How to kill spotted spurge?

Spurge Control: How To Get Rid of Spurge

Spurge (particularly Spotted Spurge) is a fast-growing summer annual weed that grows best in areas of the lawn that are on the thin side, essentially taking over in those bare spots. Like most other weeds, Spurge sets up shop on lawns that are not getting enough TLC, seizing the opportunity of taking over an unhealthy lawn.

Spurge can an irritating plant to encounter, not only because of its stubbornness when trying to remove it from your lawn, but because it is known to be a skin irritant when one comes in contact with its milky sap.

Spurge grows low to the ground and can quickly become a problem on lawns because of how rapidly they spread once present. The earlier you catch this weed growing in your lawn or garden, the more effective it will be to control spurge.

If you’re having trouble with Spurge on your lawn, our DIY treatment guide can help. The directions below were recommended by our lawn care experts and will show you how to properly eliminate Spurge from your property.


There are multiple types of Spurge with the most common varieties being Spotted Spurge (also known as Prostrate Spurge) which is named because their stems are spotted with purple and pink, and Creeping Spurge which doesn’t have spots and has slightly hairy leaves. The other most common types are Petty Spurge and Nodding Spurge. No matter the type, spurge shares these most common identifying traits.

  • Spurge has leaves which are arranged along the stem with one leaf directly across from the other in a symmetrical pattern.
  • Spurge has a main, central root called the taproot. The weed grows long stems that extend outward from the taproot. When stems and leaves grow outward from the taproot, they may have their own smaller root systems.
  • Spurge grows low to the ground.
  • A milky sap is known to ooze from the leaves of Spurge when they have been broken or torn into. This sap is known to be a skin and eye irritant if a person were to come in contact with it.

Use the description and image above to help you to properly identify Spurge on your lawn. If you are not certain, contact us and send us a photo of your weed and we will identify it for you and suggest treatment options.


When to Inspect

When conducting an inspection it is important to know that spurge grows when the temperatures are higher, since it is a summer weed. Depending on where you live and the general climate, you could see Spurge growing from February through September. Seeds begin to germinate once soil temperatures heat up, typically once temperatures are above 60 degrees in the spring.

What to Look For

If you have spurge growing on your lawn, they can be easy to point out because of their characteristic leaves and stem. Depending on the species of spurge, the invasive weed can grow in different conditions. But for the most part, spurge will grow in areas that are warmer and receive plenty of sun, and will overtake an area that has thin sparse looking grass.


Spurge can be a tough weed to control manually because of its extensive root system and its ability to quickly produce seed and spread. This is why the best way of controlling spurge is chemical control.

If you missed the window to use a pre-emergent and there is too big of an outbreak to hand-pull, you will want to use a post-emergent herbicide. We recommend using TopShot, a broadleaf weed killer, when the plants are young and immature and thus more susceptible to chemical applications.

Remember to always wear the proper safety equipment any time herbicides are being mixed and handled. Wear long pants and a long sleeve shirt along with gloves and goggles.

Step 1 – Mix and Apply Martin’s TopShot

We recommend TopShot because it has a broad-label, is easy-to-use, and comes at an affordable price. It is also a selective herbicide, which means that it will only affect the targeted weeds and not the turf grass around it.

TopShot comes with 2 pre-measured ampules of product that each cover 2,500 sq. ft. of area, simplifying the mixing process. Adding a surfactant to the TopShot mixture, such as Alligare 90, can enhance the effectiveness of the Topshot. This will help the TopShot spray to stick the weed leaf’s surface. Apply Alligare 90 at a rate of 4 Teaspoons per 1 gallon of solution.

To start, first measure the square footage of your yard. Do this by measuring your yard’s length and width in feet, and then multiplying them together (length x width = square feet). TopShot can be applied with either a hand pump sprayer or a hose end sprayer, but we recommend using a 1 gallon pump sprayer for easy spot treatments.

To mix, first fill your sprayer about halfway with water. The add the TopShot by squeezing the ampule into the sprayer. Next, add the surfactant to the sprayer at a rate of 0.5 to 4 tsp. per gallon. The fill your sprayer the rest of the way to the 1 gallon mark, tighten the lid, and shake the sprayer until well mixed.

Apply the TopShot solution to the spurge using a fan tip nozzle spray setting with low pressure. This will produce a light, wide spray that will evenly coat the weed. Do not over saturate the weeds; you are spraying to just simply wet the weed’s leaves.

Even though TopShot is a selective herbicide its active ingredient, MSM can hurt some woody plants if it comes into contact with their roots. So take care not to apply TopShot where roots of desirable trees and woody ornamentals may be.


The use of a pre-emergent in the fall or early spring right before the temperatures reach 60 degrees would be a great way to keep the weed seeds from emerging. Timing is very important which it comes to this because if you apply the pre-emergent when spurge has already sprung up, it will do nothing to halt its growth. We recommend Nitrophos Barricade as a great effective and economical option.

Load And Apply Nitrophos Barricade

Nitrophos Barricade which contains Prodiamine, a highly effective active ingredient that controls and prevents seeds from sprouting. Depending on your turfgrass type, Barricade can be applied at a rate from 1.5 pounds to 4 pounds per 1,000 sq. ft. (read the label to find the proper rate for your turf type). Measure the square footage of your lawn to determine how much Barricade you will need.

Once you have measured and calculated the area, load the appropriate amount of Barricade into a push or hand spreader at the right calibration and apply to your lawn until it is evenly spread. After broadcasting the granules, you should then water in and activate them with at least 0.5 inches of water.

Aside from pre-emergents, there are cultural practices you can implement to lessen the likelihood of Spurge reappearing in your yard. Spurge grows rapidly in sparse turf and bare patches on the lawn. Having a healthy, thick, nutrient-rich turf will fight back against invading weeds and make it hard for Spurge to establish itself.

Key Takeaways

  • Spurge is a fast growing annual summer weed which grows low to the ground and spreads quickly on lawns where they are established.
  • Our top recommendation for treating Spurge that has already emerged on your lawn is TopShot.
  • You can prevent Spurge with a pre-emergent treatment of Nitrophos Barricade and keeping a regular lawn care schedule to keep your lawn nutrient-rich and healthy to choke out any chances of spurge establishment.

