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A spotted weed that thrives in the heat of summer, spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is an unsightly nuisance that not only takes up residence in weak areas of the lawn, but also invades landscape beds, sidewalk cracks, and vegetable gardens. Spotted spurge is easily recognized by its hairy red stems that branch out from a central point, tiny dark green leaves with a red spot, and dense, mat-like shape. This annual weed germinates in mid-spring and produces inconspicuous, tiny green flowers all summer long. In addition to its signature red spots, spotted spurge can be distinguished from other weeds by the milky sap that is produced when any part of the plant is damaged. In thin areas of the lawn, it can form a thick mat that can be up to 3 feet across.
Spotted spurge can produce several thousand seeds per plant and quickly spread throughout weak areas of your lawn. The seeds produced in early summer will sprout almost immediately, while seeds produced later in the year will lie dormant in the soil until next spring. This warm-weather weed starts flowering and producing seed a mere 5 weeks after germination, so early detection and treatment are key.
Remove small patches. The flat shape and single taproot of spotted spurge makes it good candidate for hand-pulling if there are only a few scattered throughout the yard. This type of plant likes to break off at the stem, so make sure you get all of it (including the roots) when removing it by hand, or it will grow back. Since spotted spurge produces a sap that can be irritating to the skin, always wear gloves when hand-pulling. To help lessen the chances of it coming back, remove spotted spurge before it has a chance to flower and produce seeds.
Small patches of spotted spurge plants can also be killed using a read-to-use lawn weed killer, like Scotts® Spot Weed Control for Lawns. Be sure to follow label directions and only use on listed grass types.
Kill large patches. If you have a large spotted spurge problem in the lawn, apply a product meant for broadcast application. To kill weeds and feed your lawn at the same time, use a product like Scotts® Turf Builder® Triple Action or Scotts® Turf Builder® Weed & Feed3. If you have a St. Augustine, centipede, or zoysia lawn, try Scotts® Turf Builder® Southern Triple Action or Scotts® Turf Builder® Bonus® S Southern Weed & Feed 2 instead.
Follow these tips to keep spotted spurge from taking over your lawn.
Feed your lawn. Regular feedings (2 to 4 times per year) provide the nutrients your lawn needs to produce dense, green turf. Spotted spurge is not an competitive weed, so a thick lawn will keep spotted spurge out and prevent weed seeds from sprouting.
Mow high. Mowing at the height best for your lawn type allows the grass to grow thick and develop a deep root system. Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fescues, and St. Augustine lawns prefer to be mowed at 3 to 4 inches. Zoysia and centipede lawns do best when mowed at 2 to 3 inches, while bermuda lawns prefer a 1.5 to 2 inch height. Instead of bagging grass clippings, leave them on the lawn to help recycle nutrients back into the soil.
Water deeply. Watering deeply and infrequently helps your lawn outcompete weeds by encouraging deeper root growth and thicker, stronger grass. Watering too little or too frequently encourages shallow root growth, which can lead to a thin lawn and bare spots that weeds will take advantage of. As much as possible, rely on rain (nature’s sprinklers) to water your lawn and only use sprinklers when needed to achieve the 1 inch of water per week that most lawns need.