Fall into Action – Winter Weeds & Turfgrass

Fall into Action – Winter Weeds & Turfgrass

Weeds are basically unwanted plants or plants growing out of place. Proper identification and some understanding of how and why weeds are present in a lawn are important when selecting the best management tactics. All turf weeds can be grouped into one of three life cycles: annual, biennial, or perennial.

Annual: Produces seeds during one season only

Biennial: Produces seeds during two back-to-back seasons

Perennial: Produces seeds over many seasons

Knowing the types of weed previously present in an area also can help one to be better prepared and what control measures to employ in the future.

Weeds may appear in multiple categories, either broadleaf, grass, or Sedges/rushes.

Lawn with winter annual weeds in early spring
Winter annual weeds in lawn in early spring. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Broadleaves, or dicotyledonous plants, have two cotyledons (seed leaves) when the weed seed germinates.

Appearance: Broad, flat leaves with net-like veins and usually have showy flowers.

Common types: Clover, ground ivy, dandelions, chickweed, plantain, henbit, beggarweed.

Grasses are monocotyledonous plants that have only one cotyledon, or seed leaf, present when seedlings emerge from the soil.

Appearance: Narrow leaves with parallel veins in their true leaves. Hollow rounded stems.

Common types: crabgrass, goosegrass, crowfoot grass, bull grass, annual bluegrass, alexander grass, cogon grass, torpedo grass, and smut grass.

Sedges/rushes. Both favor a moist habitat. Appearance: triangular-shaped, solid stems, while rush stems are round and solid.

Common types: yellow and purple nutsedge and, to some degree, globe, Texas, annual, and water sedge.

One of the first steps in managing weeds is to have a healthy dense lawn/ turf to provide shade that prevents seed germination. Having a healthy lawn depends on turf species selected – making sure you put the right plant and right place. Other factors that influence a heathy turf and a reduced amount of weeds include proper cultural control, fertilizing regularly, mowing at the appropriate height, watering deeply, reducing traffic, pest control, and sanitation. If you only have a few bothersome weeds in your lawn, you may be able to dig them up by hand—but if your lawn is overrun with weeds, you may need to start from scratch. If you decide to start from the beginning, you have a choice ahead of you. Do you want to lay down seed or sod? There are pros and cons to each.


Pros: Less expensive, more variety

Cons: Takes longer to germinate, can only lay at certain times of year depending on grass type


Pros: Instant grass, can lay any time of year, requires little maintenance

Cons:  More costly, less variety in grass can mean less healthy lawn overall

To prepare the soil after either method, make sure you till it down to roughly 6 to 8 inches.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publications (Weed management for Florida lawns)  https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP141 or contact your local Extension Office!

Summer Lawn Weed Control

Summer Lawn Weed Control

Summer weeds are here.  What should we do?  As we are officially into summer you are probably noticing many of those summer weeds poking through your lawn by now, or perhaps they have taken over completely. Do not give up, there is still hope for a beautiful lawn with less weeds.

The first thing is to be able to identify the weed and identify the type of grass.  Now you may be thinking that is impossible and maybe you are thinking why it is important to identify those?  The answer to that question is simply that not all chemicals are the same and understanding what you have and the best time of year to spray for that will save you both time and money.  Weeds fall into three categories: Broadleaf, Grass, and Sedge.  Remember, a weed could be any plant that is out of place.  Weeds will compete with desirable plants for nutrients, water, light, and space.

Once you understand what category your weed falls into the next step is to know the life cycle.  For example, winter annuals will die out naturally as the temperatures increase and a chemical may not be needed.  There are weeds that complete their cycle in one year (winter and summer weeds) and there are weeds that complete their cycle in two years (biennials).  A biennial has vegetative growth the first year and will flower and die the second year, examples are Carolina false dandelion, Oldfield toadflax, and cudweed.

Next you will want to identify the indicator species.  What does this mean?  It means that there are some weeds that grow well in compacted soils like goosegrass and annual bluegrass.  Others like it very wet (poor drainage) such as dollar weed, sedges and torpedo grass.  While there are weeds such as sandbur and rustweed that like it very dry and sandy.  Knowing this can help you do preventative weed control.  Grow a healthy turf starting with the right selection, proper cultural practices, pest control, traffic control, and sanitation.

When you are faced with the decision to use chemicals to combat your lawn weeds there are a few things to know.  There are selective herbicides that control certain species without hurting others (your lawn) and there are nonselective herbicides that control green plants regardless of species.  Also, there are contact herbicides, which are exactly how their name implies.  They affect only the portion of the plant that the herbicide touches.  There are also systemic herbicides which are translocated through plant’s vascular system.