Anne of Green Gardens

What starts off resembling an innocuous weed can quickly become an unwanted, low-growing ground cover. Summer rain + warm weather =very happy spurge plants! In a matter of a few weeks, this weed can easily take over your garden.

Spurge is a summer annual, but in warm climates it can sprout as early as February and grow well into September! After about 5 weeks of warm weather, spurge can produce flowers and set seed. In order to germinate, the seeds need light and warm temperatures. Seeds buried more than 1/2″ deep will not sprout. As long as warm weather continues, seeds sprout and make new plants. As weather cools, seeds lie dormant to await the following year.

Spotted surge

There are several types of spurge, including creeping spurge, spotted spurge, ground spurge, petty spurge and nodding spurge. All of these weeds produce a milky sap when stems are broken off the plant. This sap can cause minor skin and eye irritation to gardeners. Spotted spurge is toxic to animals if eaten in large quantities. Sheep grazing in pastures full of spotted spurge have died, so it’s best to eliminate this weed if you have dogs and cats who like to chew on greenery in your yard.

Getting rid of a jungle of spurge is no easy task. It takes time, energy and persistence! (as well as a good hoe). The main taproot on some types of spurge can grow 2 feet deep. Small spurge plants can be difficult to spot. My strategy is to take a daily walk through the garden with an eagle eye. As soon as I spot the tiny weed growing I gently pull it out. However, I must confess that this year, spurge has gotten the better of me. The summer rain plus a helpful friend who left the water on my garden overnight (while I was on vacation) has led to an unruly area of spurge in my garden paths. I am taking a systematic approach to clearing out this area a little bit each day using a hoe or hand-pulling.

In the case of spurge, I do not recommend the use of chemical methods, although I must admit I’ve felt tempted! Some gardeners like to use preemergents, which prevent weeds before they sprout. However, the labels on these products warn against their use in home vegetable gardens, as chemical residues last for months. Glyphosate (also known as roundup) may be helpful if you have large areas of spurge. 2,4-D is not effective in the control of large, mature weeds.

Aside from pulling out spurge by hand, you can also use mulch to kill it. Smother spurge with 3-4 inches of coarse mulch. Just remember, mulch breaks down and will need to be replaced. If you have a large amount of spurge, you may want to consider soil solarization. This process is done during the summer months, and can help eliminate many weeds, pathogens and insects.

And, as you purge that spurge in your garden, it may surprise you to know that somewhere, in a laboratory garden, it is growing spurge is grown on purpose. Apparently the milky sap of spurge is being studied as a possible cure for skin cancer. Keep that in mind as you purge that spurge!

Prostrate Spurge

Improved lawn care practices, most commonly proper watering, mowing and fertilizing, will ensure your grass is healthy and vigorous while keeping spurge in check. It often appears in bare areas, dry spots, thin grass stands, and along the edges of sidewalks, curbs and driveways.

Hand weed when the soil is moist. Its an easy weed to pull. Pulling from the center of the plant helps extract the taproot. Removing plants when they are young and before they produce seeds will keep spurge populations down. A single plant is capable of producing thousands of seeds throughout the growing season.

Pre-emergent herbicides can be used to keep seeds from germinating in the spring. Prostrate spurge seeds germinate when soil temperatures reach 60° F – generally by the end of April. One application will usually do the trick. Thin lawns or unusually wet weather might require a second application – spaced 60 days apart.

Broadleaf herbicides are most effective on spurge when the plants are young. Mature plants are can be resistant to post-emergent herbicides. A product containing 2,4-D and other ingredients such as MCPP, MCPA, or Dicamba is recommended.

Vinegar-based (20% acetic acid) or Citric Acid herbicides – considered natural organic weed killers – can be used effectively in landscape beds, sidewalks and driveways. Spray them when they are young for best results. These herbicides are not selective – they will damage any foliage they come into contact with.

Weed Identification

Leaves are pale green, opposite along the stem, oval, and small – up to 3/5 inch long. Leaves form a purple blotch in the middle.

The prostrate stems form a dense mat that smothers desirable grass plants. Stems are green to red, branch freely and emit a poisonous milky sap when broken.

Flowers are very small and inconspicuous, they are borne on the leaf axils. Spurge starts to flowers about three weeks after germinating.

Prostrate spurge is often confused with purslane or prostrate knotweed.

Purslane and spurge are often found growing together. Purslane flowers are yellow and it has fleshy stems and leaves.

Prostrate knotweed also forms a dense mat. However, knotweed has bluish-green leaves and does not emit a milky sap.

Spurge is a fast-growing weed and a common problem among lawn owners, especially if not treated right. This summer weed grows low to the ground and spread pretty fast. The earlier you identify this weed in your lawn, the quicker you can kill it and get rid of it.

There are a few different types of spurge, however, the most common species share these features:

  • Spurge has a central or main root known as taproot. The weed grows stems that extend from the taproot.
  • The leaves are arranged along the stem with one across the other.
  • When leaves and stems grow, they may have their own root systems.
  • Spurge always grows low to the ground.
  • When the leaves are broken, a milky sap starts showing up. The milky sap can cause irritation to eyes and skin upon contact.

How and When Does Spurge Weed Grow?

Spurge usually grows when the temperatures are high, in warm weather. Depending on what the weather is like and where you live, you could notice spurge weed growing from February through late August. Seeds start to germinate once temperatures heat up and will start to grow once temperatures hit 50-60 degrees in the early spring.

Light is also an important factor for germination. The seeds buried deeper than ½ inch won’t germinate. Plants that germinate in the spring in relatively cool conditions can remain small until temperatures are higher and more desirable for growth. Once the weather gets warmer and the seed starts to germinate, a rosette of leaves grows. The leaves create a dense and may grow up to 3 feet. Reproductive growth is fast and the plant can produce new seeds as soon as one month after germination.

