As a homeowner with a maintained lawn, you may have heard of something called Nutsedge. Sometimes referred to as “sedgegrass,” “nutgrass,” or Nutsedges are very aggressive and persistent weeds that commonly infest lawns, vegetable and flower gardens, and home landscapes. They can be very… Nutsedge, also called nutgrass, is a perennial weed and can be very difficult to get rid of. This weed resembles grass blades, which can make it hard to differentiate this weed from your turf. This guide will help you see the difference.
Nutsedge: Causes and How We Can Treat It
As a homeowner with a maintained lawn, you may have heard of something called Nutsedge. Sometimes referred to as “sedgegrass,” “nutgrass,” or “watergrass,” this undesirable plant that tends to grow in wet areas is troublesome to many home lawns. Also, nutsedge is not a grass or a broadleaf weed, it is in the sedge family. This perennial plant grows from nutlets and rhizomes in the soil, that can remain there for many seasons. Throughout this blog we will dive deeper into identifying and treating the unsightly plant.
How to Identify Nutsedge
Nutsedge is easy to identify in a well-maintained lawn. In the summer months you might notice a small area of tall lime-green colored grass that is standing out amongst your lawn, this is typically nutsedge. One way to be sure is to look closely at the plant; the plant has a triangular base, and the nutsedge blade has a pronounced mid rib running down the middle.
What to Do If I have Nutsedge
- Nutsedge is most problematic in lawns that have poor drainage or stay wet too long. This could be from overwatering with a sprinkler system, a lot of rain, or a combination of both. The best way to minimize nutsedge is to grow and maintain dense and healthy turf to outcompete nutsedge for space, food, and moisture.Low spots in the lawn that hold water also contribute to the proliferation of nutsedge. If you have drainage issues where water is pooling and is not running off or percolating into the soil, you may need to install drains or regrade the soil on the property. This will help move the water along, so it doesn’t sit causing the soil to remain wet for long periods of time. Additionally, you may want to rethink your watering schedule and timing in those zones, if you don’t want to regrade or add drainage.
For information about cultural practices that may help with nutsedge control, you can read our blogs about each topic.
Should I pull Nutsedge out by hand?
We do not recommend pulling nutsedge out by hand. The reason being, when you pull nutsedge out by hand, you are only removing the blade above the soil. The nutlets and rhizomes are still present in the soil. Without killing the nutlets and rhizomes the nutsedge plants will continue to regrow in the same spot.
Chemical Control Option
At this point there are no preventatives for nutsedge currently on the market, so this only leaves post emergent control options. It’s important to know that traditional broadleaf weed and/or crabgrass controls do not kill or prevent nutsedge. Why? Nutsedge is not a broadleaf weed or grass, it’s considered a sedge. For nutsedge control a specialized product specifically or nutsedge provides adequate control when applied properly. Also, you may need more than one treatment to control the nutsedge present in the lawn. We recommend contacting a professional lawn care company to treat the nutsedge.
Homeowners can also treat nutsedge. We recommend if you are going to treat the nutsedge yourself to follow the label instructions closely to get the proper control. Finally, give the product time to work before you apply more.
We do not recommend using a non-selective herbicide (i.e. Round-Up) to control nutsedge. Products like this will damage the turf surrounding the nutsedge as well! This would lead to larger damaged areas of turf that will need to be seeded to establish grass again; the idea is to kill the nutsedge, not the desired grass around it.
As the temperatures decrease with the onset of Fall, nutsedge will naturally start to die out on its own. It is important to remember that although the nutsedge blade is gone the nutlets will still be in the soil and will not die from the colder weather. Nutlets will produce new plants the next season and the nutsedge cycle will start over again, if left untreated.
Treating the nutsedge each year with a chemical control helps to reduce the amount of nutsedge present in the lawn from year to year. Although you may never eradicate the plant from your lawn entirely, a reduced number is more manageable than leaving it untreated.
If you are in our service area, and have questions about nutsedge control, request a free estimate online or give our office a call at 908-281-7888.
Nutsedges are very aggressive and persistent weeds that commonly infest lawns, vegetable and flower gardens, and home landscapes. They can be very difficult to eradicate, and their control is likely to be a long process. Successful control involves both cultural and chemical management methods.
Once a nutsedge infestation has been controlled, sanitation to prevent new introductions is critical. Any new infestations should be managed right away to prevent the spread of these aggressive and difficult-to-control weeds.
