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Issue: July 24

Foxtail grass and rabbits can be problems in lawns

Q. I have had a problem with foxtails in my yard since we had the flooding rains here in Rio Rancho three years ago. My neighbor's yard, above me, is full of these devil plants, and when we got the rains, they were washed down into my yard. I have been fighting them since. I went to a local nursery and bought a product they said would kill the foxtails. I did let them know that I have Bermuda grass, and they said it would be OK to use. It did kill the foxtails, but it also killed my grass. I decided to just dig out the rest of the Foxtails as I saw them. I am now in the process of reseeding my yard again. (I have both my front and backyards grassed because I do not use air conditioning because of health problems.) What can I do to protect my yard from these devil plants in the future? Also, the cottontails are starting to do some damage on their own. Anything I can do about this?

Lynda R.

Rio Rancho

A. Foxtail grass is a weedy, winter annual grass that produces a seed head that looks like a bushy foxtail. In established lawns the most effective ways to control foxtail is to either dig it manually (which leaves holes in the lawn which will fill in over time), spot spray with an herbicide that kills all grasses (leaving a dead spot that must fill in over time, or be reseeded), or use preemergent herbicide. The last choice leaves the lawn looking best, but may not be 100% effective. The preemergent herbicide must be applied before the foxtail seeds germinate. That may be as early as March or even late February. A second application may sometimes be needed if more foxtail seeds germinate.

The preemergent herbicide is effective because foxtail is an annual grass and must begin from seed again each year. It is a cool season grass, so it starts growing early each year (earliest near the south side of a house or walls where the soil warms first). With late winter and spring precipitation, foxtail grows especially well. It is important to read the herbicide label and assure that it is safe on the existing (perennial lawn that does not start from seed each year). Bermudagrass is a warm season grass; blue grass and fescue are cool season grasses. Make sure the preemergent herbicide says it is for the type of lawn you have. (Since you are reseeding, I did not know if you were reseeding Bermuda or bluegrass. The Bermudagrass will probably return, so I assume you are seeding Bermudagrass. Do not apply the preemergent herbicide at a greater concentration than recommended on the label. At higher concentrations, it may injure the perennial grass.

Read the label when you purchase something. Do not just take the advice of a salesperson, or even me. Products change periodically and we may be wrong about a specific product. The label will tell you where it is safe to use and how to use it.

Proper lawn management (fertilization, irrigation, and mowing) can help minimize foxtails in the lawn, but because the foxtail grows while some other grasses (Bermudagrass and other warm season grasses), management practices may not adequately control it. So, you are left with manual and/or chemical removal of the weeds from your lawn.

The rabbits are also difficult to manage. Repellants are sometimes effective, but they are inconsistent. After irrigation or precipitation they must be replaced. Wildlife experts usually say that exclusion (a fence that effectively excludes rabbits) is the most effective method. There are electric fences designed to "shock" the rabbits' ears and discourage their entry into your lawn. This will not be appropriate in some urban areas. Another fence type has small mesh that the rabbit cannot go through and a 'skirt' of fence material folded outward at the base to prevent the rabbits from digging under the fence. However, rabbits may find ways to defeat the fence (gateways, driveways, etc.). They are another difficult challenge for gardeners.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.