When to Inspect & What to Look For

If you have spurge weed growing in your lawn, it can be easy to notice. These plants have specific stems and leaves. Depending on the type of spurge, the weed can grow in various conditions, however, for the most part, the invasive weed likes to grow in warmer areas and just like foxtail, prefers plenty of sun.

Four Types of Spurge

There are a few different types of spurge weeds. Here are some of the most common species found in the US.

1. Prostrate or Spotted Spurge

The prostrate spurge type or also known as the spotted spurge is one of the most common varieties of spurge. It is toxic to pets if eaten in large amounts.

How can one notice prostrate spurge?

The leaves of prostrate spurge have a line or spot of maroon in the middle of the leaf vein. Stems grow outward, however, may also grow upward when looking for sunlight or something for sunlight with other weeds and plants. The stems are pink or purple and are the simplest way to distinguish prostrate spurge from other varieties of spurge.

2. Creeping Spurge

Another common species of spurge. The stems of this spurge weed can grow up to 20 inches. The leaves are egg-shaped and are easily noticed. Creeping spurge can have flowers (the flowers are usually white) and are found at the tips of stems.

The creeping spurge doesn’t have spots on the leaves which distinguish them from prostrate spurge weed. Leaves are pale red, light green, and almost white. They can be a bit hairy.

3. Nodding Spurge

Nodding spurge has pink or reddish stems with leaves that can reach up to 2 inches long. The leaves are green and oblong but can have a light red spot in the middle. Nodding spurge prefers poor soil, dry conditions, and full sunlight and can be found in sand, gravel or clay. The entire weed sometimes can be reddish-green.

4. Petty Spurge

Petty spurge grows in shady and moist locations and is usually found among shrubs, in garden beds. This type of spurge is light green and has slender stems.

Impact & Management

Spotted or prostrate spurge can establish in agricultural, horticultural, and non-crop sites. This weed overgrows turf areas, as well as, low-growing ground covers. Spotted spurge also invades landscapes and gardens. You can even notice it in sidewalk cracks.

When it comes to reducing the growth of other plants, spurge reduces quality and uniformity of turf, provides an environment for undesirable insects, serves as a host for fungal diseases, and attracts all kinds of ants.

One of the primary methods of managing spurge weed is prevention. Controlling spurge is very difficult, especially when this plant has established itself in the soil. Lawn owners should avoid bringing seed into areas that are uninfected by using uncontaminated planting stock and weed-free planting seed.

Cultural Control Of Surge

There are two types of control: chemical and cultural. Cultural control includes wedding, solarization, mulch, and turf management.

1. Weeding

Regularly monitor the infested areas so you can hand pull new weeds before they grow and produce seed. Pay attention as you weed because the plants that you hand pull may break at the stem, leaving the root from which regrowth is likely to happen. Always wear gloves when you hand pull these weeds as the sap can irritate your skin. Mowing is not effective since spurge grows low to the ground.

When planting new plants, make sure you use weed-gree or sterilized mix. When buying plans, avoid the ones with spotted spurge outbreaks. Mulches can limit spotted spurge weed if they prevent light and sun from reaching the root.

2. Solarization

Before planting your lawn with turf and plants, it is recommendable to follow the method known as solarization.

It is advisable to cover the soil with plastic sheets for 4-6 weeks during the summer. This can reduce the number of seeds when summer temperatures are very high. In areas where temperatures are not so high, solarization can control the weed.

3. Mulch

This is one of the most common strategies for controlling spurge weeds. The process of using synthetic or organic mulches prevents light from reaching the seeds, starving them before they can start growing and making food. Comport, bark or straw laid (2 inches thick) can control weed seeds including spurge species. Larger mulches last longer. A large bark requires 3-4 inch layer to be effective and get you the results you want.

Turf Management

Another effective control measure for spurge in your lawn is to maintain a stand of grass. Due to lawn diseases, stress, insects, lack of fertility, open areas develop and light penetrates to the turf, allowing spurge to grow. Once spurge establishes itself, using cultural methods such as irrigation or fertilization won’t control it.

Luckily, there is one thing you can do. Raising the mowing height to 2 inches in perennial ryegrass or tall fescue can reduce primary invasions.

It is recommendable to check turf for excessive thatch (it should be less than ½ inch high).

Chemical Control Of Spurge

Chemical control includes pre-emergent herbicides and post-emergent herbicides.

Pre-emergent Herbicides

Pre-emergent herbicides can prevent spurge weed outbreaks if you use them in late winter, just before seeds germinate. It usually occurs before the temperature of the soil exceeds 60°F and at a depth of 1 inch.

Some of the most effective pre-emergent herbicides for lawn include pendimethalin, benefin, isoxaben, oryzalin, trifluralin, and dithiopyr. Of all these herbicides, only pendimethalin, dithiopyr, oryzalin, and trifluralin are available for use for lawn owners and home gardeners. Other combination products such as oryzalin + benefin are available to landscape professionals and lawn care companies.

Pre-emergent chemicals are never used in home vegetable gardens as chemical residues for months after application.

Post-emergent Herbicides

Post-emergent herbicides are available to lawn owners and home gardeners and include 2,4-D, MCPP, and dicamba mix products, glyphosate, triclopyr, and others. According to our experts, 2,4-D and its combination products can’t control more mature and larger spurge plants.

How to Treat The Spurge Weed

It is important to always wear the right safety equipment, especially when herbicides are being used. You can wear long pants and a long sleeve shirt together with goggles and gloves.

Surge weed can be a difficult weed to control because of its ability to quickly produce seed, its extensive root system, and because it can easily spread. The best way of controlling spurge weed is chemical control.

Using pre-emergent herbicides in early spring or fall, just before the temperatures reach 50-60 degrees would be an effective way to keep the seeds from growing. Timing is everything. If you apply pre-emergent herbicides when this invasive weed has already sprung up, it will do nothing to stop its growth. One effective, as well as, economical option is Nutrophos Barricade.

If you miss the chance to use pre-emergent herbicides, we recommend using post-emergent herbicides. You can use a broadleaf weed killer, for example, MSM Turf. When the weeds and plants are young, they are more prone to chemical applications.

