Foxtail is a weed that seems to be everywhere! Once you recognize what it looks like, you will see that it grows in lots of different places. When lawn maintenance is delayed, it will most surely appear, and it spreads quickly.
As foxtail spreads across your lawn, it competes for nutrients and sunlight that your grass needs. Unfortunately, watering speeds its growth too (as it does your lawn).
In this article, you will find out much more about foxtail, what it is, how it impacts your children and pets, how to treat it as a weed, how to head off its growth, how best to take care of your lawn so that growth of foxtail never begins in the first place — plus lots of encouragement on how best to take care of yourself as you care for your lawn and use herbicides for your lawn’s growth and health.
Some people read warnings and decide to enlist the help of their favorite yard professionals to take care of it for them as well — and there’s nothing wrong with that!
If you have this emerging problem in your yard, take action now! You will thank yourself later, and your children and pets will thank you too.
You will see that these weeds are much more difficult to kill than others, so the earlier in the process you can attack their growth, the easier it will be to save your lawn.
What Is Foxtail?
Foxtail gets its name from its head that resembles the tail of a fox. It can be found throughout North America.
Just as a fox might raid your hen house, you want to be on guard against foxtail. It can take over your lawn quickly and spread to wide areas of your property. A season of not taking care of your property in this way can lead to being overrun by this weed.
Foxtail is a nuisance for homeowners because of the tall weeds growing in large clumps in unwanted areas of your property. But the seed’s awns — sometimes called hairs and spikes — can be dangerous to you, your kids, and your pets’ health. Sometimes they can even be more harmful to pets and even threaten their health and safety.
Does that seem unusual for a weed that grows wild in a lawn to cause possible harm in your pet? Stay tuned for more details about your furry friends.
Know Your Foxtail
Three species of foxtail are most common: yellow foxtail (Setaria pumila or glauca), green foxtail (Setaria viridis), and giant foxtail (Setaria faberi).
These plants are very similar and all of them have the foxtail head. They can be found throughout North America and grow almost everywhere — whether undisturbed, natural growth or not.
Foxtail grasses grow in thick clusters. Green and yellow foxtails can grow from one to three feet tall. Giant foxtails can grow from three to seven feet high. These weeds stand out quickly when they are allowed to grow without control.
Their heads are actually full of seeds that will grow and spread more as they are spread throughout the air and carried off by pets and people and the wind to new locations throughout your property.
Foxtail blades are flat. Green and yellow foxtails are from a quarter-inch to a half-inch wide. Giant foxtails are a half-inch wide or larger. Yellow and giant foxtails have hairy blades. Green foxtail blades are smooth.
Yellow foxtail seed heads can grow three inches long and have short, coarse bristles. Green foxtail seed heads grow up to six inches long and have softer bristles.
Giant foxtail seed heads are droopy and grow three to seven inches long. You can imagine how these weeds growing in large clumps can cause your property to look unsightly and with their heads filled with seeds, they can spread and grow quickly.
Again, the seed head that resembles a foxtail is the most distinctive part of all three species. You should be able to identify them because of this unique feature. The seed becomes the focus of this discussion because of how the annoying plant sticks around.
Once you do notice these weeds, you will begin to see them everywhere. If you have one pet that is bothered by them, you will take special notice too.
Danger! Pets Beware
What can be annoying to adults and cause irritations and allergies in kids can be a problem for your pet.
Although they look harmless or even beautiful to some, this plant can cause health problems that are quite serious to your pets. You love your pets as members of your family and will want to protect them from foxtail weeds.
Foxtail weed isn’t toxic like many dangers to pets are, but it is dangerous because of the seeds. The seed awns have sharp edges and they can go into your pet’s skin. The barbs are curved and, if not removed immediately, can move under the skin of your pet.
Your dog can remove them by biting, which causes other hazards, but is just as likely to push them down under its skin and cause more irritation and problems.
To make matters worse, your playful dog also loves to sniff and track animals through all types of weeds. Maybe your dog even goes potty in weeds like these.
If your dog swallows or inhales foxtails, your pet could get awns stuck in its throat, nose, eyes, or ears. Your dog may start coughing and sneezing or even tear up, wheeze, and swell as if it had an allergy.
Dogs have been known to step on the weed and then lick their paws later to get rid of the problem but this only makes it worse. Yes, some even get the seeds stuck when they are pottying. Observe your pets for signs of sickness if you see them in the area of foxtails.
Contact your vet if something seems off about their health, especially if you know your pets have been around this weed.
How to Keep Pets Away
Keep clear of areas with foxtails. It is best to check your animal regularly when it returns from outside or you see it playing in the area. Make a habit of this because it is also very common for pets to pick up ticks or fleas if playing in long grasses and weeds.
Check the following areas on your pet:
- Coat: Brush or pick these off your pet. Seeds can easily get caught in your pet’s fur or even lodged in your pet. Or your pet may lick seeds off, ingest them, or get them stuck around its face.
- Nose: Look at your pet’s nostrils and remove any that have entered before they are inhaled further. These can cause serious respiratory consequences for your pet.