Life Cycle & Description
Nutsedges are often called “nutgrass” because they closely resemble grasses. Correct identification is very important, as most herbicides for grass control are not effective on sedges. Nutsedges can be distinguished from grasses by their stems, which are triangular or V-shaped in cross-section, while grass stems are hollow and round. Their leaves are thicker and stiffer than most grasses and are arranged in groups of three at the base. Nutsedge leaves appear creased with prominent mid-veins.
Purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus) has a purple seedhead.
Photo by Joseph LaForest, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Most nutsedges are perennials whose leaves die back in the fall when temperatures decrease. Tubers (often called “nutlets”) and rhizomes (underground stems) survive in the soil and sprout the following spring. The tubers and rhizomes can grow eight to 14 inches below the soil surface.
Nutsedges thrive in almost any kind of soil. While they prefer moist soil, established nutsedge plants will thrive even in dry soil. They spread by small tubers, by creeping rhizomes, or by seed. New tubers begin forming four to six weeks after a new shoot emerges. Individual nutsedge plants may eventually form patches 10 feet or more in diameter.
Purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus) and yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) are the most common nutsedges in South Carolina. Yellow nutsedge is more widespread than purple nutsedge due to its greater cold tolerance. However, where purple nutsedge is adapted, it can be even more vigorous than yellow nutsedge. The two species often grow together. Because purple and yellow nutsedges differ in herbicide susceptibility, correct identification is critical to successful control.
Identifying Characteristics of Nutsedges.
|Yellow Nutsedge||Purple Nutsedge|
|Long Tapered leaf tip||Leaves taper abruptly to a blunt point|
|Seedhead yellow||Seedhead purple|
|Tubers single at tips of rhizomes||Tubers connected in chains on rhizomes|
|Emerges early||Emerges later|
|Leaves light green||Leaves darker green|
|12 to 16 inches tall when mature||Usually under 6 inches when mature|
Control in the Lawn
A combination of cultural, mechanical, and chemical control methods has the best chance of effectively managing nutsedge.
Cultural Control: Nutsedges thrive in moist areas, and their presence often indicates that drainage is poor, irrigation is too frequent, or sprinklers are leaky. However, once established, they will tolerate normal moisture levels or even drought.
Nutsedge tubers are spread by cultivation and introduced in topsoil and nursery stock. They can persist in the soil for years. Learn to recognize nutsedge to avoid accidentally bringing it in on newly purchased sod, topsoil, or plants. Be sure to thoroughly clean tools and equipment such as tillers that have been used in an infested area to avoid spreading tubers and rhizome pieces.
Give turfgrasses a competitive advantage by following all recommended practices for the lawn species, including mowing at the ideal height, applying fertilizer at the proper rate and time, and maintaining the ideal soil pH. Proper irrigation rate and timing are especially important since excessively moist soil will encourage the growth of nutsedge. It is best to water established lawns deeply but infrequently, which allows the surface soil to become dry between water applications. Monitor and manage insect and disease infestations to avoid thin, bare areas that may be overtaken by nutsedge.
Mechanical Control: It is possible to eliminate very small patches of nutsedge by digging. Dig at least 10 inches deep and at least eight to ten inches beyond the diameter of the aboveground leafy portion of the plant. This will ensure the removal of the spreading tubers. This is best done early in the spring before more tubers are produced.
Chemical Control: Nutsedges can be controlled chemically with postemergence herbicides. Because different herbicides are effective against different species, it is important to correctly identify the nutsedge to be controlled. Herbicides also vary regarding the desirable plants they can be safely used around without causing damage. Always check the label to make sure the pesticide you choose will not damage desired plants.
Apply herbicides when nutsedge is actively growing in warm conditions with adequate soil moisture. Water the lawn the day before spraying to help protect the turfgrass and to assure that the weeds are actively growing (so they will better take up the herbicide). Applications during droughty conditions or when the nutsedge is not actively growing may result in poor control. Avoid applications during hot or dry weather (> 90 °F) to minimize the chances of injury to the turfgrass. Follow the instructions on the product label for the most effective application rate and procedure.
Avoid mowing before a postemergence herbicide application to allow for adequate foliage to absorb the herbicide spray. Also, avoid mowing for two days after application to allow enough time for the plant to absorb and move the herbicide down to the tubers. The length of time to allow before and after mowing varies with the product. Always read the label for specific instructions.