How to Get Rid of Spurge in Your Lawn for Good

Spurge is a spotted weed that thrives when the temperatures are high, in the heat of summer. This invasive weed not only grows in weak areas of your lawn but also invades sidewalk cracks, landscape beds, and gardens.

Luckily, spurge is easily noticeable by its hairy red stems, tiny green leaves, and mat-like shape. This weed produces small green flowers all summer, during September.

Spotted or prostrate spurge can produce several thousand seeds per one plant and spread throughout weak lawn areas. The seeds will sprout immediately and some may lie dormant until next spring. This warm-weather weed starts producing seed a mere 4-5 weeks after germination. Remember, early detection, control, and treatment are necessary.

The first thing you need to do is remove all small patches. The single taproot and flat shape of spurge make it a proper candidate for detecting and hand pulling. This plant prefers to break off at the stem, so pay attention and get all of it when removing it by hand. If you don’t get it all out, it will grow back.

To help lessen the chances of spurge coming back, make sure to remove it before it flowers and produce seeds.

If you have more mature and larger spurge weeds in your lawn, you need to use a product created for broadcast application. To get rid of spotted spurge in your lawn and feed your turf at the same time, you need to use the right product.

How to Prevent Spurge (the Warm-Weather Weed)

Here are a few helpful tips to keep spurge from invading your lawn.

1. Feed Your Lawn

Regular maintenance and feedings (from 2 to 4 times per year) provide all necessary nutrients your lawn needs to produce green and healthy turf. Spurge is not a competitive weed and a thick lawn will surely keep this weed out and prevent new seeds from growing.

2. Mow Higher

Mowing higher or at the height that is best for your lawn allows the turf to grow thick, as well as, develop a more stable root system. Perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, fescues, and St. Augustine weeds prefer to be mowed at 4 inches. Centipede and Zoysia weeds prefer to be mowed at 3 inches while Bermuda grass does best at 2-inch height.

3. Water Deeply

Watering occasionally and deeply helps your turf outcompete weeds by forming deeper and stronger root growth. Watering too frequently or too little forms shallow root system which can lead to a thin lawn and weak areas that invasive weeds take advantage of. You need to rely on rain as much as possible to water your lawn. Use sprinklers only when you need to achieve the 1 inch of water most lawns need.

Stop Spurge and Other Intrusive Weeds in Your Lawn

Spurge is one of the many weeds that could be in your lawn causing chaos. The first thing you need to do as a lawn owner is to identify this weed.

If you are having trouble identifying and treating spurge, we can put together a great team for spotting intrusive weeds and proper solution on how to treat them.

We’ve helped clients throughout Pennsylvania region, giving them healthier and greener landscapes by using highly trained professionals and eco-friendly products. Our application program uses a combination of nutrients to improve the health of your turf, fertilizer to feed your lawn, and all kinds of supplements to keep your lawn looking its best.

Contact our lawn weed experts at Green Turf Care today to learn more about our weed control products and all of our services designed to improve lawns in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas.

How to Manage Pests

Pests in Gardens and Landscapes

Spotted Spurge and Other Spurges

Revised 9/09

In this Guideline:

  • Identification
  • A Key to the weedy spurges of California
  • Biology
  • Impact
  • Management
  • About Pest Notes
  • Publication
  • Glossary

Mature spotted spurge is a low-growing plant.

Spotted spurge with red leaf spots and a broken stem exuding milky sap.

Spotted spurge flowers and leaf spots.

Ground spurge plant.

Creeping spurge infesting a field-grown, container plant.

Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is an annual plant native to the eastern United States. In California, it is the most common species of the spurge family, which also includes creeping spurge (E. serpens) and petty spurge (E. peplus). These weeds invade many of the state’s crops, affecting vegetables, trees, citrus, turf, ornamental beds, and container ornamentals. Management of all the spurges is similar.


Spotted spurge grows close to the ground, often forming a dense mat. Its dark green leaves, which grow in pairs called “opposites,” are 1/8 to 1/2 inch long and about 1/8 inch wide. Frequently a red spot will mark the leaf halfway down its center vein.

Flowers, fruit, stems, and leaves are hairy. The short stems have a separate stipule—or little scalelike appendage—at their base, although you may need a 10X hand lens to see them. Broken stems and branches secrete a milky, poisonous sap. Although spotted spurge sap is being studied as a cure for various skin cancers, in general, the sap of all members of this genus is an eye and skin irritant.

Spotted spurge produces tiny, pinkish flowers that consist only of stamens and pistils grouped in small, flowerlike cups, called cyathia, in the leaf axils, the area where the leaf joins the stem. The fruit is a three-celled seed capsule that is 1/16 inch or less. Each cell contains one seed that is about 1/25 inch long. The plant’s central taproot system is capable of extending more than 24 inches into the soil.

Although spotted spurge is the major spurge weed in California, six other species of spurges appear regularly as weeds in the state—ground spurge (E. prostrata), creeping spurge, petty spurge, garden spurge (E. hirta), nodding spurge (E. nutans), and thyme-leafed spurge (E. serpyllifolia). Ground and creeping spurges are troublesome weeds throughout California, while petty spurge is a problem only in Southern and coastal California landscapes.

All spurges have milky sap, which can be toxic to some animals. Ground spurge and creeping spurge grow prostrate like spotted spurge but have no markings on their leaves. All spurges reproduce by seed, and creeping spurge also can produce roots along the stem, creating new plants vegetatively. Petty spurge is a cool season annual found in shady, moist areas, particularly in flower beds. Native to Europe, it grows upright and is much less invasive than spotted and creeping spurge species. Garden, nodding, and thyme-leafed spurges cause fewer problems.

There are 18 native species of spurge occurring in various parts of California. Some of these native species can appear at the edges of cultivated areas adjacent to wildlands, but they are poorly adapted to cultivated conditions and rarely occur as weeds.

The plant key in Table 1 provides information to help with identifying spurges commonly encountered as weeds in California. Any weedy spurge collected in California that doesn’t appear to fit these characteristics can be keyed using The Jepson Manual listed in References, or you can take the weed to your local cooperative extension office. The Weed Identification Tool available online through UC Davis’ Weed Research and Information Center is an easy-to-use program useful for homeowners and professionals.


