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Summer Weeds: Spotted and Prostrate Spurge

August 4th, 2022

Summer is a time of two tales in the Atlanta metro area. It seems it’s either raining or exceptionally hot and dry. Fortunately, if cared for appropriately, our bermuda and zoysia lawns do wonderfully in this heat. Unfortunately, those swings in weather conditions can be very tough on pre-emergent weed control products. Late in the season, a few weeds may creep past the control of pre-emergents as they naturally degrade. One of the most common perpetrators is spurge.

What is Spurge and How Can I Identify This Summer Weed?

Prostrate and spotted spurge are broadleaf annual weeds that germinate and grow late in our summer lawns. Identifiable features include a very flat growth habit, leaves that grow in opposing pairs, and in the case of spotted spurge, a purple or red spot in the center of smokey green leaves. The flowers and fruit they produce are relatively small and non-descript, making their foliage the prime identifier.

Growing from a taproot, spurge is capable of taking advantage of the smallest of openings, often growing in the cracks of a driveway, paver walkway, and, of course, lawns. A very flat growth habit and hardy tissues allow them to avoid injury from mowers and resist damage from traffic. Pulling them up can be a challenge if the plant is well rooted, as the stems easily break away, revealing white milky sap inside.

What Makes Spurge So Difficult to Control?

Spurges are well-suited for our environment, taking advantage of vulnerabilities in our landscapes, and they are well-suited to resist control measures. Pre-emergent weed control products are a key component of any good weed control strategy. When applied at the right time, pre-emergents do a wonderful job of stifling weed development by stopping roots from developing as they emerge from seed. Spurge is well equipped to circumvent these controls.

Even the market-leading pre-emergent control products are subject to degradation over time in our environment. Spurges don’t emerge from seed until soil temperatures are quite warm, meaning the pre-emergent barrier may have been degraded by heat, weather, UV light, or broken by something as simple as edging a driveway or sidewalk. Just as their taproot can wiggle its way into the crack of sidewalk, the smallest break in that pre-emergent barrier may be enough for a spurge plant to establish itself where turf is thin. Once established, their mat-like growth habit can further choke or stifle turfgrass that may already be uncomfortable.

How Can I Control Spurge?

As is true with most weeds, the best defense against spurge is a really good offense. Integrated Pest Management strategies are key. Despite their late germination time and the natural degradation of pre-emergent weed control products, pre-emergent use in combination with sound cultural practices are key.

Every facet of a good weed control and fertilizer program is supported on the foundation of good mowing and watering techniques. Without these, density suffers and voids form. Weeds like spurge are patiently waiting for their opportunity to fill those voids.

Advisable guidelines for bermuda and zoysia lawns are:

  • mowing weekly at a height of 1.5-2”
  • watering an inch per week over 2-3 non-contiguous days.

Outside of extreme weather conditions, these suggestions help limit injury, encourage lateral growth, and increase density. This aids pre-emergents in stifling weed development and produces healthy, competitive turf to battle any weeds that circumvent weed control products.

Other beneficial services to consider are aeration and growth regulation. Aeration increases turf health by making the soil a more hospitable place for the roots of our turfs. Healthy roots mean healthy plants. Aeration also helps to normalize soil conditions across a lawn, reducing the variance for key factors such as percolation (the rate water gets in the soil). Growth regulators slow down the shoot growth of our turf plants and increase lateral growth. Not only does this increase density, but it decreases the potential for injury when using a normal mowing schedule.

Even when all boxes have been checked and eventualities considered, the environment has a tendency to throw a curveball or two. In those instances, should you find some spurge in your yard, there are options for post-emergent weed control. While spurge is tenacious for an annual weed, control is possible. If you’re having issues with spurge or any other weeds in your lawn, give Nature’s Turf a call or shoot us an email. We’d love to discuss specific strategy and control methods for your lawn with you.

Important Takeaways:

  • Prostrate and spotted spurge are broadleaf annual weeds that can grow in our summer lawns.
  • Spurges are well-suited for our environment, taking advantage of vulnerabilities in our landscapes, and they are well-suited to resist control measures.
  • As is true with most weeds, the best defense against spurge is a really good offense. Integrated Pest Management strategies are key. Good mowing and watering techniques combined with sound fertilization and aeration schedules optimize your turf’s competitive potential.
  • Sometimes, even when all considerations have been made, weeds may creep their way past our defenses. In those instances, post-emergent weed control products can be used to spray spurge.

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