The best time to spray herbicides is when the weeds are actively growing, young and not drought stressed or producing seed heads.  A table below shows the active ingredients best for the three categories of weeds.

Broadleaf Weeds Grassy Weeds Sedge Weeds
Centipede 2-4D + Dicamba +MCPP   Thiencarbazone+iodosulfuron + dicamba Sethoxydim Halosulfuron-methy, Sulfentrazone, Imazaquin, Bentazon,
Bermuda 2-4D + Dicamba +MCPP   Thiencarbazone+iodosulfuron + dicamba Quinclorac Halosulfuron-methy, Sulfentrazone, Imazaquin, Bentazon,
Zoysia 2-4D + Dicamba +MCPP   Thiencarbazone+iodosulfuron + dicamba Fluazifop, Quinclorac Halosulfuron-methy, Sulfentrazone, Imazaquin, Bentazon,
St. Augustine 2-4D + Dicamba +MCPP   Thiencarbazone+iodosulfuron + dicamba None Halosulfuron-methy, Sulfentrazone, Imazaquin, Bentazon,
**temperature restrictions

The key is to identify the type of turf you have and the type of weeds you have in the lawn.  Further, look into if there are any factors that can be adjusted that might be causing the excess of weeds.  And lastly, make sure you are using the right method, chemical, and timing for control.  For more information on summer weeds and lawns, please contact your local county extension office.

Information for this article can be found Managing Weeds in Warm Season Lawns | Home & Garden Information Center (clemson.edu)

You Only Need Four Post-Emergent Herbicides

You Only Need Four Post-Emergent Herbicides

It’s the most asked question of Extension agents everywhere.  “What is this weed and what herbicide should I buy to kill it?”  The first part of that question is straightforward.  Between personal field experience, formal plant identification training, and a team of weed science specialists to call on, Florida Extension Agents can get your weed accurately identified.  The second part of the question is slightly more nuanced.  Many weed problems can be avoided by following lawn and landscape Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, like not overwatering, mowing at the correct height, using mulch where you can, etc., but sometimes herbicides are required.  For these situations, if you follow the “homeowners only need four post-emergent herbicides rule”, you’ll be ready for any weed challenge you face!*

Doveweed seedlings just emerged on July 9, 2021. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

The first weed scenario you should be prepared for is spot spraying weeds in landscape beds and around hardscapes like concrete pads, sidewalks, pools, driveways, etc.  For this situation, you’ll turn to the backbone of the four herbicides rule and a staple in any weed management program, glyphosate.  Glyphosate is the active ingredient (AI) in many non-selective products ranging from the infamous Roundup brand to cheaper generics like Killzall and Cornerstone.  Glyphostate is extremely cost-efficient and very effective on a huge range of emerged weeds including grassy weeds, broadleaf weeds, and even sedges (also called nutsedge or “nutgrass”).  Just be sure not to get any overspray on desirable plants or they’ll be seriously damaged!

The second situation we face occurs when “bad” grassy weeds invade landscape beds, shrubs, and vegetable gardens.  These cases call for a grass-selective herbicide that you can spray right over the top of your broadleaf annuals, perennials, and shrubs to take out the unwanted grasses.  In this case, there are two options at your disposal:  sethoxydim (AI in many products like Fertilome Over the Top, Hi-Yield Grass Killer, Poast, etc.) and fluazifop (AI in the product Fusilade).  Both products work well in removing weeds like crabgrass, bermudagrass, goosegrass, and others and can be safely applied over the top of many ornamentals.

Seeds from annuals like Chamberbitter easily get into mulch and turfgrass from surrounding areas. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF Extension Escambia County

From time to time, we need to treat a broadleaf weed like dollarweed, doveweed, chamberbitter, or any number of others, that have invaded our lawn grass.  Some of these weeds are tougher than others, but almost all of them can be managed with the proper rates of 2,4-D, Dicamba, other similar products, or a combination of several of them.  These active ingredients have been on the market for decades so there are many generic options at your disposal.  However, if you have a truly tough broadleaf weed problem, the newer product Celsius WG from Bayer (a combo of Dicamba and two newer AIs), while a little pricey and only available online or at specialty chemical dealers, is well worth the expense and knocks out the most gnarly of lawn weeds.