Most weedy spurges are summer annuals that don’t like competition and depend on their prolific seed production for survival. A single plant can produce several thousand seeds, which are small and can remain dormant in the soil until conditions are suitable for germination (sprouting). Seeds produced in summer germinate immediately while those produced in late fall mostly will lie dormant and won’t germinate until spring.

Spotted spurge germinates best when temperatures are 75° to 85°F, but germination can occur at temperatures as low as 60°F and as high as 100°F. When moisture is available, germination can occur from February through September in most areas of California. Light also is a requirement for maximum germination; seeds buried deeper than 1/2 inch won’t germinate well. Plants that germinate early in spring in cool conditions can remain as small seedlings until temperatures are more desirable for growth. Once the seed germinates, a small rosette of leaves develops. As growth continues, the leaves form a dense mat that can grow up to 3 feet in diameter. Reproductive growth is rapid, and the plant can produce seeds as soon as 5 weeks after germination.


Spotted spurge can establish itself in horticultural, agricultural, and noncrop sites. It overgrows sparse turf areas and low-growing ground covers, invades open areas in gardens and landscapes, and can grow in sidewalk cracks. In addition to reducing the growth of desirable plants, spotted spurge reduces uniformity and quality of turf, provides a habitat for undesirable insects in citrus groves, serves as an intermediate host for fungal diseases of cultivated crops, and attracts ants with its seed.

Spotted spurge is poisonous and can kill sheep grazing in pastures where it is the predominant weed. Sheep that consumed as little as 0.62% of their body weight of this plant have died within a few hours.

Table 1.

A Key to the Weedy Spurges of California.

Flowers (cyathia) in dense axillary or terminal clusters (generally greater than 10 cyathia per cluster) Stems erect, to 3 feet tall, sparsely hairy
Nodding Spurge (Euphorbia nutans)
Stems prostrate with numerous, spreading hairs
Garden Spurge (E. hirta)
Flowers (cyathia) solitary or paired in leaf axils (Note: Since leaves are opposite, 2 to 4 cyathia will be inclose proximity.) Cyathia, fruit, stem, and leaves hairy Fruit very sparsely hairy, 1.5–2 mm long; seeds 1–1.25 mm long and wrinkled with low rounded ridges; leaves lacking reddish central spot (rare form)
Thyme-leafed Spurge (E. serpyllifolia)
Fruit distinctly hairy; less than 1.5 mm long; seed generally less than 1 mm, cross-ridge with narrow sharp ridges, or wrinkled; if wrinkled, leaves usually with reddish central spot (very common species) Seeds cross-wrinkled; fruit with appressed hairs over entire surface; leaves generally (greater than 95% of plants) with a reddish central spot
Spotted Spurge (E. maculata)
Seeds cross-ridged; fruit spreading hairy, mostly on edges only; leaves never with reddish central spot
Ground Spurge (E. prostrata)
Cyathia, fruit, stem and leaves hairless Stipules (appendages at leaf base) united into a whitish scale between the leaves; stems almost always rooting at the nodes; leaf margins smooth-edged or faintly toothed
Creeping Spurge (E. serpens)
Stipules separate and hairlike; stems rarely or never rooting at the nodes; leaf margins distinctly toothed, at least near the tip
Thyme-leafed Spurge (E. serpyllifolia)


The primary method of managing spurges is prevention, since controlling these weeds is very difficult once plants have established themselves. Avoid bringing seeds into uninfested areas by using weed-free planting seed and uncontaminated planting stock. Clean work clothing and machinery such as lawn mowers to remove any seeds that might be present, and remove spurge plants as soon as you discover them.

Cultural Control
Weeding or cultivating

Constantly monitor infested areas, so you can mechanically till or hand pull new plants before they produce seed. Take care as you weed, since plants that you hand pull often break at the stem, leaving the root and several buds or a single stem from which regrowth is possible. Wear gloves when you hand pull, since the sap can be a skin irritant. Mowing is an ineffective method of control, since most species grow closely to the ground.

When planting new, container-grown ornamentals and ornamental beds, be sure to use sterilized or weed-free planting mix. When purchasing plants for ornamental beds, avoid those with spotted spurge infestations. Mulches can effectively limit spotted spurge if they prevent light from reaching the seed.


Before planting an area with turf or ornamentals, you might want to follow the management method known as soil solarization. Covering the soil with sheets of clear plastic for 4 to 6 weeks during the summer can effectively reduce the number of seeds in areas where summer daytime temperatures are very hot. In areas where summer temperatures are lower than 90°F, soil solarization can partially control this weed. For more information, see Soil Solarization for Gardens & Landscapes.


Probably the most common strategy for controlling weeds in ornamental plantings is to use organic or synthetic mulches, which prevent light from reaching weed seeds and seedlings, starving them before they can start making food through photosynthesis. Bark, compost, or straw laid at least 2 inches thick can effectively control many weed seeds including many spurge species. A large, coarse bark will require a 3- to 4-inch layer to be effective; however, larger, coarser mulches last longer than finely shredded ones. Thick mulch eventually can accumulate soil, decaying organic matter, and weed seeds that can germinate. All organic mulch needs periodic replacement.

Black, synthetic polypropylene weed barriers (fabrics or geotextiles), which are available at nurseries, also block sunlight and starve weed seedlings. The fabrics are porous to allow water to drain through them. Often a synthetic barrier with bark or rock on top makes the area more aesthetically pleasing. Organic mulches such as bark and straw don’t need to be as thick if you also are using the fabric. Since mulches and weed barriers reduce evaporation from the soil surface, adjust the irrigation cycle to prevent overwatering.

Turf managment

One of the best control measures for spotted spurge in turf is to maintain a competitive stand of grass. When open areas develop in turf due to stress, disease, lack of fertility, insects, or abuse, light penetrates to the soil surface, allowing spotted spurge to germinate. Once spotted spurge establishes itself, altering cultural practices such as fertilization or irrigation won’t control it. However, raising the mowing height to 2 inches or more in tall fescue or perennial ryegrass can reduce initial invasions. Check turf for excessive thatch, which should be less than 1/2 inch high.

