I was visiting with a friend recently that was lamenting the quackgrass problem in his garden.  He made the mistake of tilling his garden this past spring, including through a small patch of quackgrass.  He was careful to collect all the rhizomes, but he did not get them all.  Now he has a bumper crop of quackgrass growing over a much bigger portion of his garden.

Most of us have some familiarity with quackgrass.  It is a highly rhizomatous cool-season grass native to Eurasia.  It was likely brought to North America accidentally during European settlement.  Some sources even report it was deliberately introduced in the late 1600’s as a forage grass.  Now, of course, the species can be found over much of the temperate regions of North America.

Quackgrass is listed as a noxious weed in several states and provinces.  It is interesting to note that even though it is a common and problematic weed in the Northern Great Plains, it is not listed as a noxious weed in North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota or Minnesota. It is, however, listed as a noxious weed in Manitoba and as a nuisance weed in Saskatchewan.

Quackgrass can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions.  It is perhaps most commonly observed in North Dakota on disturbed areas with loamy to clayey soils with good moisture conditions.  These areas include road ditches, margins of fields, feed yards, and the like.  It is also quite tolerant of alkaline soils.

Quackgrass spreads mainly by rhizomes, but also by seed.  A seedhead of quackgrass will produce about two dozen seeds, which may remain viable for up to five years or so.

The aggressive spread of quackgrass from rhizomes, however, is legendary.  A patch of quackgrass can increase the diameter of the patch by six feet or so during the summer months.  More impressively however, is that one plant may spread to produce over 300 feet of rhizomes and 200 aerial shoots over the course of a growing season.  So tilling it all up is just going to spread it around and make the problem worse.

So if you have to deal with quackgrass, the use of a herbicide is probably your most effective treatment. And no matter how careful you can be, if you get the opportunity to attack it with a garden tiller, “pass it up!”

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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