What Is Foxtail?

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Foxtails, those pesky grassy weeds, are the bane of many a gardener, pet owner, and outdoor enthusiast. These seemingly innocuous grasses can cause a host of problems, from property damage to harm to pets and wildlife. Foxtails can be a problem in lawns, especially in lawns that are not well-maintained. They are opportunistic weeds, and they will quickly take over a lawn that is stressed or has bare patches.

Native to Europe and Asia, they were introduced to North America in the 19th century and have since become a widespread invasive species. Foxtails are known for their sharp, barbed seeds, which can cause serious health problems for pets and humans. By familiarizing yourself with this pesky invasive weed, you are better able to combat it before it's too late.

Life Cycle Of Foxtail

Foxtails belong to the grass family, characterized by their bushy, bristle-like seed heads. The term "foxtail" encompasses several grass species, with the most common being the annual grass known as "foxtail barley" (Hordeum jubatum). To effectively combat these weeds, understanding their life cycle is crucial.

  • Germination: Foxtail seeds germinate in late winter or early spring when soil temperatures rise. A change in temperature and moisture typically triggers this process.
  • Growth & Flowering: As spring progresses into summer, foxtail grasses develop their characteristic seed heads. These seed heads contain sharp, barbed seeds that are designed for dispersal.
  • Seeds: The bristly seeds are easily carried by wind, animals, or clothing, making them exceptionally spread efficiently. Once dispersed, they can be challenging to control, as they readily take root wherever they land.
  • Drying & Die-Off: As summer transitions into fall, the grasses naturally dry out and die. This phase results in even more seeds being released from the plant.

Hazards Of Foxtail

Foxtails can present various challenges to your lawn that make controlling and preventing them a priority.

  • Health Risks To Pets: Foxtails are notorious for causing health issues in dogs and cats. The barbed seeds can embed themselves in an animal's fur, eyes, ears, nose, and even skin, leading to infections and discomfort.
  • Threat To Wildlife: The sharp seeds can harm local wildlife, tiny mammals and birds, by getting tangled in fur or feathers or accidentally ingested.
  • Property Damage: Foxtails are invasive and can quickly overrun gardens, lawns, and agricultural areas, causing economic and aesthetic damage.

Controlling Foxtail

When foxtail pops up on your lawn, taking strict measures to control it becomes a priority. Thankfully, there are many options available to combat a foxtail infestation. Acting quickly and diligently is the best way to control this pesky weed before the infestation grows beyond control. 

  • Mechanical Control: Mechanical control methods, such as mowing and hand pulling, can effectively control small infestations of foxtails. However, mechanical control methods are not always effective against large infestations, and they can damage desirable grasses.
  • Chemical Control: Chemical herbicides can be used to control foxtails. However, herbicides can be harmful to humans and other animals, so it is essential to use them carefully. Be sure to follow the directions on the herbicide label carefully.
  • Biological Control: Biological control methods, such as the use of insects and diseases, can be effective in controlling foxtails. However, biological control methods are only sometimes effective, and they can take several years to have an impact.

Preventing Foxtail

Prevention is the best defense against a foxtail infestation. By following these methods, you can drastically minimize your chances of foxtail finding a home on your lawn.

  • Maintain a healthy lawn: A healthy lawn is less likely to be invaded by foxtails. This means watering your lawn regularly, fertilizing it properly, and mowing it at the correct height.
  • Remove foxtails as soon as you see them: The sooner you remove foxtails, the less likely they are to spread. You can remove foxtails by hand pulling them or by using a weed puller.
  • Avoid planting foxtail-susceptible plants: Some plants, such as alfalfa, are more susceptible to foxtail invasion than others. Avoid planting foxtail-susceptible plants in areas where foxtails are a problem.

Foxtails can be a persistent and problematic presence in your outdoor spaces, posing risks to both pets and property. By understanding their life cycle and implementing effective control and prevention strategies, you can mitigate the foxtail menace. Remember that consistency is key, and early action is the best way to avoid a full-blown foxtail infestation.