Foxtails are one of those rarely named weeds that actually resemble their name, unlike Dandelion, Creeping Charlie or Hogweed (can you imagine a weed that looks like a pig?!).
Foxtails are a clump-forming annual grass with bristly seed heads that resemble the tail of a fox. They are common grassy weeds that can be quite invasive and problematic in gardens, active construction sites, and agricultural fields.
Foxtail weed was recently in the news in Calgary as it can cause issues for pet owners, especially when consumed. When foxtail weed is allowed to grow undisturbed, it unleashes barbed seeds that can get onto dog’s paws, skin or into their mouths if consumed, which can cause infection, abscesses and other health issues, leading to big vet bills.
According to an article in the Calgary Herald article published June 26, 2023:
“The City of Calgary is considering a $500 fine for property owners who don’t control the growth of foxtail barley, a grass that can be harmful to pets.
Proposed amendments to the community standards bylaw aimed at stopping the spread of the plant are going to council’s community development committee on Wednesday.
The changes would require the plant to be chopped down at eight centimetres on “nuisance properties” — defined by the city as land that has gone unmaintained and causes issues for surrounding residents — compared to the current regulation of 15 cm for most grasses. The city says the move will help “regulate the plant before it reaches maturity.”
“(M)itigating foxtail barley is crucial prior to the plant reaching 15 cm,” reads the report from city administration.
When the plant is allowed to grow, it unleashes barbed seeds that can be eaten by animals, typically dogs. They often become lodged in dogs’ mouths and cause potentially severe health issues and pricey vet visits.”
How to Identify Foxtail Weed
To identify foxtail weeds, look for the following features:
The most distinctive feature of foxtail weeds is their seed heads which are cylindrical or spike-like in shape and can vary in color from green to golden or brown. They are densely packed with bristly seeds that give them their foxtail-like appearance.
Slender, upright stems. They can grow up to several feet in height, depending on the species.
The leaves of foxtail weeds are long and narrow, usually ranging from 2 to 10 inches in length. They are arranged alternately along the stem and have a rough texture.
Barbs or bristles:
The seeds of foxtail weeds have sharp, barbed bristles that enable them to easily attach to clothing, fur, or animal skin. These bristles can cause irritation or injury if they come into contact with skin.
Where Foxtails are Commonly Found
Foxtail weeds are often found in disturbed areas, such as gardens, lawns, pastures, disturbed building sites, active construction sites, ditches and roadsides.
They thrive in full sun but can tolerate some shade. They reproduce by seed and can spread rapidly if not controlled.
How to Get Rid of Foxtail Grass in Lawns
Foxtail produces thick foxtails of seed that can spread quickly. According to the Alberta government website, a “panicle of green foxtail contains 350 –500 seeds. One plant is capable of producing 5000 – 12,000 seeds.”
“The rapid growth of the plant means controlling foxtail weeds is a priority for the health and appearance of turf grass.” (Source: Gardening Know How)
1: Remove existing weeds
If you spot green foxtail weeds in your lawn, it’s important to remove them promptly to prevent seed production. Use a hand weeder or garden fork to carefully dig out the weeds, making sure to remove the entire root system.
2: Prevent seed spread
Be cautious when mowing or working in areas infested with green foxtail weeds. The weed seeds can easily attach to clothing, equipment, or animals and be transported to other areas, contributing to further infestations. Clean tools and shoes thoroughly to avoid spreading the seeds.
3: Spot treat with herbicides
If foxtail infestation becomes severe or widespread, spot treating with a herbicide formulated for grassy weeds may be necessary. Follow the instructions on the herbicide carefully, as some products may harm desirable lawn grass if not used correctly.
Treating this weed early will help prevent it from taking over your garden.
Please contact our office if you need help controlling this weed and we will be happy to help.
Tips to Prevent Foxtail in Lawns
The best advice we can provide to prevent foxtails is to maintain a healthy lawn. A healthy lush lawn will not have bare spots where weeds can grow.
Here are some more tips to help prevent foxtail from taking over your lawn:
Tip 1: Mow Regularly
Keep your lawn well-maintained by mowing it at the recommended height for your grass type. Regular mowing helps prevent foxtail weeds from producing seed heads and spreading their seeds.
Tip 2: Follow Good Watering Practices
Water your lawn deeply but infrequently, promoting healthy grass growth while discouraging weed growth. Avoid overwatering, as it can create favorable conditions for foxtail weed germination and growth. For more tips on how to properly water your lawn, check out our blog, Lawn Watering Guidelines: Tips and Signs of Over and Underwatering.
Tip 3: Improve Lawn Health
A thick and healthy lawn is less susceptible to weed invasion. Implement good lawn care practices, including regular fertilization, aeration, and overseeding, to promote dense turf that can outcompete weeds.
Tip 4: Mulch Garden Beds
Apply a layer of mulch to your garden beds to suppress weed growth, including foxtail weeds. Mulch acts as a barrier, preventing weed seeds from germinating and establishing themselves.
Tip 5: Practice Good Lawn Hygiene
Regularly clean up lawn clippings, debris, and fallen leaves, as they can provide a favorable environment for foxtail weed growth and seed germination.
Remember that consistent maintenance and prevention methods are key to controlling foxtail weeds in your lawn. If the weed problem persists or becomes unmanageable, consider seeking advice from a professional landscaper or lawn care specialist who can provide tailored recommendations for your specific situation.
What to do if you see Foxtail in Calgary
The Calgary Herald shared in their article dated June 26, 2023, that “The city’s parks department will continue to tackle foxtail barley in public areas, and Spencer (Ward 12 Councillor who spearheaded the initiative to fine property owners $500 if foxtail weed is found growing out of control on their property) urges anyone who sees a large presence of the grass near walking trails or other frequented spaces to call 311 or their city councillor.”
The best prevention for all types of weeds is a healthy lawn.
If you need help with your lawn or have any questions when it comes to weeds and lawn care, please contact our team of lawn care specialists and they will be happy to help.
The Calgary Herald, City may fine property owners who don’t control foxtail barley, a hazard to pets
Gardening Know How: Controlling Foxtail Weeds – How To Get Rid of Foxtail Grass In Lawns
Calgary.ca Website, Foxtail Barley
Alberta Government Web Site, Green Foxtail