NORTH COUNTY – They sound cute, but foxtails wreak havoc on yards and pets, creating a need to control them in a landscape.
A foxtail is a spikelet or spikelet cluster of a grass which disperses its seeds as a unit. Grasses which produce these spikelets are called “foxtail,” also “spear grass”. The name foxtail is used for a number of grasses that have bushy spikes of spikelets that resemble the tail of a fox.
Foxtails germinate and grow much like crabgrass. Foxtails are common in weedy areas around roads, paths, open fields and hillsides, orchards, vineyards, landscaped areas; just about anywhere in a warmer climate. Foxtails are soft and green from January through April. As the seed heads dry in late spring, they become dangerous and stay that way throughout summer and early fall. The “seed head” breaks apart and the barbs easily adhere to animals, clothes, or almost anything that brushes up against them.
Dangers to pets
When clinging to animal fur, the movements of the animal can cause the foxtail to burrow in deeply. Foxtails have barbs which only allow them to move in one direction, making it very easy to get lodged into an animal’s fur, and eventually skin. The foxtail can cause much damage to animals as it enters into soft tissues and organs, causing infection and sometimes death.
Pets should be checked regularly for foxtails if they spend any time outdoors. By brushing the fur of a pet with a comb, one can find and remove any foxtails before they become lodged in the skin. Long-haired pets may need a little extra attention when checking for foxtails. If a pet is limping; this can be an indication that something is stuck in the foot, a common area for foxtails. Foxtails are also commonly found in the eyes of animals and often lodge themselves under the eyelid. These can be hard to see and a trip to the vet may be required.
Controlling foxtails in a landscape
So how does one control this weed? It seems like it is everywhere! While it’s hard to stop an animal from running in nearby fields, which are usually over flowing with foxtails; they can be controlled in a landscape. Here are some suggestions:
*Stop it before it starts. The best way to remove foxtails from a yard is to keep it from growing there. Putting down a pre-emergent grass in early spring is one way. The key is to get this down before germination starts. One can use an herbicide labeled specifically for annual grasses like crabgrass, foxtail and barnyardgrass. For lawns use Bonide® Crabgrass Preventer and for ornamentals use Green Light® Amaze®.
Apply a selective post-emergent herbicide when the grasses are actively growing. Post-emergent herbicide sprays are most effective on young foxtail grasses before seed heads form. Once seed heads have formed or they began to dry, regular clean-up with a rake and garden hoe may be the best option. Another recommendation would be to use a product with quinclorac in it. Ortho® Weed-b-Gone® Max ready-to-use is an option. This can be used on certain grass varieties to control foxtails after they have germinated. Check the label of any product before using it.
• Mow lawns regularly so they don’t get over-grown and have the opportunity to get over-run with foxtail grasses. Mow lawns at three inches to inhibit seed germination. Foxtails are more common in grasses under two inches in height.
• Hand-pull foxtails before seed heads ripen. Foxtails will grow better when watered more frequently. Water your lawn less often, but more deeply on watering days.
• For non-selective areas one can use RoundUp® QuickPro® or ProMax. As always, read and follow the label for the product being considered.
Information provided by Grangetto’s Farm & Garden Supply, 530 E. Alvarado St., Fallbrook.