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How to Get Rid of Foxtail in Lawn (Complete Guide to Foxtail Control)

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Written By: Mark Marino

a Massachusetts Core Applicator License holder and owner/operator of Lawn Phix,

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With its foxy tail-like bloom, foxtail is a weed most people have encountered somewhere in the U.S. However, if it flashes its tail on your lawn, you’ll want to get rid of it quickly before it spreads. Foxtail grass or foxtail weed, as it’s commonly called, however, can be difficult to spot in lawns until it’s already produced its telltale bloom. It blends in easily with natural ground flora, and green foxtail blades appear like grass. Read on to get rid of foxtail grasses and prevent them from infesting your healthy lawn.

What Is Foxtail?

Foxtail weed is an annual grassy weed. It appears generally in three species: yellow foxtail, green foxtail, and giant foxtail. Though commonly found along roadsides and in fields (or disturbed building sites), foxtail weed can sprout up in healthy grass because its foxy seed heads can spread foxtail seeds quite far. Seed heads of foxtail plants appear in summer, but the plant begins to emerge in early spring. Identifying foxtail weeds in spring is the key to early foxtail control. Foxtail weed control is more challenging once seed heads have spread seeds.

Yellow Foxtail

Yellow foxtail (Setaria pumila) is a common foxtail weed and the smallest of the common varieties. Though similar in appearance to green foxtail, yellow foxtail has thicker seed heads with shorter bristles. The seed head will appear yellow when matured. Yellow foxtail weeds feature leaf blades that grow to about 12 inches in length. Its stems can reach about three feet in height. Mature yellow foxtail weeds have hairs on the undersides of their leaves. 

Green Foxtail

Green foxtail (Setaria viridis) also produces leaves that are about 12 inches in length. It forms erect, hairless stems and a bristly green seed head. Its leaves are smooth, differentiating it from yellow and giant foxtail grass. Yellow foxtail, for instance, has wiry hairs on its leaves. Green and yellow foxtails are similar in size, but the presence of leaf hairs on green foxtail is a differentiating trait.

Giant Foxtail

Giant foxtail grass (Setaria faberi) is usually easily distinguished from other common foxtail grass varieties because of its size. It produces leaves that grow to about 16 inches in length. Its stem can reach up to four feet in height. Giant foxtail weed also produces a bushy seed head. The tops of mature leaves feature multiple fine hairs. Only yellow and giant foxtails have leaf hairs.

How to Identify Foxtail Weeds

Unfortunately, most gardeners don’t identify a foxtail problem until it has already produced its foxtail head and foxtail seeds. Like other grassy weeds, foxtail weed seedlings can blend in easily with other grasses growing in your lawn. Identifying foxtail weeds before seed germination and treating your turf grass right away is the most reliable way to eradicate this weed before it can spread prolifically. If your lawn had foxtail weeds the season before, it’s a good idea to treat your lawn with herbicide in spring before the plant’s seed head develops.

How to Get Rid of Foxtail in Lawns

While a healthy lawn is the best defense against invading weeds like the foxtail plant, foxtail seeds can sprout easily in soil that’s been disturbed. A struggling lawn is more vulnerable than a healthy lawn to common weeds like giant foxtails, yellow foxtails, green foxtails, and broadleaf weeds. To get rid of foxtail weeds from your turf grass, you may want to rely on both natural and chemical means. 

How to Get Rid of Foxtail Naturally

You can get rid of foxtail naturally by digging up each foxtail weed and removing it from the soil. However, this is a labor-intensive method that can mar the look of your lawn. Remember, too, that disturbed soils can be an invitation to weeds like foxtail grass. Similarly, applying a thick layer of mulch on top of each foxtail weed to starve it of oxygen and sunlight will also mar the look of your green lawn. However, these methods can help you get rid of foxtail weeds naturally. Some gardeners prefer to fill a spray bottle and spray the foxtail grass with white vinegar, but this method isn’t always effective for killing foxtail grass.

How to Get Rid of Foxtail with Chemical Control

When it comes to an invasive weed like foxtail grass, chemical weed control is often the most effective option. Using a non-selective herbicide can harm nearby grasses and plants, so proceed with caution if you choose that option. Avoid spraying it during windy weather. Ideally, use a good pre-emergent herbicide in early spring to prevent foxtail weeds from producing their seed head. Be sure to choose pre and post-emergent herbicides that are safe for use on your lawn type. Early foxtail grass control is recommended to eliminate this weed from your lawn quickly.

How to Prevent Foxtail Weeds

Healthy turf grass can often do a good job of fending off foxtail grass and other weeds. Establishing a good lawn maintenance routine will help you support the health of your turf grass so that it’s less vulnerable to invasive weeds like yellow foxtails and others. Routine mowing will help prevent foxtail grass from developing its seed head and spreading seeds. Applying a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring is also a reliable preventative measure for keeping an invasive weed like foxtail grass out of your lawn.

Foxtail Weeds FAQs

How do I get rid of foxtail weeds without killing my grass?

You can apply a pre-emergent herbicide or post-emergent herbicide that is safe for use on the type of turf grass. 

What kills foxtails weeds in your yard?

You can kill foxtail weeds using a chemical herbicide that’s safe for your lawn and particular grass type.

Does mowing control foxtail weeds?

Yes, mowing can help control foxtail grass if it’s timed properly. Once the seed head has formed, plan to mow your lawn. However, you must mow before it has a chance to self-seed. Be sure mower blades have sharp edges.  

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Author's Note: this piece has been updated for accuracy since its first publication on
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Author: Mark Marino
My name is Mark Marino, and I am the founder, owner, and operator of Lawn Phix. With a passion for lawn care and turf nutrition for over a decade, I've dedicated countless hours to correcting soil and perfecting lawns. Today, my expertise, backed by formal courses at UMass Extension Pesticide Education, allows me to offer top-tier lawn care services and advice. I am a fully licensed and insured lawn care applicator in Massachusetts, specializing in comprehensive turf nutrition, weed control, and lawn pest control. My license number is AL-0053865. Contact me at [email protected] or +1 (508) 500-8402.

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