Bentazon: Bentazon (the active ingredient in Southern Ag Basagran Sedge Control, Basagran T/O, and Lesco LescoGran) is labelled for use on tall fescue, bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, and other turfgrasses. It should not be applied to any newly seeded or newly sprigged turf until after it is well established. Rainfall or sprinkler irrigation within eight hours of application may reduce the effectiveness. Make a second application 7 to 10 days later. These basagran products may require the use of an oil concentrate (such as Southern Ag Herbi-Oil 83-17 Spray Adjuvant) added to the sprayer at 5 teaspoons per gallon for best control.
Imazaquin: Imazaquin (the active ingredient in Image Nutsedge Killer) is recommended for use on centipedegrass, zoysiagrass, St. Augustinegrass, and bermudagrass lawns. For best weed control, the application must be followed by one-half inch of irrigation to wash the active ingredient into the shoot/root zone. Repeat application may be necessary in 3 to 5 weeks for complete control. Do not apply Image Nutsedge Killer to newly seeded or newly sprigged turf, and do not apply during periods of slow growth. Furthermore, due to its preemergence activity, treated areas cannot be seeded or over-seeded for six weeks.
Halosulfuron: Halosulfuron (the active ingredient in SedgeHammer Plus, Hi-Yield Nutsedge Control, Martin’s Nutgrass Eliminator, and Monterey Nutgrass Killer II) is effective against both yellow and purple nutsedges. These products require the use of a nonionic surfactant (such as Southern Ag Surfactant for Herbicides, Bonide Turbo Spreader Sticker, or Hi-Yield Spreader Sticker) at 2 teaspoons per gallon of water, and spray treatment may need to be repeated in 6 to 10 weeks for complete control. Halosulfuron is labeled for use on tall fescue, bermudagrass, centipedegrass, zoysiagrass, and St. Augustinegrass lawns.
Sulfentrazone: Sulfentrazone (one of the active ingredients in Gordon’s Trimec Nutsedge Plus Lawn Weed Killer, Ortho Nutsedge Killer for Lawns RTS, and Blindside Herbicide is faster acting on nutsedges, but may require a second application 30 days later. Check product labels for which turfgrasses are compatible with the herbicide use.
Herbicides for Nutsedge Control in Home Lawns
S = Safe when used according to the label.
I = Intermediate tolerance, use with caution, use at reduced label rates, or minimum label rates.
NR = Not registered for use on this turf species.
Control in the Landscape
Cultural Control: Prevent nutsedge in the home landscape by avoiding its introduction, which is often from trucked-in soil. Be certain before purchasing bulk soil that it is not infested with tubers. Another source is from nursery plants that are infested with nutsedge. Reject plants that contain any visible nutsedge.
Maintain proper moisture levels in the landscape. Excessive irrigation will encourage the growth of nutsedge. If the area is poorly drained, improve drainage by installing drains or grading soil so that water flows away from planting beds. Raised landscape beds will have better internal drainage.
Nutsedges do not grow well in the shade. By changing landscape plantings, you may be able to reduce their growth this way. For example, a highly infested, annually planted flower bed may be better off replanted with a tall, dense ground cover or shrub that would shade out the nutsedge. Low-growing ground covers will not shade out yellow nutsedge.
Mechanical Control: Nutsedge reproduces primarily from tubers that can lie dormant and remain viable for several years. Unfortunately, these tubers do not break dormancy and begin to grow at the same time. Thus, their removal should be viewed as a long-term process.
Small patches can be dug out, making sure that all tubers are removed by digging deep and wide. Also, landscape fabrics can be used around shrubs and trees to shade out and retard the growth of nutsedge.
Bentazon: Bentazon (such as in Southern Ag Basagran Sedge Control, Basagran T/O,, and Lescogran) can be used as a spot treatment for yellow nutsedge near ornamental trees and shrubs. It will injure the roots of rhododendron and sycamore but can be applied over the top of some ornamental plants as listed on the label.
Halosulfuron: Products containing halosulfuron (such as SedgeHammer Plus) can be used as a spot treatment for purple nutsedge near ornamental trees and shrubs. Unlike Basagran T/O, contact of SedgeHammer with the foliage of any ornamental plant should be avoided.
Imazaquin: Image Nutsedge Killer damages many popular landscape plants such as viburnum, pieris, azalea, birch, abelia, ligustrum, and many hollies through root and foliar contact. Use Image Nutsedge Killer with caution in most landscapes. However, it can be applied over the top of some ornamentals and groundcovers, such as liriope and mondo grass. See the product label for the list of plants that are compatible with imazaquin.
