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My War on Invasive Grass

How do you get rid of Japanese Stiltgrass and/or Bermudagrass? Difficult to say and even more difficult to be successful.

Bermuda Grass and Japanese Stiltgrass

This stuff is just awful. If you have it, you know it and you want to pull your hair out. Personally, I have the bermuda grass, aka ........, at my community garden plot and japanese stiltgrass at home ~~ just like everyone else in my neighborhood! Very limited resources are able to get this stuff if you want to live the organic life.

Biologically speaking, it should be easier to get rid of the japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) because of how it grows. It was introduced into the United States in Tennessee around 1919 and likely escaped as a result of its use as a packing material for porcelain. Because it is shallow-rooted, stiltgrass may be pulled by hand at any time ~ I feel very satisfied when I pull this stuff! If flowering, cut plants back using a mower, weed whip or other device to prevent seed production - especially in late summer when the seeds mature.http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/pubs/midatlantic/mivi.htm  The big problem with this grass is that it is so invasive, it will eventually choke out native plants as well as the nice grass you actually want to grow in your yard!

This past spring, I had finally reached my limit with this stuff in my yard. I asked a professional at Merrifield Garden Center what to use. I asked if corn gluten meal, an organic pre-emergent product, would work. I also asked about Preen, a chemical treatment for crabgrass removal. I eventually settled on another product which also treats the japanese stiltgrass. It also has corn gluten as the No. 1 ingredient on the item list.

In mid-March, I applied it on a part of my yard which has been taken over by the weed as you should use this pre-emergent around the time the forsythia bloom. As of today, it has done a marvelous job controlling the stiltgrass! The only problem now is the edges of the parcel of land because I could not reach everywhere ~ how frustrating! It is also in a lot of my planting beds. Easily removed but still annoying.

Now, on to the Bermudagrass or Wire Grass (Cynodon dactylon). Ugh. This stuff can root at every leaf node, it can tunnel underground from any leaf blade to create a new "branch" to sprout in another direction. The vines can become matted both on top and below the soil surface. It can grow up to 6-9" below the surface and become nearly impossible to eradicate. C. dactylon reproduces through seeds, through runners and rhizomes. Growth begins at temperatures above 15 °C (59 °F) with optimum growth between 24 to 37 °C (75 to 99 °F); in winter the grass becomes dormant and turns brown. This does NOT mean the grass is dead!! http://www.ppws.vt.edu/scott/weed_id/cynda.htm

I am a gardener at one of the Reston Association organic gardens. This is awesome in many respects - you can eat the veggies right in the garden, you don't have to worry about overspray from someone's pesticide, etc. The one thing we cannot do is spray Roundup to get rid of this grass. We could spray vinegar but this will only take care of burning/killing the surface vines; you would still have to dig the roots out by hand. Again, I say - UGH.

I always feel good when I fill trash bags each spring with this nasty stuff. I only feel good until my hands and elbows start to hurt from all the pulling and digging! I have found a fantastic tool to aid in the removal of this witch grass - a Korean Hoe or Hand Plow. This marvelous tool can be found at the Grand Mart on Rt. 7 during certain times of the year, not sure if they still have them now that it is June. If you can find one, BUY IT! This is just an awesome garden tool!

But, this fast-growing grass is a tedious herbaceous pest and you need to keep on top of it throughout the entire year as it never seems to get cold enough to kill it off. It will grow under planter boxes, under weed cover, under and over plastic, just about anywhere...all year. Once infected, be diligent because it takes over.

Good luck!

