One of the most conspicuous outcomes from Hurricane Michael was the complete disruption of local lawns and landscapes. Giant holes where tree roots once existed, ruts and compacted ground from clean-up equipment, and formerly shaded acres flooded with fresh sunshine were three very common situations property owners suddenly found themselves faced with. An unforeseen consequence of all this newly bare ground ripe was the intrusion by a variety of very aggressive weeds. One invasive exotic weed that has made itself right at home in many county landscapes following Michael and that I’ve seen lots of lately is Torpedograss (Panicum repens).
Often brought into landscapes with “fill-dirt” and “topsoil” applications or spread through mowing, Torpedograss is an aggressive perennial grass in the same plant family as Bermudagrass and Cogongrass. Like many invasive exotic species, Torpedograss was introduced into the United States in the late 1800’s from its native Africa and Asia as a potential forage crop. Unlike its cousin Cogongrass, the Torpedograss is highly palatable to cattle and so gained a quick following among the ranching community. Unfortunately, over the next century, Torpedograss had left the pasture and turned into one of the biggest pest plants in Florida, ruining many a lawn, taking over 70% of the state’s public waterways, disrupting native marshlands, and costing Florida over $2 million a year to control!
Torpedograss growing in a Calhoun County gravel driveway. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Torpedograss spreads rapidly through underground, sharply pointed, white-colored, “torpedo-like” growing tips and can dominate wet or dry areas in short order. The species often hides in lawns when mixed in and mowed with other turfgrasses (especially Zoysiagrass, which it closely resembles), growing unnoticed until infestations are severe and control options are few. This makes scouting for the weed and accurate identification crucial! Torpedograss can be identified by its bluish-green leaf and stem color, hairy leaf edges, stiff overall appearance, distinctive panicle-type flowers, and can grow quickly to 3’ or so in height, spreading indefinitely. Though it initially can resemble other turf species, once you know what you’re looking for, Torpedograss stands out visually amongst its competitors.
After identifying Torpedograss, control methods can be chosen depending on the site it has infested. In lawns, options vary based on turf species. If infestation occurs in the common Centipedegrass and Bahiagrass lawns of the Panhandle, options are few. Products with the active ingredient Sethoxydim (Poast, Fertilome Over the Top, Southern Ag Grass Killer, etc.) can suppress Torpedograss growth in these situations but will not destroy it and are not permanent options. If the area infested is not large, killing the whole spot out with a non-selective herbicide like Glyphosate (Roundup and generics) and then resodding is probably a better option. In Bermudagrass or Zoysiagrass lawns, products with the active ingredient quinclorac (Drive and generics) are very effective at controlling Torpedograss without having to go the “nuclear” glyphosate route. Unfortunately, there are no effective controls for Torpedograss in St. Augustinegrass lawns.
In landscaped beds, Torpedograss is somewhat easier to control. Hand pulling in beds can be effective where new invasions occur but are impractical once the weeds gain a strong foothold. Once that occurs, chemical control is required. In bare or mulched areas away from plants, careful spot spraying in bare areas with a 2-3% glyphosate solution is extremely effective. Where the Torpedograss has grown into and through landscape plants, an “over-the-top” application of fluazifop (Fusilade) will take out the weed without harming most ornamental plant species! (Be sure to check the Fusilade label to make sure your ornamental plant species are safe to apply to!)
Torpedograss is one of the most serious, yet overlooked, invasive plants that occurs in Florida. However, through prevention and control techniques like cleaning mowers when mowing infested areas, accurate identification, and prompt, effective herbicide use, you can keep the weed from taking over your lawn and landscape! For assistance in identifying and controlling Torpedograss and other lawn weeds, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office! Happy gardening!
One big goal of establishing a home lawn and landscape is to enjoy an attractive setting for family and friends, while also helping manage healthy soils and plants. Soil compaction at these sites can cause multiple problems for quality plants establishment and growth. Soil is an incredibly important resource creating the foundation for plants and water absorption.
Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer, UF IFAS
Soils are composed of many different things, including minerals. In Florida, these minerals often include sand of differing sizes and clay in the northern area of the counties in the panhandle of Florida. Soil is also composed of organic matter, nutrients, microorganisms and others. When soil compacts, the air spaces between the sand or clay are compressed, reducing the space between the mineral particles. This can occur anytime during the landscape and lawn construction phase or during long term maintenance of the area with equipment that could include tractors, mowers, and trucks.