Efficacy of Herbicides for Nutsedge Control in Landscapes.
|Herbicide||Yellow Nutsedge||Purple Nutsedge||Over the top application|
(Basagran T/O & other brands)
|G||P||Limited species, check label|
(SedgeHammer Plus & other brands)
|G-E||G-E||Spot sprays only|
(Image Nutsedge Killer)
|F||G||Limited species, check label|
|E=Excellent; G=Good; F=Fair; P=Poor|
Control in the Vegetable Garden
Cultural Control: Nutsedges thrive in moist areas, and their presence often indicates that drainage is poor, irrigation is too frequent, or sprinklers are leaky. However, once established, they will tolerate normal moisture levels or even drought.
Yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) growing among sweet potato vines.
Joey Williamson, ©2016 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Nutsedge tubers are spread by cultivation and introduced in topsoil, where they can persist for years. Learn to recognize nutsedge to avoid accidentally bringing it in on newly purchased topsoil. Be sure to thoroughly clean tools and equipment such as tillers that have been used in an infested area to avoid spreading tubers and rhizome pieces.
Since nutsedges do not grow well in the shade, areas of the vegetable garden can be rotated into a solidly planted, dense, relatively tall crop such as beans or southern peas for a season. This will reduce the amount of nutsedge in the garden over several seasons.
Mechanical Control: Control of nutsedge should be viewed as a long-term process. Pulling the plants out by hand is relatively ineffective because tubers deep in the ground usually break off the pulled shoots. Very young plants can be controlled by hand weeding or hoeing if they are consistently weeded out before they have five to six leaves. In summer, this will require weeding at least every two to three weeks, but doing so will cause a depletion of energy reserves, and re-sprouting will soon stop. Once nutsedge plants have more than five or six leaves, they begin to form tubers, usually in May or June. Mature tubers can re-sprout as many as 10 to 12 times.
Using a tiller to destroy mature plants will only spread the infestation as it moves the tubers around in the soil. However, repeated, frequent tilling of small areas before the plants have six leaves can gradually reduce populations. Tilling for nutsedge suppression should be limited to times when the soil is dry. Tilling when soil is wet is more likely to move tubers into new areas as they adhere to equipment.
It is possible to eliminate very small patches of nutsedge by digging. Dig at least 10 inches deep and at least eight to 10 inches beyond the diameter of the aboveground leafy portion of the plant. This will ensure the removal of the spreading tubers. Removal by digging is best done early in the spring before more tubers are produced.
Pelargonic Acid: Pelargonic acid is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in many plants. Herbicides containing pelargonic acid are labeled for postemergence, non-selective, weed control. As such, non-target plants, such as tomatoes, must be shielded to prevent spray contact and potential injury. Pelargonic acid is a severe eye irritant. Examples of herbicides containing pelargonic acid include:
- Scythe Herbicide (57% pelargonic acid)
- BioSafe AXXE Broad Spectrum Herbicide (40% ammoniated nonanoate) OMRI
- BioSafe Weed Control RTU (premixed) (5% ammoniated nonanoate) available in 32 fl oz., “Caution”
- Mirimichi Green Pro Concentrate (40% ammoniated nonanoate) OMRI
- Mirimichi Green Pro RTU (premixed) (5% ammoniated nonanoate) OMRI
Note: Pelargonic acid is a fatty acid that occurs naturally as esters in the oil of pelargonium plants. It is often called nonanoic acid. The ammonium salt of nonanoic acid, ammoniated nonanoate, is an herbicide. These products have “warning” as the safety signal word on the label.
Plant Essential Oil-based Herbicides: These are made from naturally occurring plant sources. However, vegetable plants must be shielded to prevent damage from these herbicides. Examples include:
- SafeGro Weed Zap (contains 45% cinnamon oil & 45% clove oil) (OMRI)
This cinnamon and clove oil product has “caution” as the safety signal word.
Orange Oil (d-limonene) -based Herbicides: These are made from naturally-occurring sources, such as citrus fruits. However, vegetable plants must be shielded to prevent damage. These include:
- Avenger Weed Killer Concentrate (70% d-limonene) Concentrate; and RTU (OMRI)
- Avenger AG Burndown Herbicide (55% d-limonene) (OMRI)
- Worry Free Weed and Grass Killer (70% d-limonene) (OMRI)
This orange oil product has “caution” as the safety signal word.
