Evil Johnson Grass

Tall seed tassels

I found a weed I loathe even more than Bermuda grass.  I know that’s hard to believe.  Bermuda grass has chased me out of my vegetable garden, and was part of the reason I laboriously built raised beds.  It is even now working its way through some of my new planter beds and needs annihilation.  I’ve seen Bermuda grass emerge from the top of a five foot hollow metal pole and cascade over the top.  It survives under mulch, under rocks, under pavement.  Think that is impressive?  That’s nothing.  Johnson grass has it beat.

I thought that the tall grass growing under the bird feeders was from the bird seed.  I let it grow to see what seeds would come from it.  The plant looked like corn stalks, and had a little tassel at the top.  Pretty innocuous, huh?  Then I started looking up on Google images what all the bird seed ingredients looked like in plant form.  This stuff didn’t match any of it.  Uh-oh.  Then I started looking up invasive grasses.  Bingo.

Looks like corn, or other weeds. Evil!

I read blogs where ranchers complain of having it on their land, and the general response is to burn, salt and run away from the land.  Trying to be organic, I sprayed the tops of my Johnson grass with pure white vinegar, then covered them with black plastic during one of our hottest weeks.  When I pulled it off the stalks were slightly pale, but boy they were angry.  So I took a day and started digging them up and found tremendously thick roots that spread everywhere with such force that one had burrowed up into a log and I had to use a screwdriver to dig it out.

Johnson grass is the ultimate monster, it spreads by seed, by rhizome, and by any microscopic piece of the root left anywhere near the soil.

Roots worming through and around the wire

Last winter my daughter and I had built a new heirloom bulb bed, lined with black landscape fabric to deflect weeds, and on top of that aviary wire to deflect the gophers, mice and moles.  Guess what emerged?  The other day I spent a morning carefully digging out all the Johnson grass in and around the bed, following the roots and unwinding them from the wire which they embraced, while trying not to kill my bulbs.  I thought I had won, but only two mornings later, there stood a four-inch tall sprout of Johnson grass!  Aaaarrgghhh!  So I dug it out, and dug more out, and more and more.  Today I decided that I had to start from scratch, so I dug out all the bulbs and scratched out the soil (which I’m afraid to reuse because I know there will some miniscule rhizome just waiting. I think I’ll have to spread the soil out and cook it in the summer sun for a few years or so, just to make sure), and was glad I did.  This was a task I was so eager to do in the hot sun while other chores stacked up, too!   Not only was the JG entwined with the aviary wire, but it had solid, rooted rhizomes as fat as my thumb wriggling around under the black landscape fabric, consequently under five inches of soil, too.

Thick rhizomes under the landscape fabric

I’d use dynamite, but the weed would take advantage and all those bits would come up everywhere.  An evil Sourcerer’s Apprentice.

Yes, that is a root sticking through the turned-over aviary wire

My fight against Johnson grass will apparently go on for some time.  It is coming up in my pot filled with Christmas cactus, and in the midst of a thorny rose bush, and many other places, disguising itself as other weeds.  I’ll not only have to keep digging it out, but cutting the stalks of the plants I can’t dig out without destroying a valued garden member.  The question comes to mind: if I set Johnson grass against Bermuda grass, which would win?  Whichever does win, it deserves burning and salting!

3 thoughts on “Evil Johnson Grass

  1. In my yard, Johnson Grass and Bermuda Grass have proven they can coexist and flourish, evil-duo style. I’m fighting the Johnson Grass while it’s still in only a few spots, but I can’t tell if I’m winning. Because of the deep roots, I consider JG far more evil.

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