This time of the year is always fun. It is starting to warm up and we can begin to emerge from our winter hibernation indoors. However, with the movement outdoors come the calls to my office. People venture outdoors and begin to notice plants growing that were not intentionally planted. One of the most common nuisance plants that seems to plant itself in your beautiful lawn and is noticed early in the spring is Henbit.
Henbit is a plant in the mint family and therefore it has square stems. It grows to a height of 16 inches and has dark green leaves that are scalloped along the edges and arranged oppositely along the stem. The leaves are clasping below the flower cluster. It has a purple colored, tubular flower. This is a plant that spreads by seed but can quickly invade turf areas and invade into a flower or vegetable garden. Henbit is the plant that is often seen in masses of purple in fields very early in the spring.
Henbit is a winter annual plant, which means that it germinates in the fall or winter. It then grows for a period of time in the early winter, goes dormant in the very cold periods and resumes growth early in the spring to flower and produce seed. After flowering, it will die, because it has set seed for new plants for next fall and spring.
People typically only notice henbit in their lawns in the spring when it is flowering. However, the best time for management is in the fall when it is first germinating. If you use chemicals to control henbit in a lawn, it is best to do prior to flowering and seed production. In the spring, when most people see henbit, there is no need for chemical controls because the plant has already set seed for next year’s crop and the plants seen are on their way to death anyway.
Management can be successful without chemicals. Henbit is a plant that does well in the areas where our turf does not. It grows well in compacted soils, typically along the edges of sidewalks and driveways where it can easily outcompete our turf for the space. It also grows well where there is good soil moisture and shade. Because of this, it is easily managed by encouraging a dense, vigorous turf or to change the landscape by utilizing other plants besides turf or applying mulch in areas where turf struggles and henbit grows well. Henbit can also be hand-pulled for quick removal, this is the preferred method of control in the spring. If chemicals are necessary and desired for management of Henbit, they should be applied in the fall. Products that contain 2,4-D have the best control for Henbit.
Henbit is often confused with Creeping Charlie, or Ground Ivy, because they are in the same family of plants and they both have similar flowers. Henbit is a winter annual, while Creeping Charlie is a perennial, so henbit will flower well before Creeping Charlie does in the spring. Also, Creeping Charlie tends to have more blue flowers while Henbit has more purple-lavender flowers. Henbit has clasping leaves below the flower cluster, while Creeping Charlie does not. Be sure you know which plant you are dealing with to achieve the best control.