Acetic Acid-based Herbicides: These are made from naturally occurring sources, including vinegar. However, vegetable plants must be shielded to prevent damage. Examples include:
- Summerset Brand All Down Concentrate (23% acetic acid & 14% citric acid); also RTU (8% acetic acid & 6% citric acid)
These acetic acid products have “danger” as the safety signal word. Acetic acid can cause eye damage, so also wear eye protection (goggles).
Bentazon: Certain formulations of bentazon (such as in Arysta Basagran) are labeled for use around a very few vegetable crops – beans, corn, peas, and peanuts only. Always read the pesticide label for specific instructions.
Glyphosate: Glyphosate can be used pre-plant to control nutsedge in vegetable gardens. Examples of products containing in homeowner sizes are:
- Roundup Original Concentrate,
- Roundup Pro Herbicide,
- Martin’s Eraser Systemic Weed & Grass Killer,
- Quick Kill Grass & Weed Killer,
- Bonide Kleenup Weed & Grass Killer 41% Super Concentrate,
- Hi-Yield Super Concentrate,
- Maxide Super Concentrate 41% Weed & Grass Killer,
- Super Concentrate Killzall Weed & Grass Killer,
- Tiger Brand Quick Kill Concentrate,
- Ultra Kill Weed & Grass Killer Concentrate,
- Gordon’s Groundwork Concentrate 50% Super Weed & Grass Killer,
- Zep Enforcer Weed Defeat III,
- Eliminator Weed & Grass Killer Super Concentrate,
- Monterey Remuda Full Strength 41% Glyphosate,
- Knock Out Weed & Grass Killer Super Concentrate,
- Southern States Grass & Weed Killer Concentrate II,
- Total Kill Pro Weed & Grass Killer Herbicide,
- Ace Concentrate Weed & Grass Killer.
Glyphosate will damage or kill crop plants if it touches their foliage. For post-planting sprays, care must be taken to avoid damaging plants with glyphosate spray drift. Repeat applications as new plants emerge. After planting, avoid using Glyphosate near tomatoes.
Always read the pesticide label and follow its directions exactly. You may only use the pesticide on sites or crops listed on the label. Be sure to observe all special precautions that are listed on the label. Wear protective clothing or equipment as listed on the label when mixing or applying pesticides. Mix pesticides at the rate recommended for the target site as listed on the label. Never use more than the label says. Follow all label directions for safe pesticide storage and disposal. Always remember to read and heed the six most important words on the label: “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.”
Pesticides are updated annually. Last updates were done on 6/21 Joey Williamson.
Originally published 11/04
If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at [email protected] or 1-888-656-9988.
Karen Russ, Former HGIC Horticulture Specialist, Clemson University
Chuck Burgess, Former HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University
This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.
Nutsedge Identification Guide
Nutsedge, also known as nut grass, is a weed commonly found in lawns during the summer. These weeds stand taller than the grass in your lawn and are notoriously hard to get rid of given their immersive root systems. Nutsedge is a perennial sedge, meaning it is a grasslike plant that will live for at least two years and will come back year after year.
Use this guide to identify nutsedge in your lawn. Then, read the rest of our 4-part guide to learn how to get rid of nutsedge and where nutsedge grows.
Nutsedge is easily identifiable from grass because it is taller than grass. Nutsedge grows much quicker than grass, even after being mowed.
Nutsedge weeds, like all sedges (grasslike plants), have a triangular stem that can be felt in your hands. The stem of the sedge feels like it has 3 sides or 3 points, much like a triangle.
Leaves and Flowers
Nutsedge looks like long grass blades. At the end of a nutsedge stem, you will commonly find 3 leaves and flowers. The flowers can be different colors but are most commonly yellow or purple (dark red).
Yellow nutsedge, or nutsedge with yellow flowers, often grows in the middle of the summer while purple nutsedge (nutsedge with deep red or purple flowers) grows in the late summer.
Nutsedge is typically identified by its root system. Nutsedge has roots, called rhizomes, that can reach 8-14 inches below ground. Rhizomes will grow horizontally under the soil and emerge out of the soil to form a new sedge plant. This means multiple sedges may be connected by one series of rhizomes.
The roots will also have small, starchy tuber structures (known as “nutlets”) attached. If you see nutlets in the roots of the plant, you know for certain you have nutsedge.