The Weed that Consumed Texas

I had to sit in a fast-food drive-through lane looking at this mass of KR Bluestem. This is how bad an invading weed can be.

KR bluestem has been more formally known as “King Ranch bluestem.” It was introduced into the U.S. from southern Europe and South Africa almost 100 years ago as a source of livestock forage and as a means of stabilizing raw cuts along roadsides.

It certainly did all of that, but in the process it became obvious that KR bluestem was also invasive and that it threatened the diversity of native species of plants. It’s not exactly as bad as kudzu perhaps, but it’s along those same lines.

This is how thick KR bluestem can become. This is a city median in the Metroplex, but unless you’re careful, it could also be your own home lawn.

This is the point in this answer that I’m glad I’m a horticulturist. Agronomists who get to deal with KR bluestem in pastures and prairies have a much bigger task than home gardeners will have. For that kind of large-scale control I will refer you to your local offices of the Texas AgriLife Extension. I’ll confine my suggestions to home lawns alone.

Continued Below

Coping with KR bluestem in lawns
It’s been my observation that KR bluestem rarely shows up in healthy, vigorous home lawns. It’s much more common in lawns that have struggled through drought, lack of fertilizers and infrequent mowings.

KR Bluestem is getting a good start in this South Texas lawn. It should be stopped before it gets any worse.

Here are my suggestions…

Mow regularly at the height recommended for the type of grass you have in your lawn. This is especially important in fall, when KR bluestem is setting seeds. Keep the seed heads mowed off on 5- to 7-day intervals. Bag the clippings and compost them completely before using them in your landscape.

Bluestem’s seedheads are very easily recognized, both by appearance and by time of year (fall). Keep them mowed off promptly and regularly.

Keep your desirable grass properly watered. Of course, you’ll have to abide by any water curtailments in your city, but at least give your turf a fighting chance to crowd out the invader.

Fertilize your lawn at least two times per year (mid-April and early September). Apply an all-nitrogen or high-nitrogen food that has as much as half of that nitrogen in slow-release form.

If you do all of that and you still have KR bluestem showing up in your lawn, either spot-treat stronger clumps with a glyphosate-only herbicide spray or, more commonly, dig the clumps out by hand, preferably as soon as you see them starting to grow.

KR bluestem is a perennial grass, so pre-emergent weedkillers we talk about here in very late winter (repeated 90 days later) and very late summer normally wouldn’t be of much help. But because it spreads so freely from seed, if you have neighboring lawns where the homeowner does nothing to stop it, the pre-emergent granules might offer some additional help.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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