- Eyes: Look for any seeds lodged in or around its eyes. Also take note of any discharge, redness, and swelling. Think of this as an allergic reaction for your pet.
- Ears: Check your pet’s ear canal. If seeds work their way into your pet’s ear further, they could even become lodged in your pet’s eardrum.
- Feet: Look between pads and toes. Your pet will bite and lick these off if they are causing any pain to your pet.
- Genitals: Search, especially if your pet potties in high-grass areas. These seeds can work their way into your pet just as described for ears, nose, and throat.
Most people who search the web about foxtails do so because they have an infestation of these weeds. There are several steps you need to take to move forward, including possible multiple treatments of herbicide to rid yourself and your lawn of these nuisances.
Identify first how widespread the breakout is; is it minor or taking over your lawn? This inspection will help you determine how much herbicide you will need to control the outbreak. You will need to calculate square footage of your lawn.
When you handle any herbicide, protect your skin and eyes with safety equipment. Goggles, gloves, a mask, and long sleeves are recommended.
If foxtails are already on your lawn, they are tougher to kill. You will want to apply a post-emergent herbicide to kill them. Read more later about the prevention and use of pre-emergents and further warnings about protecting yourself.
You will want to begin by measuring the square footage of your yard and then calculate the appropriate amount that you will need. Look for the brand that delivers the herbicide most conveniently for your particular lawn. Read the directions carefully.
You will want to apply the solution to the foxtails on a nozzle spray setting. This setting will shoot a mist that will evenly coat the foxtail for best results in eradicating it from your lawn.
Most recommend follow-up applications after a couple of weeks. Don’t assume that even a solution that advertises “one and done” will get the job done in just one application.
Foxtail is a persistent weed. You may have to apply multiple applications to eradicate all the foxtails.
The best way to battle foxtails in your lawn is to prevent their growth in the first place. In the spring, apply a pre-emergent herbicide.
Timing is critical for the best results. Pre-emergent herbicides must be applied before seeds become airborne so you should apply it early in the spring.
These pre-emergent herbicides work because they control and prevent seeds from sprouting. Measure your lawn’s square footage to calculate how much pre-emergent herbicide you will need just as you do with a herbicide after foxtail growth.
Once you have measured the appropriate amount, spread it evenly. Use a push spreader if you have a large property. A hand spreader is better for more precise spreading of the granules.
After spreading, water and activate the granules with at least 0.5 inches of water. You can also accomplish this activation if it rains within two to three days after applying the herbicide.
Pre-emergent herbicides continue destroying foxtail seeds 90 days after the first application. If you have a newly seeded lawn, wait until after your yard becomes established before you apply.
The herbicides may take two weeks to destroy the weeds after application. After herbicides kill foxtails, wait for new foxtails to develop before you apply the herbicide again.
Herbicides may lose their effectiveness over time. Some other factors can reduce the effectiveness of herbicides, including high humidity and frequent watering. If your area has any of these issues, consider using more applications throughout the early spring season to ensure that foxtail seedling growth is curtailed.
Before using an herbicide, carefully read and follow the precautions written on the label. Long-sleeved shirts, socks, and shoes help prevent contact with chemicals. Don’t spray in windy weather or near a source of water. Keep your children and pets away after application.
Herbicides can cause damage to your respiratory system and skin. Wear protective clothing and a suitable respirator.
A Healthy Lawn
Proper lawn care prevents foxtail growth. A healthy lawn is your best defense against foxtail growth.
- Fertilize your lawn at the best time recommended for your particular grass
- Mow the lawn regularly
- Mow at the correct height
If your grass is thick and lush, foxtail will have no room to establish itself and ugly up your lawn. Remember to prevent foxtails with a pre-emergent herbicide application and by implementing a good lawn maintenance routine that ensures a thick, healthy, nutrient-rich lawn.
Add a Protective Covering Throughout Your Lawn
If you can’t kill off growth early in the spring, your next option is to starve the seedlings. The best approach to rob foxtails of nutrients is to spread mulch.
Mulch protects, covers, absorbs moisture, and blocks sunlight from reaching your lawn. For portions of your yard that are starting to grow foxtails, two to three inches of mulch will make it difficult for foxtail growth.
If foxtails grow with vegetation, mulch will starve the vegetation of nutrients. Spread thin layers of mulch.
Your lawn receives essential nutrients from the sun and water. Plant vegetation in your garden to absorb these nutrients more quickly.
By implementing preventive steps, you can ensure that your lawn remains free of foxtails all summer long.
A Lesser-Known Household Remedy
Purchase white vinegar at a concentration of 5% or more. A higher concentration gives faster results. You can even buy a 9% concentration in stores.
Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar. Set the spray to the option stream to produce a narrow flow of liquid.
It is essential to get close to the foxtail weed. Spray the base if possible. Reapply the vinegar weekly as needed. Foxtail usually dies within a few days. Taller plants take longer.
Once the foxtail has wholly died back from the vinegar application, pull it from the lawn.
One summer of infestation with foxtails will undoubtedly make you want to take the steps necessary to prevent its growth. A little prevention goes a long way.
Your kids and pets will undoubtedly thank you and you will thank yourself!
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.