When you think of summertime, what comes to mind? Vacation? Gardening? Having grown up in rural Blount County, running barefoot through the grass is synonymous with summertime. But as many of my neighbors, friends, and colleagues are finding, frolicking in the lawn can quickly turn into a painful experience due to a small winter annual, lawn burweed.
Lawn burweed, Soliva sessilis, is a small, inconspicuous weed that is making a major appearance in lawns across our area and the Southeastern United States. Originally native to South America, this tiny weed has been slowly making its way into our lawns for several years now. Low growing with tiny leaves and un-noticeable flowers, this weed is difficult to recognize before late spring. The seed capsules are the "bur" in burweed, having tiny but very sharp burs on them, making them hard to see, but easy to feel!
This is a common call for nurseries, landscape companies and extension offices alike around this time of year. Much to the disappointment of many clients, this weed, though easy to identify, is both impossible and pointless to control at this point in the season. Being a winter annual, lawn burweed germinates in October (soil temperatures affect germination times) and grows but stays very small and inconspicuous in the cold of winter. Once spring arrives, the plant experiences a period of rapid growth and flowering, leading to visible patches and painful seed capsules. So, what can you do to keep this tiny but terrible weed from affecting you, your loved ones, and even your four-legged friends? It all starts with proper soil and lawn health.
The easiest and most effective control of this and many other winter and summer annuals is to promote a healthy and dense lawn. Lawns with adequate soil fertility, proper watering, and management provide a canopy that shades out would be weeds. Along with cultural practices, proper and timely chemical applications can be helpful in controlling lawn burweed. While applying herbicides at this point in the growing season would be wasteful, fall and early winter applications are highly effective. Pre-emergent applications made in late September through early October can prevent small seeded plants from emerging from the soil, killing them just as they germinate from the seed. If you miss that window, making post-emergent applications with herbicides during October, November and December can kill lawn burweed, henbit, and many other problematic or nuisance weeds. As always, read all chemical labels carefully to ensure that they are safe for your lawn type. Also, consult these labels for usage rates, and for proper application techniques for the most effective control.
While it may be disappointing to hear that there is not much that you can do about lawn burweed now, know that before long the burs that cause so much pain will be gone. With summer heat coming on strong, turfgrasses will soon provide a thick layer to shield your bare feet from terrible weeds. For more information about this and other home horticulture questions, contact your local County Extension Office.
Written by Hunter McBrayer, Urban Regional Extension Agent, of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). He is housed at the Marshall County Extension Office, which is based at the Marshall County Courthouse in Guntersville, AL.
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