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Crabgrass Is Lawn Pest And Livestock Forage

crabgrass

Southern Crabgrass, Digitaria ciliaris, is sprouting in Wakulla lawns and landscapes, but also pastures where it is an excellent livestock forage.

By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director

Sometime taking the low road can have some real advantages.

Granted, flying under the radar or being a bottom feeder does have certain negative implications when it comes to a public relations position.

Still, by staying out of sight and out of mind, at least with those who would do harm, allows for establishing a strong base before being recognized.

Once that foothold has been firmly established, at least there is a fighting chance for survival when the assaults begin.

As a conquering invader, survival is the initial step to total subjugation of the new territory. This in turn will be used as a springboard for new opportunities to monopolize more areas.

While this may sound like the prologue to a special operations manual, it is really the strategy employed by a weed pest which has a well-deserved reputation for hardiness and tenacity. Crabgrass is sneaking in and putting down roots as the days warm to summer’s levels.

Digitaria, as this plant is known scientifically, is really a genus of five species found in Wakulla County. Some are native and some are invasive exotics.

Crabgrass is found in the tropics and warmer regions of the temperate zones worldwide. In North Florida it grows as an annual, but in warmer latitudes it can grow as a perennial.

Germination begins in late February or the first half of March in Wakulla County. The soil temperature must reach 55 degrees for at least 24 hours.

The common name, crabgrass, is derived from its low growing profile and its ability to creep or scuttle into new areas with little notice until it quickly becomes established and entrenched.

It has also been implied that homeowners with a penchant for perfect lawns become crabby at its appearance.

Unlike many of the turf grasses which flourish locally, crabgrass will take close mowing and continue to grow unabated. In many cases, scalping the infested area only serves to promote the growth and spreading of this pest.

The low growing, prostrate pattern of growth allows each branch to send down roots from every node or joint. The roots quickly proliferate and securely attach to the soil.

If clipped or cut, the rooted branch quickly becomes a separate new plant. It sends out runners to repeat the process of rapid territorial expansion.

Pulling this weed is difficult with each of its branches securely rooted. It is easier remove if the soil is loosened with a shovel, but leave one rooted joint and the process begins again.

The weed is spread by lawn maintenance workers who have portions of the plant or its seed lodge in equipment. When it shakes loose at a new site, the vigor and vitality of the plant’s genetics promotes it establishment in a new location.

Crabgrass can be controlled with pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides. Some turf grasses require the use of pre-emergent herbicides to avoid damaging the turf.

In a strange twist of fate, crabgrass has been determined to have a positive benefit. Cattlemen and hay growers have determined this weed is actually a useful forage for livestock.

After years of unsuccessful attempts to annihilate this genus, seed are now sold for the purpose of propagating it. Positive PR has changed a weed to a valuable crop.

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