This is the fifth in a series of articles about weeds nominated by Master Gardener volunteers and trainees as the weeds they hate the most. I think you’ll recognize the weeds we’ll consider here as two that you’ve encountered.
Spurge is actually a plant family with at least five Florida members that produces familiar summer annual weeds that have milky sap. Graceful sandmat (Euphorbia hypericifolia) is spurge in its erect form, growing 1-2 feet tall. It is often found growing in lawns and in disturbed areas including garden beds. It has small round opposite green leaves and red stems.
Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is another commonly found weed in our area. The stems are smooth or hairy and the leaves generally have a reddish non-symmetrical spot. This prostrate spurge creeps along the ground, and you may frequently see it growing out of cracks in driveways or sidewalks.
To control this weed, you may hand pull it, prevent it with pre-emergent herbicides targeted to control broadleaf weeds or use a post-emergent herbicide. Hand-pull these weeds when the soil is moist to ensure that you extract the taproot.
Note that spurge grows back very quickly from seeds, but it needs light to germinate, so an adequately thick layer of mulch is very effective. If you are hand-pulling or using herbicides, spurge elimination may require multiple passes as each plant is capable of producing thousands of seeds over a growing season.
Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium japonicum) is a plant legally prohibited in the state of Florida due to its invasive nature. A native of temperate and tropical regions of Asia, it was introduced into Florida as an ornamental plant in the early 1900s and quickly spread over western and northern Florida. It is now found throughout the state.
Although an attractive plant, its winding vines and feathery leaves quickly grow in, through and over nearby plants. As a true fern, its spores are dispersed by the wind over large areas and purchased pine straw is a possible vector for this noxious weed as it commonly grows in pine forests.
If you have just a little of this vine on your property, and it is not yet well established, you may be successful in managing it by mechanical control, carefully digging out the rhizome for each plant. Cutting or breaking off the “stem” is ineffective as the plant will re-grow from below the cut and will continue to spread by its rhizomes.
Discard the plant and rhizomes in a plastic trash bag headed toward the landfill. Do not put them in your compost pile as they will likely re-grow and spread.
If chemical control seems necessary, use a systemic herbicide, being very careful to isolate the vine from your desired plants. In some cases, you might be able to gather the tops of rooted vines (without breaking the stems) and move them into an area where you can separate them from garden plants. For example, you might pull them onto a sidewalk, driveway or bare soil and then spray them without harming other plants.
If that is not possible, use some kind of physical barrier such as wood, metal or plastic to shield desirable plants from the herbicide. Remove the barrier only after the spray has dried.
I wish you the best with your ongoing battle with weeds. Look for more about weeds we love to hate in future articles.
Susan Barnes is a Master Gardener Volunteer with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, an Equal Opportunity Institution. For gardening questions, email the extension office at AskAMasterGardener@ifas.ufl.edu.
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