Spurge is a fast-growing weed and a common problem among lawn owners, especially if not treated right. This summer weed grows low to the ground and spread pretty fast. The earlier you identify this weed in your lawn, the quicker you can kill it and get rid of it.
There are a few different types of spurge, however, the most common species share these features:
- Spurge has a central or main root known as taproot. The weed grows stems that extend from the taproot.
- The leaves are arranged along the stem with one across the other.
- When leaves and stems grow, they may have their own root systems.
- Spurge always grows low to the ground.
- When the leaves are broken, a milky sap starts showing up. The milky sap can cause irritation to eyes and skin upon contact.
How and When Does Spurge Weed Grow?
Spurge usually grows when the temperatures are high, in warm weather. Depending on what the weather is like and where you live, you could notice spurge weed growing from February through late August. Seeds start to germinate once temperatures heat up and will start to grow once temperatures hit 50-60 degrees in the early spring.
Light is also an important factor for germination. The seeds buried deeper than ½ inch won’t germinate. Plants that germinate in the spring in relatively cool conditions can remain small until temperatures are higher and more desirable for growth. Once the weather gets warmer and the seed starts to germinate, a rosette of leaves grows. The leaves create a dense and may grow up to 3 feet. Reproductive growth is fast and the plant can produce new seeds as soon as one month after germination.
When to Inspect & What to Look For
If you have spurge weed growing in your lawn, it can be easy to notice. These plants have specific stems and leaves. Depending on the type of spurge, the weed can grow in various conditions, however, for the most part, the invasive weed likes to grow in warmer areas and just like foxtail, prefers plenty of sun.
Four Types of Spurge
There are a few different types of spurge weeds. Here are some of the most common species found in the US.
1. Prostrate or Spotted Spurge
The prostrate spurge type or also known as the spotted spurge is one of the most common varieties of spurge. It is toxic to pets if eaten in large amounts.
How can one notice prostrate spurge?
The leaves of prostrate spurge have a line or spot of maroon in the middle of the leaf vein. Stems grow outward, however, may also grow upward when looking for sunlight or something for sunlight with other weeds and plants. The stems are pink or purple and are the simplest way to distinguish prostrate spurge from other varieties of spurge.
2. Creeping Spurge
Another common species of spurge. The stems of this spurge weed can grow up to 20 inches. The leaves are egg-shaped and are easily noticed. Creeping spurge can have flowers (the flowers are usually white) and are found at the tips of stems.
The creeping spurge doesn’t have spots on the leaves which distinguish them from prostrate spurge weed. Leaves are pale red, light green, and almost white. They can be a bit hairy.
3. Nodding Spurge
Nodding spurge has pink or reddish stems with leaves that can reach up to 2 inches long. The leaves are green and oblong but can have a light red spot in the middle. Nodding spurge prefers poor soil, dry conditions, and full sunlight and can be found in sand, gravel or clay. The entire weed sometimes can be reddish-green.
4. Petty Spurge
Petty spurge grows in shady and moist locations and is usually found among shrubs, in garden beds. This type of spurge is light green and has slender stems.
Impact & Management
Spotted or prostrate spurge can establish in agricultural, horticultural, and non-crop sites. This weed overgrows turf areas, as well as, low-growing ground covers. Spotted spurge also invades landscapes and gardens. You can even notice it in sidewalk cracks.
When it comes to reducing the growth of other plants, spurge reduces quality and uniformity of turf, provides an environment for undesirable insects, serves as a host for fungal diseases, and attracts all kinds of ants.
One of the primary methods of managing spurge weed is prevention. Controlling spurge is very difficult, especially when this plant has established itself in the soil. Lawn owners should avoid bringing seed into areas that are uninfected by using uncontaminated planting stock and weed-free planting seed.
Cultural Control Of Surge
There are two types of control: chemical and cultural. Cultural control includes wedding, solarization, mulch, and turf management.
Regularly monitor the infested areas so you can hand pull new weeds before they grow and produce seed. Pay attention as you weed because the plants that you hand pull may break at the stem, leaving the root from which regrowth is likely to happen. Always wear gloves when you hand pull these weeds as the sap can irritate your skin. Mowing is not effective since spurge grows low to the ground.
When planting new plants, make sure you use weed-gree or sterilized mix. When buying plans, avoid the ones with spotted spurge outbreaks. Mulches can limit spotted spurge weed if they prevent light and sun from reaching the root.
Before planting your lawn with turf and plants, it is recommendable to follow the method known as solarization.
It is advisable to cover the soil with plastic sheets for 4-6 weeks during the summer. This can reduce the number of seeds when summer temperatures are very high. In areas where temperatures are not so high, solarization can control the weed.
This is one of the most common strategies for controlling spurge weeds. The process of using synthetic or organic mulches prevents light from reaching the seeds, starving them before they can start growing and making food. Comport, bark or straw laid (2 inches thick) can control weed seeds including spurge species. Larger mulches last longer. A large bark requires 3-4 inch layer to be effective and get you the results you want.
Another effective control measure for spurge in your lawn is to maintain a stand of grass. Due to lawn diseases, stress, insects, lack of fertility, open areas develop and light penetrates to the turf, allowing spurge to grow. Once spurge establishes itself, using cultural methods such as irrigation or fertilization won’t control it.
