Fighting intrusive nutsedge

BACKYARD Q&A

September 10, 2000

Q. I have a terrible kind of grass growing in my flower beds. I've never seen it before. It's a yellowish green color, is hard to pull up and is flowering now. The leaves grow in groups of three. Could it have come in the mulch I put down in the spring? How do I get rid of it? I try to grow organically and prefer not to use herbicides.

A. You have nutsedge, a.k.a. nutgrass. Botanically, it's a sedge, not a grass; sedges have triangular stems. This a difficult weed to control. It spreads primarily by rhizomes (underground stems) and tubers (the small brown growths, the size of a corn kernel, produced at the ends of the rhizomes). When you pull up the leaves, the rhizomes and nutlets are left behind and produce new plants. Un-sprouted tubers can remain viable in the soil for 10 years! Try digging up the plants and as much of the roots and rhizomes as possible. You'll have to keep at it through next spring and summer as well. If you decide to use a herbicide, look for crabgrass killer with nutgrass on the label. Several applications will be required, beginning in May when new plants emerge.

Q. Why are so many of my cucumbers deformed? They thin out and get gnarly on the end opposite the stem. Is it something in the soil?

A. No, it's a pollination problem. Each female bloom must be visited 8 to 12 times by bees to produce a fully formed cucumber. The bees carry pollen from the male blooms to the female blooms. Each ovule in the tiny ovary(fruit) below the female bloom will grow into a seed if it is fertilized with a grain of pollen. The developing seeds then signal the plant to produce fruit tissue for protection. If too few bee visits are made, pollen is in short supply and some seeds don't get fertilized. The solution is to encourage bee activity by eliminating insecticide sprays when plants begin to bloom and planting a wide variety of flowering plants in your garden. You might also consider becoming a backyard beekeeper. Contact your county's beekeeping association or the number below for more information.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Pumpkins that are fully colored and have a hard rind should be cut from the vine, leaving a 4- to 5-inch piece of stem for a handle. Store these in a cool, dry location. Avoid bumping or bruising your pumpkins.

2. Plant hardy mums now so they will become well-established prior to cool weather. This is also a good time to plant perennials.

Backyard Q&A is by Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist for the Home and Garden Information Center, Maryland Cooperative Extension Services of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd. edu / users / hgic.

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