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Susan Funk June 07, 2012 at 05:45 PM
What do you do about stilt grass after it has started aggressively growing now that it is June. Also my neighbor is an investor, has renters and their stilt grass infects the whole neighborhood in the fall? My yard gets "infected" every year as the problem gets progressively worse each year!
Susan Funk June 07, 2012 at 05:45 PM
What do you do about stilt grass after it has started aggressively growing now that it is June. Also my neighbor is an investor, has renters and their stilt grass infects the whole neighborhood in the fall? My yard gets "infected" every year as the problem gets progressively worse each year!
Carol Nahorniak June 07, 2012 at 06:14 PM
WTOP garden guy said last week that in about ten years our lawns will be 100% Bermuda grass!
Molly O'Boyle June 07, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Carol, that is frightening! If only out was in my yard and not my veggie garden! Susan, I am doing some research on this and will let you know. The best thing I can say is to prep for the spring when you can put a pre-emergent down. Well let you know if there is anything I find out.
Molly O'Boyle June 08, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Susan, I just looked at this site this morning, http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/mivi1.htm . As you read through it, you will see there is not much you can do with the grass in June and July. The key is to cut it down BEFORE it seeds in the fall! Don't know how to get your neighbor to take care of his yard, but this seems to be the initial step in starting control for next year. Then, in the spring, use a pre-emergent to control the germination of any seeds. Good luck!
Peter Paul van Dijk June 09, 2012 at 05:56 PM
I also garden in one of the RA organic allotments and inherited a good dose of Bermuda/wire/crab grass. I've dug out my planter beds one spade deep, deeper if I see any roots, and sifted the soil through 1/2 inch metal mesh to take out all roots. Any small root pieces that escape notice will sprout and emerge before a substantial root system is formed, so careful weeding at least once a week will eliminate all such survivors. I'm gradually eliminating the bermuda grass from the pathways as well, sprig by sprig, and either laying down weedblock and a gravel or woodchip mulch, or planting in 'nice' grasses to cover as much soil as possible and 'crowd out' any bermuda grass seedlings before they germinate and take hold. But the key is, as Helen Dillon [Irish gardeing guru] says: "Never pass a weed". If you see a weed, take the few seconds to bend down and pull it out.
BBurns June 10, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Back yards that abut ours are 75 to 90% stilt grass so there's nothing optimal to do. In a smaller back/side area, we covered the entire ground with several sheets of newspaper and mulched heavily, suffocating the stilt grass. We put down stepping stones and slowly are planting the area. While the stilt grass can still come over, it's more manageable. We also mulched our backyard hill heavily and have been slowly planting it, which helps some. (It's a big hill down to the lake and there's only so much we can do each season. In the front yard, we used Burnout 2 - an organic product - on one swath starting to encroach onto a neighbor's yard (ack!). It doesn't harm wildlife/birds after dry, and we just stayed outside until it was dry. Like Molly said, we keep the lawn cut (not short, just cut) so it won't go to seed and will use products our lawn guy recommends - his company is testing an organic product that holds promise. We also are reducing the amount of grass (since grass isn't a positive force anyway), increasing the size of beds and planting native ground cover and perennials. The birds, butterflies and non-scary beeds love that. Very much a work in progress.
BBurns June 10, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Typo - sorry, that was non scary bumble bees. We also have a wild violet problem. Any thoughts on that? Btw, it's a real loss that American Plant Food garden center/nursery is shutting down in Great Falls after only five years. They didn't meet sales goals. APF has two locations in Bethesda, where we used to live. They sell only organic products to control weeds - no pesticides or herbicides. And they make a wonderful "tea" for feeding plants. And unlike the big garden center in our area, they allowed Reston to give them a list of the banned, highly invasives. As one native garden owner said about the garden centers that sell invasives, often the very worst of them, the only green in that case is the color of the money.
Molly O'Boyle June 11, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Beth, it is sad about that garden center closing. I gotta say, there is a lot of choice around here for where to buy plant material and supplies. Organic materials are much, MUCH more available this year than when I had to order everything online for my organic veg garden. I agree about the invasives too! The local garden centers should NOT be selling the stuff! I can't believe though that Vinca minor (periwinkle) is considered an invasive. I much prefer its coverage to the dreaded English Ivy, which can be found anywhere. The true native garden center experts are at Green Springs in Annandale. Check them out if you are interested in natives.
BBurns June 20, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Molly, funny you mentioned periwinkle. We finally got the last of it out of our front and back yard. I agree it's not anywhere as invasive as awful English ivy, but apparently patches of it loom up in wooded areas. You know the lists on line that rate invasives as worst, not as bad, etc? I think it's genrally lowest on the list. We get a lot of our native plants from Nature by Design in Alexandria - they only sell natives, don't use herbicides, etc. And we've ordered some from a place in PA - can't think of the name now. Plus this year we took advantage of the native plant sale at the Nature House. I'm not an expert, not much of a gardener, and don't do much more than read, weed and worry. : ) But I have to say with native plants, after the first year of watering, assuming there's no really bad drought the second year, it's nice to sit back and not worry about the natives.
Nathan Forand July 09, 2012 at 08:55 PM
"I eventually settled on another product which also treats the japanese stiltgrass. It also has corn gluten as the No. 1 ingredient on the item list." Hi what is the name of product you ended up using? Thanks.
Molly O'Boyle July 13, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Nathan, et al, I finally remembered to look in my garage at the bag I bought this spring. It is "Preen/Crabgrass Preventer". I must have thought I chose another product, but this is the one. I have done further research on this product: it is effective ONLY on annual weeds or any seeds you may be planting. So, it can be used in a perennial bed or any other planting bed with established plants. I don't know for sure, but I think you can apply it in the fall for three months of coverage to prevent the onset of fall annual weeds. Will see if I can figure that out soon, as the time to apply would be near! My suggestion: seed in the fall ~ treat the lawn when the forsythia bloom or a bit before.

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