En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
5 ratings

Wednesday - June 08, 2011

From: Mission, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Sandbur invasion in Mission TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have a spiny sandbur invasion in my yard. Even the dog tiptoes around to do her business. Because I live in Mission, TX, this weed acts like a perennial and is constantly growing (no winter freezes here). My question is: What can I use, now that DSMA/MSMA are banned to eradicate this weed? I have pulled some out by hand, but this is sometimes painful & I get welts from the burs. The previous owner had sprayed roundup & it killed everything except this weed. When I mow, I use a bagger, but I can't get rid of it.


Okay, first step: go to a hardware or garden store and buy some leather work gloves.  Those burs will even get through that some times, but it's better than what you are doing now, which is hurting yourself. Then, when you pull a bur, get it down close to the roots and get as much out of the ground as you can. While you are at the hardware store, see if they have what we call a "sharp-toed hoe." It is a triangular blade, with a long handle so no stooping. It's good to go out when you're mad about something, and really let those weeds have it! The sharp point on the hoe will get some of the root out, and you will feel better, too. Gather up everything, including all the bur/seeds you can find, put them in a plastic bag and send them to the landfill.

The most important thing is to keep the plant from seeding out. The best way to do that is to prevent the plant from blooming before it sets seed. Unfortunately, the flower parts are not discernible with the naked eye, and they bloom from June to November, followed by the seeds which are, of course, the burs. This means that in early Spring you need to know what these plants look like when they first come up and get as much out manually as you can. You mentioned mowing, but these plants often crawl along the ground, too low for the mower to be effective.

Here is some information extracted from a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer. The correspondent specifically asked about the use of corn gluten as a pre-emergent herbicide. Note the comment on healthy turf being the best preventive for sandbur infestation. The reason for that is that grassburs do not tolerate shade well, so a thick cover of turf grass or pasture grasses will retard growth of the bur.

"A grass itself, grassbur is a common, troublesome weed in pastures, lawns and other turf areas.

Grassbur thrives in overgrazed or otherwise struggling turf, especially nutrient-poor turf. Healthy turfgrass will typically outcompete Cenchrus. Improved turf health is the surest strategy for ridding the lawn of grassburs.

Corn gluten is a popular and effective pre-emergent herbicide useful for some annual weeds, especially crabgrass and dandelion. We have not heard of its use for control of grassbur, but it might be somewhat effective if for no other reason than it contains about 10% nitrogen, which your turfgrass will appreciate. The timing of corn gluten application is critical. To be effective, it must be put down just before weed seeds germinate."

And, finally, an article on prevention of sandburs from California.


More Invasive Plants Questions

Problems with recently planted trumpet vine from Worcester MA
October 20, 2012 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I have a question about my recently planted Trumpet Vines. First of all, I live in Massachusetts, zone 6. The soil is perfect for the two vines, which I bought from a local nur...
view the full question and answer

Is non-native cotoneaster poisonous to goats from Eureka CA
August 19, 2011 - I have heard that cotoneaster is poisonous to goats and other animals. We are trying to get rid of it in our yard, but I was hoping we could use goats to eat it back. What are our options in removin...
view the full question and answer

Trees to replace some non-native invasives in Deltona FL
February 02, 2012 - I would like to replace 3 large ChinaBerry & 3 large Chinese Tallow trees in my good sized back yard with some local wildlife friendly trees native to the Deltona area(first area.) What do you recomme...
view the full question and answer

Should the herbicide Ornamec 170 be used on unwanted grasses?
March 15, 2012 - I have a lovely wildflower garden in a field behind my house; unfortunately, the wildflowers are being smothered by grasses. I understand that Ornamec 170 can be used to control grasses in wildflower...
view the full question and answer

How Can I Tell an Invasive Thistle from a Native
May 01, 2012 - Mr Smarty Plants, I have some thistles coming up in my yard. I'd like to keep them if they are native, but not if they are invasive or non-native. How can I tell? My yard is a wild area in West Lak...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center