Finally, there is a category of weeds that aren’t broadleaves and aren’t quite grasses either.  These are the sedges.  Commonly known around the Panhandle as “nutgrass”, sedges are a serious pest of lawns, particularly those that stay a little on the damp side, and vegetable gardens.  Sedges, with their glossy leaves and distinctive flowers, stand out in lawns and gardens, are very unsightly in an otherwise well-maintained area, and can outcompete the desirable plants they invade.  Fortunately, there are several AIs that work very well on sedges and are safe to use around turfgrass and many other plants.  The most effective sedge herbicide AI for homeowners is halosulfuron-methyl (AI in Sedgehammer in lawns and Sandea and Profine in vegetables).  Sedgehammer works very slowly (results can take up to a month) but is very safe in turfgrass and ornamentals and highly effective!  If Sedgehammer and other halosulfuron products are difficult to obtain, Imazaquin is a slightly less effective but more common substitute.  This AI can be found in the product Image Kills Nutsedge and is safe for use in turfgrass and most ornamental plantings.

The challenge of controlling the many types of weeds in your lawn, landscape, and vegetable garden seems daunting, but having just four basic classes of herbicides on hand can greatly simplify things!  Whether you need to control a broadleaf, grass, or sedge weed problem, putting together a weed control toolbox containing a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate, a broadleaf selective like 2-4,D, a grass selective like sethoxydim, and a sedge selective like halosulfuron-methyl can allow you to handle most any weed you come across at home.  For more information on controlling weeds in home landscapes and gardens or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.  Happy gardening!

*Most homeowners discover weed problems after the weeds are already up and growing, making post-emergent products necessary.  Pre-emergent products have a place in weed management programs but are not the focus of this article.

Thistle Emerging in Landscapes Across the Panhandle

Thistle Emerging in Landscapes Across the Panhandle

The thistle has long been an enemy of ranchers, county roadside maintenance crews and homeowners. Often difficult to control, it causes both headaches for producers, in reduction of grazing for livestock as well as being an eyesore for gardening enthusiasts. There are nine different species of thistle in Florida. Most of these are closely related, therefore the control protocols are the same. Only one species is a perennial, and all others are biennial. A biennial plant grows from seed in one year and produces seed for the next.

Thistle that has begun to bolt

Thistle that has begun to bolt. Photo Credit: Dr. Jason Ferrell, University of Florida/IFAS Agronomy Department-Weed Science.

It’s important to understand the biology of the thistle in regards of seeking control of this fast spreading weed. This plant will grow a taproot and a cluster of leaves in the first year. This is known as the rosette stage. In the second year, a stalk will appear from the center of the rosette. This is called “bolting”. A seed head will form once the bolting stage is complete. Amazingly, one thistle plant can amass 4,000 seeds. The plant faces its demise after releasing the seeds. The rosette growth stage is mostly during the winter months with bolting occurring from January to July. This is important to note when battling this persistent weed.

As for control, preventing the thistle from producing seed is the most important management measure. Otherwise, little can be done to stop the outbreak of the weed. For homeowners, manually removing the rosette and tap root by hand is effective with small stands. Be careful and wear protective coverings on your hands and arms. Keep in mind, the plant will come back if the tap root is not fully removed.

Other physical control methods, like mowing, have mixed results. This can be effective if mowing occurs after the bolting stage has occurred, but before the seed head forms. However, this is tricky, as thistle plants often do not bloom at the same time.

Thistles in the rosette stage are very susceptible to herbicides. Although, applying a herbicide after the seed head has formed has little effect on control. Herbicides containing 2,4-D are very effective for landscapes. Timing of application is critical. The key to controlling this weed is by scouting and identifying stands as early as possible.

If you’re a beekeeper, there is an upside to this weed. Delicious honey can be made from the thistle bloom.

For more information on thistle, please contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS Publication, “Thistle Control in Pastures” by Dr. Brent Sellers and Dr. Jason Ferrell.

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Controlling Cogongrass

Controlling Cogongrass

Over the last decade or so, the Panhandle has been overrun, and I don’t just mean by the summer beach traffic.  Rather, by an aggressive, exotic perennial grass that quickly displaces all native species, is not useful as a forage to wildlife or livestock, can spread by roots or seeds, and has no natural enemies.  If you own property in the Panhandle or spend any amount of time on its roads, chances are you have become acquainted with this worst of invasive species, Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica).

A native of Southeast Asia, cogongrass was introduced into the US in 1912 around Mobile, AL as a hitchhiker in orange crate packing.  Then the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, it was intentionally introduced from the Philippines into other Gulf Coast states, including Florida, as a potential pasture forage for livestock.  Since then, cogongrass has become one of the most economically and ecologically important invasive species in the US and worldwide, infesting nearly 500 million acres and is now found on every continent.

