this weed from becoming a problem is to ensure the turfgrass is as healthy as possible. Well established grass can outcompete many other competitors. Keeping a lawn in tip-top shape includes watering properly, mowing at the recommended height for the grass species and variety, fertilizing appropriately, and controlling pests and diseases in a timely fashion. This can take some work in North Florida’s hot, humid climate, but prevention is almost always easier than trying to cure a problem.

Florida pusley is quickly noticed as soon as it flowers. While some may find the flowers attractive, they set seeds swiftly and before you know it, the next generation of plants is ready to go. Surprisingly, they are also an important nectar plant for honeybees. If chemical control is warranted for an infestation, a pre-emergent herbicide may help. Timing is important for this, so keep an eye on the thermometer – pre-emergents should be applied in the spring (February or March) when temperatures reach 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit for four to five days in a row. Examples are products with active ingredients such as atrazine or pendimethalin, though atrazine should not be used on bermudagrass or bahiagrass.

For weed problems that are already established, there are post-emergent herbicides available. In bahia, bermuda, and zoysia, products containing 2,4-D (or mixtures, such as 2,4-D and dicamba) can work fairly well. These products may require two applications to adequately control pusley. Be aware that some herbicides are sold under trade names that may be confusing, such as Roundup for Southern Lawns, which is a mixture of 2,4-D and penoxsulam, and is labeled for use on bahia, bermuda, St. Augustine, and zoysia grasses . It does not contain glyphosate, and Roundup that DOES contain glyphosate will kill turfgrass as well as weeds. Check the active ingredients on the herbicide label.

In St. Augustine lawns, options are more limited. Homeowners with St. Augustine may want to consider contacting a lawn care company for help with pusley. The available herbicides that are labeled for use in this instance are either difficult to use or prohibitively expensive (The herbicide Celsius, for example, costs over $100 per 10 oz. bottle). Another chemical that is effective is metsulfuron, and while it can be used in bermuda and zoysia lawns as well, it comes with some serious difficulties. First and foremost, it can be taken up by the roots of plants and is NOT safe to use around trees or shrubs. Properly measuring the chemical is tricky, as it may take only a single ounce to treat a whole acre. Serious damage can be done to surrounding plants if it is mixed or used improperly, and as such it may be difficult to find at local stores.

Homeowners who choose an herbicide to control pusley or any weed should be aware that high temperatures during the Florida summer can cause chemicals to affect the grass as well. St. Augustine is especially prone to this, and some herbicides such as 2,4-D may affect grasses more when temperatures rise above 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

A closeup of Florida pusley flowers.

Treatment of pusley and weeds in general is most effective when the plants are young. Large pusley plants have deeper roots and may take more applications of herbicides to control effectively. Furthermore, of the pusley species that can be found in our area, large-flower pusley is more difficult to control and may be tolerant of some chemicals. For more information, contact your local Extension office.

-Evan Anderson, Walton County Horticulture Agent

What are These Bugs in My Sod?

What are These Bugs in My Sod?

On a daily basis, it is not unusual for our Extension Office to get calls, emails, and walk-ins with questions about insect identification.  Sometimes we even get questions about imaginary insects!  The overwhelming opinion by our clientele is that the insects in question are harmful to their landscapes and gardens.  This is not always the case since there are more than 100,000 species of insects found in the United States, but less than 1% are harmful.

Recently I received a call about an abundance of bugs in a client’s newly installed sod.  He was concerned that the insects were taking over his yard.  Luckily, he was able to submit some good quality photos so the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Service could help him identify the insects.

Ground Beetle

An adult ground beetle (Mochtherus tetraspilotus). Photo Credit: Michael C. Thomas, Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services

The photos were sent to a University of Florida Entomologist for identification verification.  It turns out the insects were ground beetles (family Carabidae).  Adult ground beetles are slender and range between 1/4″ and 3/8″ in length.  Their head and thorax are much narrower than their abdomens.  Ground beetles are beneficial insects that feed on moth eggs and larvae.  They are known predators of soybean loopers, cabbage loopers, and velvetbean caterpillars.  It is suspected that the beetles found by the client came from the sod farm and were living in the thatch layer of the sod.  They were possibly feeding on sod webworms or other moth larvae.

Accurate identification is the first step of integrated pest management (IPM).  In this case, the insect found wasn’t a pest at all.  If you need help identifying an insect, feel free to contact your local Extension Agent.  For more information on beneficial insects, visit these publications found at edis.ifas.ufl.edu.