Food Crops

In home vegetable gardens, you can control spurge seedlings by using soil solarization, mulches, and early cultivation.

Chemical Control
Preemergent herbicides

Preemergent herbicides can help prevent spotted spurge outbreaks if you apply them in late winter before weed seeds germinate. Time the application, so it occurs before the soil temperature exceeds 55° to 60°F at a depth of 1 inch.

Preemergent herbicides for turf and ornamentals include benefin (Balan), pendimethalin (Pendulum), isoxaben (Gallery), oryzalin (Surflan), trifluralin (Treflan, Preen), and dithiopyr (Dimension). Of these, only pendimethalin, trifluralin, dithiopyr, and oryzalin are available for use by home gardeners. Combination products such as oryzalin plus benefin are available to both home gardeners and landscape professionals.

Preemergent chemicals are almost never used in home vegetable gardens, because chemical residues last for months after application, and product labels routinely regulate against such use. Herbicide recommendations for commercial orchard and vegetable crops are available online; see the UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines.

Postemergent herbicides

Postemergent herbicides available to home gardeners include 2,4-D/MCPP/dicamba combination products, triclopyr (Turflon), and glyphosate (available for both commercial and home landscape use). In general, 2,4-D and its combinations don’t control the larger, more mature spotted spurge plants.



Armstrong, W. P. The Euphorbia Family (Euphorbiaceae): A Large & Diverse Family of Flowering Plants. Palomar Community College District. Accessed July 2009.

Derr, J. F. 1994. Weed control in container-grown herbaceous perennials. Hort. Sci. 29(2):95–97.

DiTomaso, J. M., and E. A. Healy. 2007. Weeds of California and Other Western States. Oakland: Univ. Calif. Agric Nat. Res. Publ. 3488.

Koutnik, D. L. 1993. Chamaesyce. In J. C. Hickman,ed. The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press.

Molinar, R. 2002. California Master Gardener Handbook. Oakland: Univ. Calif. Agric. Nat. Res. Publ. 3382.

Ohio State University. Controlling Weeds in Nursery and Landscape Plantings. Bulletin 867. Accessed July 2009.

Sholedice, F., and M. Renz. 2006. Spotted Spurge. O&T Guide W-16 (PDF). New Mexico State University. Accessed July 2009.


Pest Notes: Spotted Spurge and Other Spurges

UC ANR Publication 7445

Produced by UC Statewide IPM Program, University of California, Davis, CA 95616

Editor: M. Fayard

Technical Editor: M. L. Flint

Produced by University of California Statewide IPM Program

PDF: To display a PDF document, you may need to use a PDF reader.

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Weed spotlight – Spotted Spurge

Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is a highly invasive weed that has become quite a nuisance this summer. I haven’t seen it much in years gone by but this year has seen it explode in numbers.

It has small dark green/red leaves with spots on them (hence the name) and it has the capacity to spread from the odd weed here or there to a virtual invasion of your whole landscape. It has a flat, prostrate habit and quickly moves from lawns into pavers, pathways, garden beds and pretty much anwhere it can find some soil. It does this by means of its prolific seeding ability. Spurge loves hot, dry conditions and thrives in weak or unhealthy lawn and landscape environments.

Its one of those weeds that I would say is easy to kill but hard to prevent from coming back. Once you have an outbreak, you’ll have to repeat spray till you have exhausted all the seed in the soil. It’s coming to the end of its warm season run but its worth having a crack at it now but be warned, you may have to continue your efforts next spring and summer when conditions become favourable again. The best way to control spotted spurge is with a broadleaf, selective herbicide such as Amgrow Bin Die. For a better result, use a non-ionic wetting agent such Heiniger Wetter and Spreader. It makes the selective herbicide much more effective.

Tips For Spotted Spurge Control

Spotted spurge weed can quickly invade a lawn or garden bed and make a nuisance of itself. Using proper spotted spurge control can not only eliminate it from your yard, but can also help prevent it from growing in your yard in the first place. Keep reading to learn how to get rid of spotted spurge.

Spotted Spurge Identification

Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is a dark green plant with red stems that grows low to the ground in a mat-like fashion. It will grow outwards from the center in a rough wagon wheel shape. The leaves will be oval shaped and has a red spot in their center (which is why this spurge is called spotted spurge). The flowers on the plant will be small and pink. The entire plant has a hairy appearance.

Spotted spurge has a milky white sap that will irritate the skin if it comes in contact with it.

How to Get Rid of Spotted Spurge

Spotted spurge often grows in poor, compacted soil. While killing spotted spurge is relatively easy, the hard part is keeping it from coming back. The tap root of this plant is very long and its seeds are very hardy. This weed can and will grow back from either root pieces or seeds.

Because of the spotted spurge weed’s mat-like nature, hand pulling is a good option for removing spotted spurge from the lawn or flower beds. Be sure to wear gloves due to the irritating sap. Make sure that you pull this weed before it has a chance to develop seeds; otherwise, it will spread rapidly. After you have hand pulled the spotted spurge, watch for it to start growing again from the tap root. Pull it again as soon as possible. Eventually, the tap root will use up all of its stored energy trying to regrow and will die completely.

Heavily mulching with either newspaper or wood mulch is also an effective method of spotted spurge control. Cover ground with spotted spurge with several layers of newspaper or several inches of mulch. This will prevent the spotted spurge weed seeds from germinating and will also smother any plants that have already started growing.

You can also use herbicides, but many herbicides will only work for spotted spurge control while the plants are young. Once they reach a mature size, they can resist many forms of weed killers. When using herbicides for killing spotted spurge, it is best to use them in late spring or early summer, which is when spotted spurge will first sprout.

One of the few herbicides that will work on mature spotted spurge is a non-selective type. But be careful, as this will kill anything it comes into contact with, and the spotted spurge may still regrow from the roots, so check frequently for regrowth and treat the plant as soon as possible if you see it.

