My Life with Johnson Grass

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There was a time when I had control of my garden. In the flower sections, flowers grew; in the vegetable beds, vegetables grew. The invasion of Johnson grass was under control and I was able to co-exist with this tyrant. Just for proof, I am including a photo within the blog.

Then there was the fire that consumed my farmhouse and left the grounds in ruin. For three summers, there was insufficient water to raise or save the garden and no protection for a human who wanted to. When the new farmhouse construction began last fall, the Johnson grass was eight feet tall and had overcome the entire garden, the pathways and portions of the grounds. It was so bad the guys on the construction crew took bets as to whether this gal could recover it.

I’m determined, but here are the facts.

• Johnson grass is a three handed monster. It spreads by seed, by roots, and by stealing the nutrients (and moisture) from other plants.
• Areas of disturbed soil are vulnerable, especially if control is not attempted.
• Hand control is not practical in large areas where infestation is heavy. Rhizomes beak into small pieces and if left in the ground, produce many plants. Large grass stems are difficult to pull and in attempting to do so, often inflict slices on the person attempting to do so.
• Mowing seems to keep the grass from growing tall and setting seeds but I’m sure the roots are there, waiting for a chance to grow.

The first thing I did was remove as much of the dried grass stems as possible so some action could be given to the new grass as it came up. This took days just to clear the vegetable beds, but was necessary to get an attack on the problem. I double dug the beds and sifted out the roots which after three years had formed huge knots of intertwined roots. I sprayed the new grass with Roundup and mowed the areas that could be reached by mower.

Then I repeated the above process many times over. It seemed each time I went inside to have a sandwich a new crop of grass had come up. As the garden and flowers came up, I found many specimen plants that had survived the three year neglect of fire, grasshoppers, drought, and Johnson grass. Now much of the grass had to be pulled or sprayed with a protective cover over plants.

Status report: Progress is being made but victory is still a ways off. I am determined to save my gardens even as the contractor’s boys drive by and up the bets. I AM going to win this battle.

At least the guys no longer come by and ask “How goes the war?” as they can see I’m making a little progress. Nevertheless, the war, as all wars do, seems to go on far too long.

PS: I was always told that extension agents had encouraged Kansas farmers to plant Johnson grass for cattle forage. In my research, I have found no evidence of this. In fact, the toxic nature of late season Johnson grass was identified early and it proved to be disliked by cattle with good alternatives. Instead, it probably came in as seed from other areas where it was used to control roadside erosion or was mixed in with seeds for pasture and waterways. I like my local agents, so I’m happy to let them off the hook.