Monday, June 16, 2008

A pox on all your houses!

You know that saying, "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy?" I think the first person to utter those words was a gardener suffering from an infestation of nutsedge, a.k.a. nutgrass. This organism is as relentless as The Borg, pronouncing to all around it: "We will assimilate you. Resistance is futile."

I was housesitting for a friend last week when I noticed several shocks of nutgrass emerging in a pot of crocosmia I'd given her recently. Whew! I'd caught it before she planted it in her garden. Rather than weeding out the noxious hitchhikers, I dumped the pot—crocosmia, nutgrass, soil and all—into a garbage bag. I burned the garbage bag and put the ashes into a steel box and welded all the cracks shut. I mixed up a tub of concrete and sunk the box into it. Then I drove the slab of cement to a hazardous waste facility and dropped it off with a warning that they should store it with the nuclear waste. After all, my friend is my friend, not my worst enemy. And friends don't let friends plant nutgrass.

I surmise that my garden became infested with nutsedge (I have both yellow nutsedge and purple nutsedge, but mostly purple) via some inadequately composted manure I trucked in a few years ago. I find it to be harder to manage than even bermudagrass, whose rhizomes are at least ropy enough to hold onto when hand-digging. Also, when the whitish rhizomes of bermudagrass break, it's fairly easy to pick up the trail again. Purple nutsedge, on the other hand, is connected from one sprout to another via a chain of fragile, threadlike rhizomes that are the same color as the soil. Break them, and you're lost forever. Nutgrass "nutlets" are said to remain viable in the soil for years, and if you break roots or lose nuts as you hand-pull, what's left behind will re-sprout someday. Digging this stuff is as nervewracking and difficult as removing the "Bread Basket" from the patient in a game of Operation.

I am making a commitment to continue gradually whittling away at the nutgrass via hand-digging, as the infestation is small enough at the moment. (You gardeners in similar situations are laughing at me right now: "Oh, what a naive gal. Isn't she just adorable.") I succeeded at removing bermudagrass from my beds this way over the course of several years. As far as I can tell through research, even the heavy-duty chemical solutions offer "management" and "control", not eradication. The claimed-to-be-benign Roundup is also unsuccessful at eradication, which I've learned firsthand through spot treatment. The top-growth turns yellow, but new growth quickly rears its ugly green head.

I read in an online garden forum a woman's account of her attempt to defeat nutgrass in her garden. Her ultimate solution: Move. I won't call the realtor just yet. But I'll keep the number on file.

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