If you’ve ever walked barefoot and stepped on one of these, you know exactly why it’s necessary to get rid of them. There’s nothing like strolling through your backyard on a nice Saturday barbecue only to find that your guests’ feet, shins, and knees have been indirectly attacked by these little guys.
They occur naturally, but there are some things that you can do to get rid of and prevent future growth of sand spurs in your yard. But first, let’s talk about what they are.
What Are Sandburs?
Sandburs are a common grassy weed found just about everywhere in the world where vegetation grows in sand, but are particularly native to warm climates found in North America, North Africa, Asia, and others. You see them on the side of the highway, on sports fields, and most notably, on your lawn.
They’re named after their spiny, prickly seed pods that detach from the plant when fully ripe, planting new weeds and continuing the cycle. You may also know them as sandspurs or buffelgrass, but their scientific name is “cenchrus.”
Sandburs will come and go with the spring and summer seasons, but they can leave behind a plethora of seeds for next season. They’re also perennial weeds, so sandburs have the ability to grow a new, full plant from the root system, not requiring a seed at all.
This makes them difficult to get rid of, as special care is needed when tending to the root systems during removal.
How to Inspect for Sandburs
Inspecting for sandburs is necessary before determining the best method of treatment for your particular yard. You will first need to identify and confirm that you’re dealing with sandburs and not another closely related plant.
Needless chemical use poses a threat to the balance of your immediate ecosystem, and should never be done carelessly. Chemical waste is harmful to the environment, so make sure that you know what you’re killing before you pour toxins into the ground.
Sandburs are hard to miss if you’re walking barefoot through your grass. They look like most weeds, with sharp, spiny seed pods attached to them at the top. They have long, twisted leaves and narrow stems stretching all the way to their base.
It’s not difficult to spot sandburs if they’re taller than your grass. Sandburs will rarely grow beyond 100 cm but look like regular grass when they’re in infancy, so they can be both hard and easy to miss, depending on their size. They grow quickly, so if you do miss sprouting sandburs, you’ll have another chance to catch them soon.
To give you an idea of where to get started with inspection, sandburs most typically grow where the soil is sandy. You’ll most often find the seed pods of sandburs in areas needing water or extra nutrition. Blank, sandy spots in the turf are a good place to check for both the plants and their seed pods.
It’s important to look for both, as the seed pods will become plants. They’re more difficult to remove, but necessary in order to prevent future growth.
How to Get Rid of Sandburs
Sandburs can quickly become an eyesore in your otherwise pristine green lawn, so getting rid of them is essential to anyone devoted to a clean looking landscape. If left unchecked, sandburs can also accumulate to a point of infestation, making it difficult for anything else to grow and certainly difficult for anyone to take a walk across your lawn.
The most common treatment for sandburs is chemical. You can either purchase herbicide and apply it yourself, or hire a professional lawn care company to do so for you.
Not all lawn care companies have your best interests in mind. Some care more about keeping your account open than actually treating your lawn, so make sure that you pay close attention to what they do and how it effects positive change in your lawn’s health.
If you hire a lawn care company to treat sandburs in your yard, make sure that they repeat the treatment several times to ensure the eradication of sandburs from your lawn. You can take all the taller plants down but have new ones pop up a week later. This is the nature of weeds, but time and persistence will overcome.
If you plan to treat sandburs on your own, you’ll need a spray tank and an herbicide or your choice.
Depending on the size and number of sandburs in your yard, you’ll need to decide between using a pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicide. One is used on young weeds or seedlings, and the other is used on older, established weeds (more on that later).
Once you’ve selected which herbicide to use, all you have to do is apply it to the weeds, being careful not to spray too much of the surrounding vegetation. Many weed-killing herbicides are harmless to grasses such as St. Augustine and Bermuda, but you should read the label carefully to be certain before applying.
Make sure that you dilute your herbicide with water, as you won’t need much to cover a thousand square feet. It may also be helpful to incorporate a surfactant in your herbicidal mixture to help prevent the herbicide from running off into the ground.
Once you’ve applied your herbicide, it will take a few hours to a full day before you see the weeds beginning to die. Once they’re dead, carefully remove them so as to prevent more seed pods from falling to the ground.
An easy way to dig up and collect fallen seed pods is with a rake. This step isn’t always necessary, but works as a good preventative measure (it also gives you less thorns to step on).
Pre-Emergent vs. Post-Emergent Herbicide
Not all herbicides are the same. Some are made for killing all vegetation, while others are designed to only kill certain species of plants, making them ideal for any home gardener or landscaper.
Pre-emergent herbicides are a chemical agent used to prevent the growth of germinated seedlings. Pre-emergent herbicides should be used early on in the plant’s life, before it becomes established. This type of herbicide doesn’t necessarily kill the plant, but stunts its growth, preventing it from maturing and producing and spreading seeds.
Post-emergent herbicides are more common, as most people don’t treat weeds until they have them. Post-emergent herbicides are used to kill existing weeds. So if you have an area of weeds in your yard, you might want to start by getting some post-emergent herbicides.
How to Get Rid of Sandburs Naturally
While chemical herbicides are the most common and easiest way to treat the sandburs and other weeds in your yard, they may not be the safest. There’s a reason for the warning labels on practically every chemical product; they’re not safe for human contact or for the environment.
Chemical herbicides are not only dangerous to humans, but they’re soil persistent, meaning that they stay in the ground long after your weeds are gone. Soil persistence is a real danger to the environment as it prevents growth of future plants for a time and can potentially run off and contaminate groundwater, making it dangerous to drink.
If you thought that spraying chemicals had no long-term consequences, think again.
There are ways in which you can treat sandburs naturally though. You need to take extra care and pay close attention to detail, but this method is much less harmful to the environment.
All you need to treat sandburs naturally is a spray bottle, some household vinegar, salt, and dish soap. Mix a gallon of vinegar, one cup of salt, and a tablespoon of dish soap in your spray tank, and you’re ready to kill weeds naturally.
The vinegar contains acetic acid, which works to dry out the plants’ moisture when combined with salt, and the dish soap works as a surfactant, ensuring that the mixture sticks to the surface of the plants. Apply to the surface of your sandburs at the hottest point in the day, and they’ll start to brown and shrivel within hours.
Keep in mind that this mixture will kill any plant it touches, so be careful of where you spray it. It won’t toxify the drinking water, though!
Another easy, natural way to prevent sandburs from growing is by using mulch. Mulch prevents the sun from reaching the surface of the soil and smothers existing weeds.
For best results, apply a thick layer of mulch in between plants in your plant bed. The layer should be three to four inches in thickness to effectively suppress weeds. Sometimes it’s necessary to use this method in conjunction with other natural preventative methods.
If you have sandburs in places that you don’t need to preserve, such as between the cracks in a sidewalk or underneath a deck, you can pour boiling water directly on the weeds for immediate, environmentally harmless results.
Sandburs are tough to control when you let them grow unchecked for too long, but if you follow these guidelines, you’ll be enjoying a sandbur-free backyard in no time at all.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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