When you think of the ever popular mint herb, what comes to mind? Most likely, it’s something pleasant as it is used to flavor everything from ice cream to toothpaste. It freshens breath and adds a unique flavor profile to all sorts of culinary creations.
What you might not know is that the popular herb used in our daily lives is but one plant in the mint family. Another plant that you may be familiar with from its appearance in your yard is the henbit weed. What you may not know about it is that it is also a member of the mint family and is just as edible as its relative (although its flavor is peppery with a hint of sweetness).
But just because you can eat it does not mean that you want it showing up uninvited onto your lawn. Because once it takes root and goes to seed, you could be fighting to remove it from your lawn for quite some time.
So, in your bid to prevent henbit, you’ve got this article to help you identify this plant and how to control it.
Since it can take root in your lawn quickly, let’s not waste any time and dive right in.
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is an herbaceous winter annual that takes root in thinned areas of your lawn. It gets its name because it’s chicken love to eat it.
The plant grows best in the shade. It will make its home underneath your shrubs and plants. It is also commonly found growing alongside paths and sidewalks as the grass tends to be thinner in those higher traffic areas.
Like some of its other relatives in the mint family, henbit has leaves that grow in opposite pairs and an easily identifiable square stem tinted with a purplish hue. The leaves are round or heart-shaped with toothed edges and are covered in very fine hairs. The leaves are also deeply scalloped. The amplexicaule designation in its scientific means “clasping,” describing how the upper leaves are attached to the stem.
The upper leaves are connected directly to the square stem. The lower leaves are attached to the stem with petioles. Henbit can grow to a height of 16 inches. However, its most prominent growth pattern is sprawling across the ground in clumps.
Its flowers resemble orchids and are quite lovely, to be honest. The purplish to reddish blooms will appear in the middle of spring. There is a distinct, dark-red mark on the flower’s lower petal. The blooms will have a white surface and are located at the top of the stem. They will be formed in whorls near the uppermost leaves.
Henbit is actually quite insidious. Its seeds germinate through the fall and the winter and remain mostly small or altogether dormant until the spring. In the spring, however, an explosion of growth occurs. Each plant can produce up to 2000 seeds.
Unfortunately, henbit often goes unnoticed in your lawn until it’s already taken root and established itself. Its fast rate of growth lends itself to surprising homeowners.
A small amount of controlled henbit in a wildlife garden is very beneficial to the ecosystem. It provides a wonderful foraging food for animals and is an excellent source of nectar for honeybees and hummingbirds alike.
However, despite its benefits, it can overtake the desired turfgrass on your lawn in certain areas and compete with the grass for essential nutrients and minerals.
Here are some control methods you can use to keep henbit from taking over areas of your lawn.
If you catch it before it has taken over, you can pull the plant by hand from your lawn. Whenever you pull these plants, you must ensure that you remove the entire fibrous root system from the ground. Anything left behind will regenerate, and you’ll be forced to pull it again.
This method is best employed while the plants are small in both number and size. It’s also best if you pull the henbit before they have gone to seed.
To ensure that you remove the entire root system, moisten the soil around the plant to make it easier to work with. If you find the root is too fibrous to break or that it is solidly anchored, use a garden hoe or hand trowel to dislodge the root completely.
Putting down corn gluten meal before the henbit seeds have a chance to germinate is an effective way to keep the weed from returning in the spring. It will prevent any shoots that grow from the seedlings from establishing themselves as roots. Unfortunately, if you have to deal with ungerminated seeds, then you’ve already battled with this weed in your yard for an entire season.
You mustn’t apply corn gluten meal after the seeds have germinated. If you do, you will actually be providing fertilizer for the new seedlings.
So, do what you must to ascertain the stage of the henbit seed’s life cycle.
Of course, you can always turn to chemical herbicides to take care of just about anything. If you plan on using a post-emergent herbicide, it’s best to do so in the fall when the plants are still small and fragile. You have to be vigilant in looking out for these plants in the fall to catch them.
If you want to use a post-emergent herbicide after the plants have started to grow in the spring, choose a selective broadleaf herbicide. That way, you don’t wind up killing the desirable grass growing around the henbit.
The best way to control this annual winter weed is by doing what is necessary to ensure your lawn is thick and healthy. Using a well-thought-out fertilizer schedule will provide your lawn with all the nutrients it needs to prevent it from thinning out and avoid giving the weed a place to call home.
Make sure that you’re always mowing to the correct height for your given turfgrass. Mowing below the optimal height will cause your lawn to experience unnecessary stress, leading to thinned growth. Keeping it at the optimal height ensures your lawn will remain thick on the surface with strong, established roots underneath.
This weed thrives in moist and shaded areas of your lawn. Take care to ensure that your lawn is draining properly and that the soil is not compacted. This allows for the nutrients, water, and oxygen to readily flow through the earth and strengthen the root system of your grass.
If you must, open up shaded areas of your lawn by thinning out shrubs. This will allow sufficient sunlight to reach the areas where these weeds would otherwise try and establish themselves.