Spotted, or prostrate, spurge weed (Euphorbia maculata) is a fast-growing menace to yards, gardens, and driveways worldwide. However, it is native to eastern North America and grows in each contiguous 48 states.
Read on to learn how to identify the weed, why it’s a problem, and how to keep it out of your yard.
How to Identify Spurge Weed
Stems, leaves, and flowers
Once you read this description of spotted spurge weed, you’ll realize you know it but never knew its name.
Spotted spurge weed has a lace-like network of thin stems that sometimes look reddish. Its oval-shaped leaves are arranged in pairs along the stems–one directly across from the other–and are unique in that they have a maroon spot or line in their center.
When their stems are broken, they weep a milky sap irritating humans and a toxin to animals. The stems grow from a single, central taproot and may develop their small root systems. All parts of the weed are hairy.
Spotted spurge weed flowers range from pale pink to white and even green. They may be considered pretty groundcover, but don’t be fooled. These annuals will choke out anything you’d like to see live and thrive in your yard.
How It Grows and Spreads
Spotted spurge weed is also known as “prostrate” spurge weed because of how it grows–prostrate along the ground in a circular shape. It grows to about 6–7 inches in diameter and is only 1–4 inches high (though it can grow higher if it’s climbing over another plant to compete for resources).
It grows mat-like, and you may even hear it referred to as spotted or prostrate sandmat.
It grows densely in sunny places and can tolerate drought fairly well. Spotted spurge weed grows in compact, poor soil, spreading through weak spots in lawns and gardens.
The weed produces several thousands of seeds per plant. These seeds are spread by wind, raking, or hoeing and by people or animals walking through developed plants.
Why Spotted Spurge is a Problem
Spotted spurge weed spreads quickly, covering other plants and grasses to the point of smothering them. Once it spreads, it harms turf and grass, reducing its uniformity and quality.
Although while it is in bloom in the summer, spotted spurge weed may appear to be an attractive ground cover, the void it leaves the rest of the year after killing spots on your lawn is exactly the opposite of appealing.
In citrus groves, spotted spurge weed provides a habitat for unwanted insects. It attracts ants and serves as an intermediate host for fungal diseases.
How to Get Rid of Spurge Weed
Spotted spurge weed begins to produce seeds in only a little over a month (5 weeks) after germination. Detecting the weed early is key to controlling and eliminating it. The more it establishes itself, the harder it is to eradicate.
Dig it Up
Once you detect spotted spurge weed, pull it out, making sure you rip out everything you can find in the immediate area. Dig wide and deep. Don’t forget to wear gloves to avoid any irritation from the weed’s sap. You will likely have to pull the weed out repeatedly until it runs out of energy to keep growing.
Water or Vinegar
You can also pour boiling water or vinegar over spotted spurge weed to kill it, but, as with hand pulling, you will have to repeat this process over and over until the plant gives up. Be careful when using this method; it is decidedly nonselective and will kill any other plants you accidentally douse.
Herbicides can help control spotted spurge weed, either pre or post-emergent varieties. Apply preemergent herbicides, like benefin, pendimethalin, isoxaben, or oryzalin, in late winter before the weed seeds germinate.
Try to time the preemergent application when the soil temperature is at least 55 degrees, 1 inch deep.
However, don’t apply these herbicides to spotted spurge in or around your vegetable garden; they can hang around for a while, and you don’t want to be eating them on your homegrown tomatoes in the late summer.
Post-emergent herbicides, like triclopyr and glyphosate, may help once a spotted spurge outbreak has begun. Many of the most effective post-emergent herbicides are only available to professionals, so if your spotted spurge weed problem gets too out of control, you may have to hire help.
A Good Defense
The best offense against spotted spurge weed is defense. Use the newspaper and thick mulch in problem areas to prevent spotted spurge weed from growing. Landscape fabric may also be helpful, but be sure it blocks out any light.
Maintaining healthy soil and grass will discourage this weed from setting up the shop. Address patchy grass or turf areas in your yard as soon as possible to keep spotted spurge from moving in.
Spotted Spurge Weed Benefits
There are none! It may seem pretty for a day or two, but that’s it. It’s toxic, bad for other plants you want to keep around, and an overall menace. Get rid of spotted spurge weed as fast as you can.
Purge the Spurge
Don’t be fooled by what might look like a pretty ground cover. Spotted spurge weed is an indicator of unhealthy soil, and it will do all it can to get the resources it needs, including smothering any beneficial plants in its way.
Spotted spurge weed spreads easily, grows quickly, and is, at best, a toxic irritant to humans, at worst, a poison for animals. Address any you have in your yard as quickly as possible.
If you feel like you need to learn more about these pesky garden tenants, check out our weeds page to learn all about different weed varieties, treatment options, and surprising information.
- About the Author
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Ronda Lindsay is a writer and editor who loves getting outside in her garden, whether that’s in the temperate climates of the Pacific Northwest or Mid-Atlantic or in the sweltering heat of south-central Texas.
Growing up, she was a regular at pick-your-own farms, where she and her siblings gathered anything that wasn’t already growing in her family’s backyard to eat, freeze, or can. As an adult, Ronda has taken the vast gardening knowledge bestowed upon her by her mother and used it to grow everything from strawberries to jalapeños, arrange beautiful container gardens, and nurse sick plants back to health.
With a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in professional writing, Ronda enjoys using her skills to share information and advice with Minneopa Orchards readers!