What can be done to reduce soil compaction? There are steps that can be taken to help reduce this serious situation. Make a plan on how to best approach a given land area with the equipment needed to accomplish the landscape of your dreams. Where should heavy equipment travel and how much impact they will have to the soils, trees, and other plants already existing and others to be planted? At times heavy plywood may be needed to distribute the tire weight load over a larger area, reducing soil compaction by a tire directly on the soil. Once the big equipment use is complete, look at ways to reduce the areas that were compacted. Incorporating organic matter such as compost, pine bark, mulch, and others by tilling the soil and mixing it with the existing soil can help. Anytime the soil provides improved air space, root will better grow and penetrate larger areas of the soil and plants will be healthier.
Even light foot traffic over the same area over and over will slowly compact soils. Take a look at golf course at the end of cart paths or during a tournament with people walking over the same areas. The grass is damaged from the leaves at the surface to the roots below. Plugging these areas or possibly tilling and reestablishing these sites to reduce the compacted soils may be necessary.
Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer, UF IFAS
Water absorption is another area to plan for, as heavy rains do occur in Florida. Having landscapes and lawns that are properly managed allow increased water infiltration into the soil is critically important. Water runoff from the site is reduced or at least slowed to allow the nutrient from fertilizers used for the plant to have more time to be absorbed into the soil and taken up by the plants. This reduces the opportunity for nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients to enter water areas such as ponds, creeks, lagoons, rivers and bays. Even if you are miles from an open water source, movement of water runoff can enter ditches and work their way to these open water areas, ultimately impacting drinking water, wildlife, and unwanted aquatic plant growth.
Plan ahead and talk with experts that can help with developing a plan. Contact your local Extension office for assistance!
If you’ve taken care of your yard properly from spring green-up to now (mid-July), you might think you can comfortably coast into the cool temperatures of fall without any problems. You would be mostly right, save for one extraordinarily tough weed that waits until the depths of summer to rear its troublesome head: Doveweed (Murdania nudiflora).
Doveweed seedlings just emerged on July 9, 2021. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Doveweed is an insidious invader of Panhandle lawns. In the Panhandle, Doveweed germinates (sprouts) long after most other summer annual weeds, from late May-June when soil temperatures reach ~70°F. This allows it to sneakily avoid spring pre-emergent herbicide applications and even early summer post-emergent applications that target common weeds like Florida Pusley, Spurge species, and others. Doveweed also looks an awful lot like many of our common lawn turfgrasses, especially Centipede and St. Augustine Grass. It possesses thick, shiny, grass-like foliage and even grows in a spreading, low to the ground fashion. This mimicry causes many homeowners to not realize there is a problem until it’s too late. Once Doveweed is mature and displaying its characteristic purple flowers, it is very difficult to control. Finally, Doveweed is extremely tough and aggressive, particularly thriving in moist areas of the lawn. In these areas, Doveweed can easily outcompete the desirable turfgrass and, without intervention by you, will soon have the whole lawn to itself.
Controlling Doveweed is no easy task and requires a combination of practices to keep it out of your lawn. The first line of defense against any weed, Doveweed included, is through proper cultural practices. In turfgrass lawns, this means ensuring that you mow your lawn regularly and at the proper height (2.5” or so for Centipedegrass), keeping the lawn irrigated during droughty periods, fertilizing based on a soil test, etc. Being diligent in the above tasks will go a long way to ensuring that your turfgrass is healthy and better able to ward off a Doveweed invasion. However, even when homeowners maintain their turf perfectly, chemical herbicides are usually required to keep Doveweed at bay.
Doveweed patch in St. Augustine Sod.
While many commonly used homeowner herbicides are not effective on Doveweed, there are several quality options at your disposal.
- Doveweed is most easily controlled with preemergent herbicides, specifically one of the following: Atrazine, Pennant Magnum (S-metolachlor), Tower (dimethenamid), and Specticle (indaziflam). The issue with pre-emergents is that most folks shelve them after spring application in February or March. Since these products lose their efficacy after 4-6 weeks, Doveweed’s emergence in May is undeterred. To obtain control on Doveweed with these products, split the spring application and apply once in late Feb/early March and again in mid-late April.
- Doveweed can also be controlled by post-emergent herbicides after it is up and growing, though multiple applications may be required. The most effective formulations contain a combination of 2,4-D or Dicamba and other herbicides. While most of these products have at least fair efficacy on Doveweed, stronger, more expensive products like Celsius, Tribute Total and others provide better results.
- If Doveweed has already displaced turfgrass in large areas of your lawn, you may unfortunately be better off to make an application of a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate (Roundup), kill out the entire area of infestation and start over by resodding.
While Doveweed is a major problem in Panhandle lawns, it doesn’t have to be in yours! By keeping your turf healthy with proper cultural practices and making timely applications with effective herbicides, your lawn can be a Doveweed free zone! For assistance in Doveweed identification in your lawn, help choosing herbicides and calculating application rates, or any other horticultural information, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension office! Happy Gardening!
