Gripeweed, aka chamberbitter
Photo | Gardenology.org.
By Alice Marty, Mobile County Master Gardener / MobileCountyMasterGardeners.org
Pre-emergent seems to not affect it! Common herbicides do not seem to faze it! The experienced gardener will find it in their flowerbeds after thinking their weed war was won. Most gardeners do not know it by name. Or perhaps you have given it another name — although it may not be as polite as chamberbitter, gripeweed, shatter stone, stonebreaker or leaf flower to name a few. The world of horticulture knows it as Phyllanthus urinaria. It is an herb species in the family Phyllanthaceae and has been added to the noxious weed list in Alabama.
Chamberbitter is an increasingly common invasive weed that has been spreading heavily across regions of the country with more tropical climates. It is a broadleaf that sprouts in warm-season grasses annually during the early summer. It is believed the weed originated in tropical Asia, but it has become a major lawn pest across the southeastern United States from Virginia to Texas.
Preferring to grow in excessively high temperatures or areas with long periods of drought, chamberbitter enjoys our zone 8b lawns. As it is drought tolerant and produces so many seeds, it is quite difficult to control on landscapes. It grows quickly and has an extensive taproot, which makes this weed particularly difficult to completely remove without the help of chemicals. Hand pulling is a largely useless option because they will just pop up again before long.
The plant resembles the leaves of a mimosa tree and goes to seed when it is only about an inch tall. The seeds are little balls that develop on the underside of the leaves. The seeds explode and scatter giving hundreds of new weeds their start. Even very few plants can produce vast new crops this year and next.
After you have identified the weed as chamberbitter, it is important to know chemicals may be most effective at certain times of the year. You can waste time and money if you try to chemically treat a weed at the wrong time. The pre-emergent you used in March will not bother the seeds it had laid for growing this year. It is a summer weed and begins showing itself in May and June, after you have used the post-emergent herbicide for the spring weeds in April.
Before using chemicals, know your grass type. Not all chemicals are safe to spray on all types of grass. Many property owners have two or even three types of grasses in a lawn that weeds invade. Make sure the chemical can be sprayed on those grass types.
Practice healthy turf management techniques. Make sure your grass is healthy before applying any weed-control chemicals. A healthy lawn incorporates proper mowing heights for grass, having sharp mower blades, not cutting more than 1/3 of the leaf blade off at a time and making sure proper fertilizer practices are being followed. You also want to avoid treating during periods of drought and seasonal transition periods such as spring green-up and fall dormancy.
Do your neighbors, friends or family members borrow your lawn equipment? If so, make sure the equipment is clean before using to avoid invading your lawn with weeds or seeds from another yard. Lawn disease can also be transmitted this way.
Before using any herbicide product, make sure you first have on the proper PPE for safety (gloves, glasses, mask). It is especially important for your safety as well as the safety of your family and pets.
Be sure to read the entire label. Knowing what care will be needed if a chemical accident occurs can hasten relief and affect the outcome. Avoid using lawn chemicals of any kind when temperatures are high. Your lawn is already heat-stressed — adding chemicals will be adding stress, a mistake you will regret.
Glyphosate (Roundup) will kill chamberbitter, but you must be careful to keep the chemical off nearby foliage. In a lawn, broadleaf weed killer (Ortho Weed B-gon, Weed Stop, etc.) applied twice, seven days apart, should be effective.
If you cannot identify your weed or have other lawn questions, contact your County Extension Master Gardener Help Line at 877-252-4769. Find home grounds and garden information at 866-855-1909.
Garden Events for Your Calendar
What: Marketplace at Mobile Botanical Gardens
Where: 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile; plant retail venue at end of their parking lot
When: Fridays, noon to 2 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon
More info: mobilebotanicalgardens.org
What: Become a Mobile County MG in 2021
Where: 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
When: Classes run from early August to early November, every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Application Deadline: June 7
Fee: For materials used in the 12-week training
What: Alabama Virtual Garden Chat
Where: Join this Zoom space to learn about seasonal garden problems: auburn.zoom.us/j/82398811386
When: Wednesdays, 2-3 p.m. (April through August)
Questions: Email [email protected]
What: Walk the Charles Wood Japanese Garden
Where: 700 Forest Hill Drive, Mobile (accessible through trail #1)
When: Daylight hours, daily
Fee: Free, but donations appreciated
More info: mobilejapanesegarden.com
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