Question of the Week – Number 1: August 6, 2020

“What is this weed, and how can I control it? Somebody told me it’s purslane. Is that correct?”

That is not correct. This is one of the several common plants that are, as a group, called “spurge.” All are in the Euphorbia plant family (along with the succulent plant crown-of-thorns and poinsettias!). All exude a sticky white latex sap when their stems and leaves are broken. This particular one grows completely flat on the ground unless turfgrass forces it gently upward.

Spurge is a “weed of neglect,” meaning that it won’t invade a lawn unless the grass has been allowed to become weak due to drought, insufficient fertilization or excessive shade.

It is easily controlled with a broadleafed weedkiller, but when it shows up in a lawn, it’s usually better just to ramp up the lawn care practices to help the grass crowd it out.

In flowerbeds you can easily hoe it out with a sharpened hoe, or you can prevent or probably even smother it with a 1-inch layer of compost or finely ground pine bark mulch.

Spurge (L) and purslane grow side-by-side in a paved parking lot. That proves they can handle just about any amount of sun and heat. Click on image for larger view.

This is a much coarser weed that grows to be 4 to 5 inches tall. It’s a cousin to moss rose (portulaca), and there are hybrid purslanes that we commonly see in pots and hanging baskets at the garden center. So you’re probably already familiar with this plant, even if you’ve never seen it as a weed.

Purslane grows in cracks in drives and walks. It really doesn’t care how hot it gets. It’s highly drought tolerant.

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As with spurge, this plant has one single tap root, so if you sever that root you’ll kill this plant. Cut it off with a sharpened hoe and leave it to dry for a couple of hours and it will be finished.

Where it’s hard to get a hoe, spot spray with almost any labeled weedkiller. Broadleafed weedkillers containing 2,4-D are sure to get it, but other types almost always will, too. But of course, the sprays are going to leave the browned stubble.

Mulching beds early in the spring is the best way of keeping its small seeds ever from sprouting.

We all get this weed fairly often, so don’t be embarrassed. However, it’s a quick one to dispatch. Just get the job done.

And yes, I know that some types of purslane are edible by some adventuresome people, but I’ve made it my practice not to make those recommendations. All it takes it one person misidentifying a plant and getting sick as a result to keep me awake nights. Grow your edibles from seed racks or garden centers or buy them in the grocery.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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