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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Strange Things Happening in the Dormant Lawn

Posted by Richard Hentschel -


Extension offices and Master Gardeners are getting calls and visits describing plants growing in the lawn that homeowners have never been seen before. Grass plants while they are actively growing provide a pretty good barrier to everything else in the soil profile that would otherwise sprout and grow in the yard. A couple of things are going on here in your yard. In a more typical year, we would be out there mowing on a regular basis and that mowing would have discouraged any plant or weed that grows taller than the cutting height of your lawn mower and your lawn being green and thick would be masking their presence within the turf canopy.

Here is what Master Gardeners are seeing: Seedlings of locust trees that are a bit tropical looking with their compound leaves and delicate form. Locust seeds can be dormant for a number of seasons as they have a very hard seed coat. Those seeds came from other locust trees in the neighborhood and buried by squirrels as a future food source. Since we have not mowed are lawns in several weeks, those seeds sprouted and are now about 16 to 20 inches tall and have begun to have a woody stem already.

Seedlings of buckthorn, a plant that the state of Illinois has put on the invasive species list is popping up in the lawn as well as within beds at the base of other trees, shrubs and along fences. Our feathered friends find the berry as a food source and later deposit those seeds as they roost. Another weed deposited by the birds is nightshade. Nightshade is easily pulled while young, but later just breaks off at the soil line to regrow. If you have used your own compost to top dress or repair a part of the lawn that had been damaged, seedlings of tomatoes and vine plants like squash, cucumber or pumpkin will show up. Pumpkin seems to be the most popular one right now. These seeds survived the cold composting process and were able to sprout. You would never even have seen these if the lawn was green.

There have been many suckers identified that have surfaced several to many feet away from plants in the landscape. We all have shrubs or vines planted and those root systems extend well beyond the shrub beds. What has been found so far are suckers from vines like trumpet vine as much as 30 feet away, suckers from viburnum, lilac within 10 to 20 feet away, and you might see some of your more vigorous ground cover plants working their way into the lawn too by nearby roots from the ground cover bed.

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