Ask The County Agent: What are the globs of jelly in my yard?

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By Stephanie Butcher, UGA/Coweta County Cooperative Extension Office

Question:  There is something slimy growing in my lawn. It looks like big globs of jelly. What is it and how can I get rid of it?

Agent:  Even though a few weeks ago we went through a dry spell, it looks like the heavy rainfall and humidity is back. With the tropical weather conditions, I have gotten reports of jelly-like substances growing in turf.

The jelly-like matter is called Nostoc, a genus of cyanobacterium formerly classified as blue-green algae. The algae — commonly known as star jelly and witch’s butter, among other names — may appear suddenly in lawns and other turf areas in warm temperatures following a period of rain. It can also be an indication of overwatering if you have an irrigation system.

In turf, Nostoc generally emerges on a site where the grass is growing poorly due to severe compaction, overwatering or both. It does not cause the turf to decline or die, but it does colonize areas where it has favorable growing conditions and where the grass was already thin.

Poor drainage and compacted soils create a favorable environment for Nostoc. It dries out when moisture or rainfall diminishes, but it has only gone into dormancy. With enough moisture, it will come back to “life.”

In its hydrated, gelatinous, green state, it can be a safety hazard because it’s slippery — so be careful walking on it.

However, when it dries out, it can restrict turfgrass growth. Nostoc dries into a black crust that can prevent stolons from rooting, or “tacking,” into the soil. This delays the growth and spread of turfgrass.

Nostoc can be difficult to control. To discourage its growth, encourage the growth of the grass. Algae is less of an issue with an actively growing turfgrass canopy.

The first step is to check the irrigation system to make sure it is watering properly (i.e., not too often or too much). If it rains at least an inch per week, then you shouldn’t need to water your lawn at all. Turfgrass species grown in Georgia actually perform better when grown on the slightly dry side, so scaling back irrigation and adjusting the irrigation schedule will benefit the grass and can discourage algae.

The second step is to improve the internal soil and surface drainage. Core aeration opens the soil, allows oxygen into the root system and reduces compaction.

Allow the soil surface to dry out, then break up the Nostoc “crust” by cutting the upper ¼- to ½-inch. Breaking the algae into pieces will encourage it to spread. This also permits the turfgrass stolons to root into thin areas and outcompete the Nostoc.

With proper irrigation and core aerification, the grass can cover the area where the Nostoc was present and prevent it from coming back.

Adapted from information provided by Dr. Clint Waltz, University of Georgia Turfgrass Specialist.

For more information about turfgrass management, email: [email protected] or call 770-254-2620 and ask for our turfgrass management packet.

The University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, Veteran, Disability Institution.

Nostoc. Photo by UGA Cooperative Extension.

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