What Does Nutsedge Look Like and How Do I Get Rid of it?

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If you don't know what nutsedge looks like, you're not alone. This troublesome lawn weed is not easy to spot unless you know what to look for.

An aggressive lawn weed that can be a homeowner’s nightmare, nutsedge (also called nutgrass or water grass) can be hard to identify. Often by the time you figure out what it is, it’s too late.

What Is Nutsedge

Nutsedge is a persistent turfgrass weed that grows in warm temperatures, so it’s most prominent during the spring and summer months. In southern states such as Florida, nutsedge can be an issue year-round. It is one of the most difficult weeds to control.

The two most common varieties of nutsedge in the U.S. are yellow nutsedge and purple nutsedge — the color of the flowers at the end of their stems. You can usually find these flowers blooming in the sunniest areas of the lawn.

If nutsedge were a bug, it would be categorized as “social” because it grows in large colonies, forming an extensive root system that can reach as deep as four feet.

How Do I Know If I Have Nutsedge?

Regular blades of grass are rounded. Nutsedge, on the other hand, has a distinct “V” shape with three sides and three points, similar to a triangle.

If you pluck a specimen out of the ground, you’ll notice the roots of nutsedge (called rhizomes) grow horizontally, fanning out to form new sedges. At the end of the roots are small, round tubers, known as nutlets, which are a tell-tail sign that you have nutsedge growing in your lawn.

“Nutsedge is oftentimes found in wet shaded areas,” says Joe Churchill, senior turf specialist for Reinders, Inc. “It’s a bunch-type weed that can grow a bit taller than surrounding grasses and is usually darker green and has a shiny leaf surface.”

Pro tip: When inspecting your lawn for the weed, remember the phrase “sedges have edges” to help you identify it correctly.

Is Nutsedge Safe?

Nutsedge is not toxic or poisonous to the touch or to ingest. Many dogs eat nutsedge for the same reason they eat grass — they have an upset stomach, or they just like the taste.

Though nutsedge is not dangerous, it’s bad for your lawn. An infestation can quickly choke out healthy grass and eventually take over.

How To Get Rid of Nutsedge

Nutsedge is a perennial weed that can live up to two years. If not dealt with, it will return year after year. The roots eventually become drought tolerant, so once established in your lawn it’s extremely difficult to eradicate. This is why it’s important to deal with nutsedge right away.

Here are a few things you can do to get rid of nutsedge:

  • If you catch it early, pull nutsedge out of your lawn by hand.
  • Treat with a post-emergent herbicide specifically for the nutsedge you have (yellow, purple or both).

“Nutsedge is a different type of weed and requires a special active ingredient,” Churchill says. The most common is halosulfuron. Popular brand names are Sedgehammer and ProSedge. “This [active ingredient] is specific to killing nutsedge and really doesn’t work well on any other type of weed,” he says.

As far as natural weedkillers for nutsedge, many experts aren’t convinced that they work that well. Whatever herbicide treatment you choose, be sure to follow all label instructions carefully.

How To Prevent Nutsedge or Keep It From Coming Back

If you don’t have nutsedge at the moment, be thankful, but don’t get complacent. Taking precautions now will help you avoid problems down the road. As problematic as nutsedge can be, there are steps you can take to keep your yard nutsedge free.

  • Make sure your yard is well-drained; nutsedge thrives in moist soil.
  • Keep your lawn thick by reseeding and feeding it. Healthy grass discourages nutsedge.
  • Cut your lawn on the mower’s highest setting. Short grass encourages nutsedge.
  • Don’t introduce new plantings/soil without checking for nutsedge tubers first.

If at any time you feel as though you’re losing the battle against nutsedge, don’t hesitate to call in a local lawn professional for help.

Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.