Photo Courtesy: Stephen Greer
Lawn areas come in all sizes and shapes. Some are large open expanses providing long views and others are smaller versions surrounded by shrubs and trees creating a more private and secluded setting. There are a number of reasons for reducing the size of a lawn with some coming into play with your decisions. A home lawn is often an important part of the landscape that provides a place to play outdoors from picnicking, tossing the ball to taking a quite stroll.
Maintaining a healthy lawn is important to an overall performance of this part of the landscape. Several factors are involved in the success in keeping a strong and resilient lawn. Understanding the needs of a grass to remain healthy involve soil testing to address soil pH and nutrient needs plus water challenges. Misuse of fertilizer and over irrigation can be costly to you and to the overall health of the lawn. These decisions can lead to reducing lawn size to managing cost or removing underused areas.
There are big benefits to reducing your lawn from saving time in mowing, trimming and other manicuring needs to saving energy costs involving the lawn mower not to mention reducing pollution from the mower or weed eater. The reduced amounts of pesticides needed to manage weeds and disease to the lawn saves time and money.
Another way to look at the reducing the size of our lawn is there will be more space for expanding plant beds and potential tree placement. These settings increase the opportunities for a more biodiverse landscape providing shelter, protection and food options for birds and other wildlife.
Photo Courtesy: Stephen Greer
The lawn can serve as a transition space that leads from one garden room space to another, while still offering a location to bring the lawn chair out to enjoy all that is around your lawn. Lawns and the landscape are ever changing spaces, especially as your trees and shrubs grow and mature to sizes that can directly impact the lawn performance. Often levels of shade will diminish edges and other areas of the lawn. This often will define the reduction of the lawn size moving going forward. Just remember that lawns and landscapes occupy a three-dimensional space involving the horizontal, vertical and overhead spaces. Just look around and think about what is best for you, your family and the setting.Are you more interested in developing other parts of the landscape? With many of us spending more time at home over the last year plus it gave time to think about the outdoor areas. Growing our own vegetables may be a new or expanding part of the landscape with the use of raised beds or interplanting into the existing landscape. Gardening can assist in reducing stress while at the same time providing that fresh tomato, lettuce, herbs and other fun healthy produce.
What ever your decisions are enjoy the lawn and landscape. For additional information, contact your local University of Florida IFAS Extension office located in your county.
Every time we have a dry period in spring or summer, I get those predictable calls about some mysterious pest that’s playing havoc in lawns.
Dry spots in lawn. Photo credit: Larry Williams
Without realizing it, the caller usually describes a textbook example of dry spots in a lawn. And many times that’s what the problem areas are – dry spots.
Dry spots are the result of imperfections in an irrigation system. They are revealed during dry weather. Adequate rainfall masks the imperfections in an irrigation system.
Possible imperfections are many. The homeowner may easily fix some irrigation system problems while other problems may require the expertise of a licensed irrigation contractor. There may be too few sprinkler heads for adequate coverage, insufficient pressure to operate each zone, incorrect choice of nozzles or wrongly mixing rotors with spray heads on the same zone. The cause for dry spots may be as simple as a maladjusted spray head, a broken spray head, a plugged nozzle, a tree or shrub blocking the water, grass that has grown over a pop-up spray head, etc.
Regardless of the cause, there are a couple of simple tests that can help confirm that the problem areas are to be blamed on lack of sufficient water vs. a mysterious pest.
First, check the affected areas by taking a soil sample in the root zone. Use a soil probe or shovel to remove a core of soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Visually inspect and feel the soil sample for moisture. Do the same test in an area of the lawn that looks normal and compare the difference. It should be obvious if there is a difference in moisture between the areas tested.
The second test involves placing several empty straight-sided cans such as tuna fish cans in the affected area and several in a “normal” area of the lawn. Then let the irrigation system run long enough to collect some water in the cans. Compare the amount of water collected in the two areas. It should be obvious if there is a difference in the amount of water applied in the areas tested.
These tests are cheaper, less trouble and more environmentally friendly as compared to purchasing and applying pesticides for nonexistent pests as a result of incorrectly diagnosing the problem. If these tests do not identify the problem as lack of water, you may have a lawn pest. But don’t guess.
Occasionally inspect your irrigation system while it’s running for obvious, easily corrected problems such as a maladjusted or broken spray head. The following UF/IFAS Extension publications will help with your inspection. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/entity/topic/residential_sprinkler_systems
Applying the right amount of water to the lawn when the turf actually needs water is not always the easiest task for busy homeowners. UF IFAS Extension Escambia County Master Gardener Volunteer Greg Leach shares information about a soil moisture monitoring system that attaches to a home sprinkler system. This can help you apply water to the turf when it is actually needed by measuring soil moisture availability.