Neil Sperry

Turf troubles? Here's advice to get you in the green again

Nutsedge in a Bermuda grass lawn.
Nutsedge in a Bermuda grass lawn. Special to the Star-Telegram

If you have a lawn, there’s high probability that some part of my story is going to impact you directly. Equally likely, parts of it won’t apply to you at all. I’m going to list problems that crop up in our turf grass, and each will demand fast attention if and when it might appear in your yard.

St. Augustine invading Bermuda grass

Given average lawn care, St. Augustine will overtake Bermuda. That used to be no major problem. The same herbicide that would eliminate existing Dallisgrass and grassburs could be used to get rid of St. Augustine within Bermuda without harming the Bermuda. However, consumers lost access to that product eight or 10 years ago, so if your Bermuda grass lawn borders one of St. Augustine, have a plan for how you’ll stop the inevitable invasion.

You may want to develop a landscaping bed to separate the two, or you could run a thin edging strip right down the property line. Whatever you do, you need to do it before the St. Augustine makes inroads onto your property. Your only recourses once that happens are either to dig it by hand or to spray to kill both of the grasses and start over with fresh Bermuda.

Dallisgrass getting started in any type of lawn

Just as St. Augustine dominates Bermuda, the weed Dallisgrass dominates all of our lawn grasses. It forms heavy, dense clumps of dark green grass. The clumps begin small, but they soon grow to be 12 to 16 inches in diameter, and they’re topped with seedheads within days of each mowing. The flattened seeds bear black, peppery specks that help identify the weed.

Dallisgrass is a perennial weed, so once you get it in your lawn, it will only get worse. As mentioned, we have no way to kill existing clumps that won’t harm the desirable turf grass around it. Someone suggested on my Facebook page that they had had good results using a 1-gallon milk carton with the bottom cut out. They mixed a glyphosate-only herbicide (no other active ingredients) in a tank sprayer and inserted the nozzle through the top of the jug. Holding the jug firmly against the ground and spraying only within the milk container, they were able to treat only the clump and prevent drift to turfgrass nearby. Your other option is to dig out the first few clumps with a sharpshooter spade — just don’t let this weed spread.

Nutsedge showing up in lawngrasses

This one is more difficult to spot. It’s actually a rather attractive weed — until it starts to take over. Its leaves are glossy, dark green, and they stand erect in small numbers of five or seven leaves per plant. The weed spreads freely by underground roots (rhizomes) and bulblike growths that look like tiny coconuts (hence the name). The way you can tell nutsedge (not a true grass) from grasses is by rolling its stems between your index finger and thumb. Nutsedge stems are triangular. Grass stems are round.

Control nutsedge with the original Image product or with Sedgehammer (note the play on words). These materials go into the soil and are taken into the weed. As a result, it takes them a week or two to show dramatic results. Your local nursery professional can give you specific pointers to ensure your success. Once again, this is not a problem that you want to let get out of hand. This is the perfect time to begin your control program.

Having trouble getting grass to establish

We’ve sung this hymn here before. So, you had grass growing in this part of your lawn before, but then it died. Now you can’t get new grass to establish and grow and you’re wondering why. And it’s about to happen again this spring.

My bet is that that part of your lawn isn’t getting enough sunlight. I remind you: You haven’t told me anything about shade trees in the area, but I’ve been asked this question so many times over the years, that’s where I go first. What happens is that the trees grow larger and denser gradually, and we homeowners don’t really notice the subtle changes from one year to the next. But the lawn does. Where it once had almost full sunlight, it now has less and less light the closer you get to the trunk.

If that describes what you’re seeing, and if you’ve already tried planting new St. Augustine sod (our most shade-tolerant turf grass) some prior spring, only to watch it thin out and fail, and if you don’t want to remove any more trees, then it’s time to switch over to a shade-tolerant ground cover such as mondograss (monkeygrass), liriope, English ivy or purple wintercreeper euonymus. These are subtle changes, and they’re happening right now. This is the time to make the changeover to a new group of plants so you can take advantage of the rest of this growing season.

The sprinkler system is leaving parts of your landscape and lawn too dry

If you have an automatic sprinkler system, this is the time to put it through its paces. Watch each of the heads carefully to be sure they’ll all functioning properly: no breaks, no leaks, no blockages, full coverage. Make the repairs that you can, then call in the help of pros to do the more involved tasks like installing a “smart” controller to monitor the system’s timing and patterns. This is the best time to do all of that.

Neil Sperry hosts“ Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sundays on WBAP/820 AM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online:

Learn a simple, add-as-you-go strategy for building a backyard oasis.