Delmarva Farmer

Virginia representatives finding fountain grass in more pastures



By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

After Chinese fountain grass shoots up, a fuzzy seedhead appears and matures very quickly to be spread by all the means available. (Photo courtesy University of Missouri)

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A question from a farmer spawned a lively unscripted and robust discussion about a new invasive weed, fountain grass, that is showing up in pastures and farmland in the Mid-Atlantic.
The question came in an Extension meeting about producing quality hay.
The farmer sought to learn what he is dealing with on his Bedford County farming operation on owned and rented land.
Mickey Wentzel got a quick response to his question as Extension personnel and other farmers quickly identified his problem as fountain grass, something frequently used by landscapers designing residential lawns.
While farmers in Central and Southwest Virginia are beginning to see fountain grass in pastures, it has become enough of a problem in Alexandria and Arlington to be declared invasive.
The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia reports that the perennial grass from northern Africa and Australia grass is frequently used in ornamental landscaping.
“Due to its high numbers of wind-blown seeds, it is escaping cultivation and becoming a weed problem in natural areas,” the MGNA stated.
The group cautioned its members. It is identified as an emerging threat in the Mid-Atlantic Region and is listed as an invasive species in Alexandria and Arlington, Va.
“The group reported that it can become invasive in lawns, carried among them by animals, wind and water. The group explained to members in a report on the internet.
“It regrows rapidly after fire,” the release said.
Alan Graybeal, a meeting participant and a Pulaski County cattleman, shared similar information about what happens when this invasive grass makes it to pastures.
“Identify it rapidly because it is a rapid spreading invasive,” he advised in a telephone interview. “Implement a control program immediately.”
Alan and Laura Bullard operate her family’s Lakeshore Farm on the shores of Claytor Lake. There are residential developments on both sides of the farm, which has been in the family for multi-generations.
These cattle producers suspect the invasive fountain grass they are battling traveled from neighboring lawns.
Laura said it is difficult to identify the grass which looks like fescue until the seed heads form, usually in late August.
She explained the after the grass shoots up, a fuzzy seedhead appears and matures very quickly to be spread by all the means available. Control measures need to be implemented as soon as they identify the grass, these cattle producers stressed.
Their solution is spraying individual clumps with Roundup even though this method kills the surrounding grass, too. Alan said he has already purchased orchardgrass seed to deal with this now that spring is nearing.
As the good grass around clumps of fountain grass is eaten by grazing cattle decreases it becomes easier to identify this invasive. The cattle will not eat the fountain grass, the Bullards said.
Wentzel, described himself as a hobby farmer.
He received a degree in horticulture from Virginia Tech and though he did not pursue a career in horticulture, he added he is getting satisfaction from growing hay for his wife and daughter’s horses and the cows his dairyman son-in law sells for beef.
In a telephone interview, he said he showed a specimen of the grass to Bedford County Extension agent Scott Baker who reached out to the University of Missouri for identification. Wentzel added they were able to identify what he is dealing with as Chinese fountain grass, just one of several species of fountain grass.
Perdue University, in an article aimed at caretakers of lawns and golf courses, discussed ways to control fountain grass. They said mowing, even close mowing does not work and causes a shredding of the grass that produces a whitish covering.
The university article was adamant about cultural control: “Don’t plant fountain grass in landscape beds unless you want it in the adjacent turf.”
It reported that there is no known biological control.
Michael Flessner, Virginia Tech Extension weed science specialist, said he first heard about fountain grass being a problem in North Carolina in 2018 and began receiving questions from Virginia farmers about it in 2020-21. By last year, the calls increased and showed him the problem was growing in the Old Dominion.
“We don’t really have any selective chemicals to control it,” he said.
Research is on-going seeking to find a chemical or chemicals that will control this invasive grass in pastures, he continued.

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