Pre-emergent sprays or granules can also be used for spotted spurge control, but these will only be effective before the seeds have sprouted.

As a last resort, you can try solarizing the area where the spotted spurge has taken root. Solarization of the soil will kill the spotted spurge and its seeds, but will also kill anything else in the soil.

Note: Chemical control should only be used as a last resort, as organic approaches are safer and much more environmentally friendly.

Spotted Spurge: How to Control It

Connect the Dots
Spotted spurge spreads quickly throughout weak areas in your lawn by producing several thousand seeds per plant. Even though it is a summer annual, late-season seeds can sprout next spring after lying dormant during cold temperatures. This warm-weather pest begins seed production a mere 5 weeks after germination, so early detection and treatment is key.

Control Spotted Spurge with Prevention
An easy way to prevent an infestation is to remove the weed from your landscape before it begins to produce seed. Feed your lawn regularly and mow it at the proper height to help keep the turf full and dense to ensure that this non-competitive plant won’t have room to grow. When these weeds do pop up, pull them out or spot treat them with Ortho® Weed B Gon® Weed Killer for Lawns before they have time to produce seed.

Controlling an Infestation of Spotted Spurge
If you’ve got a large spotted spurge problem in the lawn, apply Ortho® Weed B Gon MAX® Plus Crabgrass Control or Ortho® Weed B Gon Max® Weed Killer for Lawns Concentrate according to label directions.

George WeigelSpotted spurge is a creeping weed with dark spots in the middle of the small leaves.

Q: I am 99 percent sure I’ve got spotted spurge both in my garden beds and lawn. I’ve been pulling it and spraying it with Roundup in beds. But in the grass… should I apply a pre-emergent in the spring? For now, I’ve been trying to pull it to prevent flowering. What do the flowers look like? Would raking it up do any good?

A: Spotted spurge isn’t one of the easiest weeds to kill. It IS pretty easy to recognize, though. The growth habit is tight to the ground, the leaves are small with red splotches, and the tell-tale characteristic is that milky sap comes out when you break a stem.

Flowers are barely noticeable. They’re pinkish and come in tiny clusters on the tips of stems that pop out from next to where the leaves are attached. They form about three to four weeks after the weed shows up, so you have a little time to abort the process.

Anything you can do to get rid of plants before they flower and seed is a big plus. Being annual weeds that sprout from seeds, they pull up pretty easily. But given the number of them, that can be a big job. If you can rake them out of the lawn, that’d be worth the effort.

At least two broad-leaf weed-killers are fairly effective at killing spotted spurge in the lawn, if you want to go that route. Look on the label for dicamba or MCPP. 2,4D with trichlopyr is also labeled for spotted spurge control in lawns.

Personally, I’m not a spray person, so I yank and rake and try to stop all weeds by thickening up the lawn. September is the best time of year to overseed.

The germination of new spotted-spurge seed can be stopped by using most of the weed preventers labeled for crabgrass control. But just to be sure, check the label to see if spotted spurge is on the list of weeds prevented. (Pendamethalin and isoxaben are two common ingredients that prevent spotted spurge.)

The tricky part is that spotted spurge is a summer annual weed, meaning it germinates later than most annual weeds. Since most people apply their weed preventers in early spring, the chemicals have pooped out by the time spotted spurge is ready to germinate. Most weed-preventers work for only 8 to 10 weeks.

So if you’re targeting spotted spurge, you might want to wait until late May or early June to apply your weed preventer. Or if you want to stop as much as possible, do one application at the usual crabgrass time of late March to early April and then a second one about 8 weeks later.

Link here for the full WSSA press release

Though the economy and housing market have begun to recover in the aftermath of the Great Recession, one unexpected impact still lingers. Landscape nurseries that saw fewer plant sales during the downturn are now battling weeds entrenched in unsold containers of perennials, shrubs and trees.

Some of the most common weeds battled by nurseries are in the spurge or Euphorbiaceae family, a group of low-growing plants that thrive in hot and sunny locations. Examples include sandmat and the spotted and prostrate spurges.

“The nursery owners I work with here in the Southwest say spurge is their number one pest problem and a real health hazard for their workers,” reports Kelly Young, a member of the Western Society of Weed Science and assistant agent for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

When the stems or leaves of spurge plants are broken, they ooze a milky sap that can cause dermatitis and eye irritation. Dense, low-growing mats of spurge foliage can also harbor fire ants, ginger ants, red ants and other insects with a venomous bite or sting, which place nursery workers at risk.

“Workers loading plants onto a delivery truck will frequently hand-weed each pot so it looks pristine and weeds aren’t transported to the job site,” Young says. “That means there are lots of opportunities for insect bites and for exposure to the irritating sap.”

Weed scientists say early intervention is critical to spurge control. The spurges flower when very young and produce seeds that can germinate right away, with little or no dormancy. As a result, spurge weeds often spread quickly.

Young offers the following tips that can help nurseries gain the upper hand and eradicate spurge from plant containers:

  • Pull it up. Remove all spurge you find growing in pots to prevent further seed production. Wash your hands and forearms thoroughly afterwards, even if you were wearing gloves.
  • Use the right herbicide the right way. Apply a preemergent herbicide according to the precise instructions on the product label. It’s especially important to calibrate your sprayer to make certain you’re not using too little or too much. “I’ve seen nurseries apply herbicides at only half the recommended label rate, and they weren’t getting the results they were after,” Young says.
  • Add water. Preemergent herbicides used to treat spurge need to be watered into the soil to form a protective barrier.
  • Add mulch. Top off each pot with a two-inch layer of compost, manure or wood chips.
  • Keep your hands off. It may be tempting to dip a finger into a pot from time to time to see if plants need to be watered. But doing so will break the protective shield established by the herbicide and create an opportunity for weeds to sprout.
  • Establish a zero tolerance policy. If you spot spurge that has escaped control, pull it immediately. Don’t toss the plants on the ground or you could spread hundreds of tiny seeds.

