To call it grass is too kind. Grass is a thing that people like to have in their yards, present company excluded. Make no mistake, grass is an unnecessary evil, but it is a light sniffle beside the chronic bronchitis that is Nutsedge.
This weed was never meant to be ours, it was bred in Egypt as a crop once upon a time and somehow found its way into the New World long enough ago that we consider it a native plant these days. I have been told it was introduced to the mainland by way of farmers unintentionally dredging up nutsedge laden silt from the sea to use in their agricultural practice, but I can’t verify this and refuse to do all but the most cursory research in defense of this fact. The plant can now be found throughout the United States, but lucky us, it is perfectly suited to our climate, so here in New Orleans it reigns supreme throughout the Summer months.
It’s roots, or more accurately tubers, look like tiny nuts and are very difficult to pull from the soil. You can catch some, but you cannot catch them all, not every time, not any time. It will prevail. That nutsedge was once considered a food crop in more than a few nations is unfathomable to me. It is so difficult enough to weed, I cannot imagine that it provides enough sustenance to make up for the calories lost and the stress levels gained through harvest. It is said to taste a bit like nutmeg, and is a common ingredient in horchata, one of my favorite drinks. This does not make it any better in my book. It should be destroyed.
Alas, it cannot be destroyed. Not only are those tubers near impossible to effectively eliminate, but the blades of grass that it shoots forth into the sky are razor sharp and seem to grow inches each day. They can and will cut through mulch, landscape fabric, cardboard, or whatever else you lay atop it to curb its growth and photosynthetic activity. Worse, the tubers do a great job of sending out roots and building networks that can weasel their way into your garden beds with ease. Those god-forsaken tubers are a little bit easier to coax out of soft, pliable soils, the sort of soil your garden bed ought to have, so their spread can be mitigated if caught early. Mind you, I choose the word mitigated with purpose. It will not be controlled, it will not be destroyed, it will only be mitigated.
Even Round-Up has proven only somewhat effective against nutsedge. It cannot be destroyed, but it must be mitigated, else it will cover all that you know and love throughout the hot months.
Beyond the hot months rests the silver lining in this unfathomable kingdom of nutsedge. It does go dormant as the heat of Summer abates. In our case, that may well not be until mid-November, but the sedge will seem to disappear once temperatures drop a bit, and you will be able to breath easy for about two days before the Dollarweed moves in and takes over the weed scene.
The extremely persistent gardener might manage to eradicate nutsedge from their garden after a few seasons of militant weeding, but for most of us it is an unavoidable that must be lived with Summer after sweltering Summer. I tell you this not to dishearten you, but to let you know that you are not alone and you have done nothing wrong. We all deal with nutsedge and we likely always will. Breathe easy, we’re all in this together, forever.
Weeds are an evil that cannot be altogether contained in a place like New Orleans in a time like July. They will exist despite your best efforts to stifle them with fresh dirt and any or all of the mulches, be they cardboard, plastic, landscape fabric, or wood chips. Even if you lay concrete over your gardens, it’s going to crack before long, or a bit of dirt will accumulate in that not quite even spot, and there will be weeds. There will be weeds.
And you must weed them. And if you want to weed them less later, weed them better now.
I heard tell from a certain celebrity chef in New Orleans of a yardman who defined weeding as the spraying of weeds with Round-Up. He also swore up and down that Round-Up was totally organic. I am certain this yardman was being honest to the best of his knowledge on both fronts, though whether one should consider themselves a yardman if their knowledge is so limited as this is very questionable.
Weeding does not happen with round-up. Weeds are killed, but so is everything else you love about your garden, especially its heart. Also, Round-up is extremely not organic. It is far less organic than genetically modified foodstuffs. Leave it alone if you care about your soul, or the soul of the universe, which your soul is arguably a part of if you go for that all one Gaia principle on a cosmic scale stuff.
You can plow and rip at the soil to take care of your weeds if you like, till hard, turn the soil, refresh the earth. It will look gorgeous for a few days, but a few days after that you will likely find more weeds than you had the first time around, for you will have unearthed millions upon millions of weed seeds that had lay dormant beneath your garden soil before.
What then, if you cannot till and you cannot spray, can you possibly do? Get on your hands and knees and pull. Pull the weeds up, grab them close to the soil, tug gently but firmly, learn to feel for the loosening of the roots underground so that you may release the entire plant from its mortal coil rather than give it a measly haircut. It is an art form at least as subtle as fly-fishing, and its rewards are many, if less immediately tangible than a filet on the dinner plate.
Pull with your hands and know the soil, learn what lies there, learn what thrives and what withers, and learn how to make what you want to thrive do it’s very best by being there next to it.
Weed frequently. If you allow your weeds to grow tall and put out seed, you will have to conquer their children who will be many and ever so slightly more adapted to your garden. Weed before you allow your weeds to plant their roots so deep that you cannot pull them out with a firm flick of the wrist, or even a bodily tug. Weed often and you will find that as the seasons go on you will not have to weed so often. This is an IRA for your garden, invest now.
And finally, if you have been to the Urban Farmstead or any of our other gardens, remember to do as I say, not as I do.
Ian writes these. Fearlessly.