Cogongrass in Calhoun County, FL. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

Cogongrass is easily identified in late spring, when the grass throws easily spotted fluffy, white-colored seedheads above the mats of grass beneath.  Additionally, patches of cogongrass are almost always noticeably circular in nature, radiating out indefinitely from the initial infestation.  A closer inspection of the grass will reveal light green leaves up to 4’ in length, with an off-center, silvery colored midrib (the primary leaf vein that runs from the base of the leaf to the tip) and serrated leaf edges.   Underground, cogongrass exhibits a dense underground root system that can reach as deep as 4’.  This feature is the primary reason cogongrass outcompetes other plants, withstands any drought, fire, or soil condition thrown at it, aids in its resistance to herbicide activity, and generally makes it very difficult to manage.

The first step in managing cogongrass is prevention.  If your property or the property you manage doesn’t have cogongrass, do everything you can to keep it that way.  While the species can spread distances through seed dispersal, it is much more frequently moved around by fragmented rhizomes hitching a ride on equipment.  If you or a contractor you’ve hired are working in or around an area with cogongrass present, avoid disturbing it with equipment and be diligent in monitoring the site for outbreaks following the job’s completion.

If you find cogongrass on your property, effectively eradicating it requires patience, persistence, and several years’ worth of herbicide applications.  Currently, of the hundreds of herbicides available for purchase, only two chemistries have been proven to be very effective in destroying cogongrass, impazapyr (Arsenal, Stalker, etc.) and glyphosate (Roundup, Cornerstone, etc.).

  • Imazapyr is an extremely effective non-selective, residual herbicide that controls a wide variety of weed species, including cogongrass. Just one or two applications of imazapyr can provide 18-24 months of effective cogongrass control, with follow up treatments required as needed after that.   However, Imazapyr has a major downside that limits its use in many settings.  Because it is a non-selective herbicide with significant soil residual activity, it cannot be used around the root zones of desirable plants.  Oaks, other hardwood trees, and most landscape plants are especially sensitive to imazapyr.  This herbicide is best limited to use in fields, waste/fallow areas, natural areas, and monoculture pine plantations – it is not appropriate in most residential and commercial landscapes.
  • The other option, glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide with no soil residual activity. It is often a better option where severe injury or death of desirable hardwood trees and ornamental plants cannot be tolerated.  However, due to its lack of residual soil activity, glyphosate applications on cogongrass patches will need to be repeated on an annual or biannual basis for up to five years for eradication of the infestation.

*Regardless of which herbicide you choose, controlling cogongrass is a multi-year affair requiring diligence and patience. 

For more information on cogongrass and for specific herbicide recommendations and application rates/timing for your site, please contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office.


Fall Preparation in the Garden!

Fall Preparation in the Garden!

Carrots need enough space so as not to compete for light, nutrients, or moisture. Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Yes, that’s right! We made it through the hottest part of the year and we are looking ahead to fall just around the corner!  I am excited to be discussing September and what we can do to prepare for fall in the garden.  As the nighttime temperatures start to cool down, we are given many more options.

For annual color plantings in September, try Ageratum, Celosia, Zinnias, and Wax Begonia to add fall color to your landscape.  Bulbs will also add color, texture, and pattern to a bed.   If you have some extra space, a variety of elephant ears could really accent a bed or you could always go with the classic calla, narcissus or zephyr lily.  Popular vegetables to plant in North Florida in September are broccoli, carrot, cabbage, and collards. See Vegetable Gardening in Florida This is also the time of year to establish strawberry plants.  Some great herbs to get started are Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil.

Strawberries growing on "plastic" to protect them from water splashed fungal spores found in soil. Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County

Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County

There are many things that can be done in your lawn during September.  Monitoring your lawn for its health and potential insect pests is important this time of year.  Common insects to scout for are fall armyworms, chinch bugs, mole crickets, and sod webworms.  The last fertilizer application should be done by the middle to end of September.  Make sure you choose a fertilizer with little to no phosphorus unless a soil test shows differently.  To maintain a healthy lawn, avoid weed and feed products and only apply herbicides in areas with high infestations of weeds. Weed and feed products are not recommended because the timing of when to fertilize and the timing of the weed killer is not always the same. The best management practice is to use a separate treatment for weeds and when possible spot treat weeds.

If you already have bulbs in your landscape from previous growing seasons, this is the time to divide and replant those that are big.  You can also add organic matter to new planting areas. Continue working on your vegetable plants and prepare them for either transplants for a fast start, or plants seeds for more variety.  Throughout your landscape, it is important that plants are getting the right amount of water as we go in and out of wet and dry weather this time of year.

October will be here before we know it in just a couple of weeks. Look out for the next article to come.  We will be getting into the cooler nights and more options for planting vegetables and herbs!