“I’ve worked closely with nursery managers who were convinced nothing would work against spurge,” Young said. “Invariably, though, I discovered missteps in how they were trying to manage the weed. They weren’t applying herbicides in the right amount, weren’t watering the herbicides in or were skipping some other vital step. Once they buttoned up their process, they were able to eliminate the weed entirely.”

Spurge control tips for homeowners

Rich Bonanno, Ph.D., a member of the extension faculty at the University of Massachusetts, says spurge isn’t found only in nurseries. It is a frequent, unwelcomed guest in lawns and gardens and in crevices along sidewalks, driveways and parking pads. And it can overrun other desirable plants growing in its path.

There are steps homeowners can take to manage spurge effectively, though. If you are adding new plants to your landscape, make certain you aren’t transporting spurge home from the nursery. Closely inspect pots for weeds before planting new trees, shrubs or perennial plants. Also, follow the protocol recommended for nurseries and apply a thick layer of mulch around your new plants.

If you choose to use a preemergent herbicide on your lawn or plant beds to protect against spurge and other weeds, use the right amount, apply it according to the label directions and water it in. Scout for spurge through the summer and pull any seedlings that have escaped control – being careful to wash your hands thoroughly when you are done.

“With a little vigilance, you can keep spurge in its place,” Bonanno says.

About the Weed Science Society of America

The Weed Science Society of America, a nonprofit scientific society, was founded in 1956 to encourage and promote the development of knowledge concerning weeds and their impact on the environment. The Weed Science Society of America promotes research, education and extension outreach activities related to weeds, provides science-based information to the public and policy makers, fosters awareness of weeds and their impact on managed and natural ecosystems, and promotes cooperation among weed science organizations across the nation and around the world. For more information, visit

If you have had a prior spurge problem in your yard, a pre-emergent herbicide treatment is a smart way to prevent spurge from growing. By applying a pre-emergent herbicide treatment in the fall, you will save yourself lots of hassle in the spring.

When applying a pre-emergent herbicide, remember to:

  • Use a pre-emergent labeled for spurge. Dimension 2EW, Ferti-Lome, and Prodiamine 65 WDG are all labeled for spurge.
  • Use a pre-emergent labeled for your grass type. Some pre-emergents cannot be used in certain grasses. Consult the product label to be certain the pre-emergent you select is compatible with your grass.
  • Review the pre-emergent label for specific instructions. Some herbicides require a freshly mowed lawn for best use, while others need to be watered in after being applied. Follow all steps and instructions on the label of your pre-emergent.
  • Apply when the time is right. Spurge begins to germinate when the ground temperature reaches 60 degrees. That is why it is recommended that you apply your pre-emergent herbicide when the ground temperature is just below 55 degrees in the spring, and before the first frost in the fall. In the spring, apply pre-emergent before the weather warms. Consult your local extension office for advice on when to apply your pre-emergent herbicide treatment.

Watch the video below for instructions on applying a pre-emergent herbicide.

Weed of the Week: Spotted Spurge

May 17, 2017

Type: Spotted spurge is a member of the spurge family, a common species that includes a broad range of low growing, summer broadleaf annual. Spotted spurge ranges from 1/8-1/2 inch in length. When soil temperatures warm in early spring, seeds begin to germinate and then continues to grow throughout the season. This weed forms a long, central taproot that is capable of extending more than 24 inches below the soil.

How to Identify: Spotted spurge grows close to the ground and forms a dense mat of dark green, oval shaped leaves, called “opposites” meaning, the leaves are paired at the node and are opposite of each other. This weed’s leaves have marks with purple or maroon spot in the center of them. This weed has reddish or green, prostrate stems that branch freely from the base. Spotted spurges, along with all members of the spurge family, have a distinct characteristic about their stems; when broken, the stems ooze a milky sap that can irritate a person’s skin. Flowers of this weed are inconspicuous, small and pinkish-white. They can be located near the leaf axils and emerge within three-four weeks after emerging in mid-summer. Spotted spurges are reproduced by its seed that is hardy and grows in a three-celled capsule about 1/16 inches or less in length.

Where it Grows: Spotted spurge is a major lawn weed in most parts of the country and thrives in hot, sparse yards. This is a highly adaptable weed that can grow in many soil types, including sand and clay. The mat-like weed has the ability to choke out desired turf grass while surviving close mowing heights.

Growing Season: Seeds being to germinate when soil temperatures reach 60°F, roughly around the end of April and will continue to grow throughout the season.

How to Manage: Applying a pre-emergent herbicide in late spring, prior to weed germination to prevent an infestation. If a lawn is infested with spotted spurge, then this is a good indication that soil is compacted. To correct this infestation, aerate soil and use a post-emergence herbicide when plants are small. For cases where the invasion is less severe, pull weed out by hand but still aerate because odds are the soil is still compacted. It’s important to understand that this weed has a long taproot, if the any root is left then the weed will begin to grow again. NOTE: Wear gloves when hand removing weed due to irritating sap.
TIP: Hand removal process will most likely result in regrowth but pulling them while they are young will result in minimized seed deposits. The key is to catch the weed early with a pre-emergent herbicide.

Overall, the best prevention method for spotted spurge and any invasive weed is to maintain healthy, dense turf with a strong root system by adopting a regular lawn care routine including fertilization, soil amendments, proper mowing and watering as well as aeration and thatch management practices.


In Kelly Young’s article, “Managing Spurge in the Landscape, Garden and Turf” the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, it’s noted that:

Spurges belong to a plant family called Euphorbiaceae, a large cosmopolitan family with 16 genera and 100 subspecies…formerly included in the genus Euphorbia, the low-growing, herbaceous spurges are now classified in the genus Chamaesyce (pronounced ‘kamma-sice-ee’). (Kelly Young, 2012)

There are 30 different Chamaesyce species and only a handful are common weeds in turf. Among these, some common weeds found in the U.S. include spotted spurge, ground spurge, creeping spurge, prostrate spurge, and petty spurge. Although this weed has a variety of different species, management practices are similar. NOTE: Be sure to identify which spurge species is invading your lawn in order to determine the best treatment. Check with your local country extension agent to see if a certain spurge species has been spotted in your area.

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References: Keywords: weed of the week

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