Luckily, there is one thing you can do. Raising the mowing height to 2 inches in perennial ryegrass or tall fescue can reduce primary invasions.
It is recommendable to check turf for excessive thatch (it should be less than ½ inch high).
Chemical Control Of Spurge
Chemical control includes pre-emergent herbicides and post-emergent herbicides.
Pre-emergent herbicides can prevent spurge weed outbreaks if you use them in late winter, just before seeds germinate. It usually occurs before the temperature of the soil exceeds 60°F and at a depth of 1 inch.
Some of the most effective pre-emergent herbicides for lawn include pendimethalin, benefin, isoxaben, oryzalin, trifluralin, and dithiopyr. Of all these herbicides, only pendimethalin, dithiopyr, oryzalin, and trifluralin are available for use for lawn owners and home gardeners. Other combination products such as oryzalin + benefin are available to landscape professionals and lawn care companies.
Pre-emergent chemicals are never used in home vegetable gardens as chemical residues for months after application.
Post-emergent herbicides are available to lawn owners and home gardeners and include 2,4-D, MCPP, and dicamba mix products, glyphosate, triclopyr, and others. According to our experts, 2,4-D and its combination products can’t control more mature and larger spurge plants.
How to Treat The Spurge Weed
It is important to always wear the right safety equipment, especially when herbicides are being used. You can wear long pants and a long sleeve shirt together with goggles and gloves.
Surge weed can be a difficult weed to control because of its ability to quickly produce seed, its extensive root system, and because it can easily spread. The best way of controlling spurge weed is chemical control.
Using pre-emergent herbicides in early spring or fall, just before the temperatures reach 50-60 degrees would be an effective way to keep the seeds from growing. Timing is everything. If you apply pre-emergent herbicides when this invasive weed has already sprung up, it will do nothing to stop its growth. One effective, as well as, economical option is Nutrophos Barricade.
If you miss the chance to use pre-emergent herbicides, we recommend using post-emergent herbicides. You can use a broadleaf weed killer, for example, MSM Turf. When the weeds and plants are young, they are more prone to chemical applications.
How to Get Rid of Spurge in Your Lawn for Good
Spurge is a spotted weed that thrives when the temperatures are high, in the heat of summer. This invasive weed not only grows in weak areas of your lawn but also invades sidewalk cracks, landscape beds, and gardens.
Luckily, spurge is easily noticeable by its hairy red stems, tiny green leaves, and mat-like shape. This weed produces small green flowers all summer, during September.
Spotted or prostrate spurge can produce several thousand seeds per one plant and spread throughout weak lawn areas. The seeds will sprout immediately and some may lie dormant until next spring. This warm-weather weed starts producing seed a mere 4-5 weeks after germination. Remember, early detection, control, and treatment are necessary.
The first thing you need to do is remove all small patches. The single taproot and flat shape of spurge make it a proper candidate for detecting and hand pulling. This plant prefers to break off at the stem, so pay attention and get all of it when removing it by hand. If you don’t get it all out, it will grow back.
To help lessen the chances of spurge coming back, make sure to remove it before it flowers and produce seeds.
If you have more mature and larger spurge weeds in your lawn, you need to use a product created for broadcast application. To get rid of spotted spurge in your lawn and feed your turf at the same time, you need to use the right product.
How to Prevent Spurge (the Warm-Weather Weed)
Here are a few helpful tips to keep spurge from invading your lawn.
1. Feed Your Lawn
Regular maintenance and feedings (from 2 to 4 times per year) provide all necessary nutrients your lawn needs to produce green and healthy turf. Spurge is not a competitive weed and a thick lawn will surely keep this weed out and prevent new seeds from growing.
2. Mow Higher
Mowing higher or at the height that is best for your lawn allows the turf to grow thick, as well as, develop a more stable root system. Perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and St. Augustine weeds prefer to be mowed at 4 inches. Centipede and Zoysia weeds prefer to be mowed at 3 inches while Bermuda grass does best at 2-inch height.
3. Water Deeply
Watering occasionally and deeply helps your turf outcompete weeds by forming deeper and stronger root growth. Watering too frequently or too little forms shallow root system which can lead to a thin lawn and weak areas that invasive weeds take advantage of. You need to rely on rain as much as possible to water your lawn. Use sprinklers only when you need to achieve the 1 inch of water most lawns need.
Stop Spurge and Other Intrusive Weeds in Your Lawn
Spurge is one of the many weeds that could be in your lawn causing chaos. The first thing you need to do as a lawn owner is to identify this weed.
If you are having trouble identifying and treating spurge, we can put together a great team for spotting intrusive weeds and proper solution on how to treat them.
We’ve helped clients throughout Pennsylvania region, giving them healthier and greener landscapes by using highly trained professionals and eco-friendly products. Our application program uses a combination of nutrients to improve the health of your turf, fertilizer to feed your lawn, and all kinds of supplements to keep your lawn looking its best.
Contact our lawn weed experts at Green Turf Care today to learn more about our weed control products and all of our services designed to improve lawns in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas.