The Grass with a Mean Bite

Foxtails, also called “spear grass,” are so called because of their resemblance to a fox’s tail. The name is used to describe several different grasses that produce spike-like, bushy clusters. These wild grasses are similar to crabgrass in the way they germinate and grow. These summer annual grasses commonly grow along paths & roads, in open fields, orchards, vineyards, hillsides and landscaped areas.

They’re soft and green from January to April, but look out! When the seed heads dry out in late spring, these “harmless” grasses become nasty invaders, causing pain and problems all the way to early fall. The dried seed heads break up and, using their sharp barbs, stick to just about anything they touch, especially clothing and innocent pets.

Protecting your pets

Foxtails come equipped with sharp barbs, specially designed to move in one direction only. When they get caught in animal fur, they burrow toward the skin, powered by the animal’s movements. Once deeper into the fur, or worse the skin, these barbs are extremely difficult to remove. If they happen to break the animal’s skin, they can work their way deep into soft tissues – and organs! – and cause serious infections, even death.

If your pets go outdoors, check them regularly for foxtails. Brush their fur using a comb; this allows you to find and remove any nasty barbs before they create problems. This is especially important for long-haired pets as they have much more fur in which the barbs can hide.

Also, watch your pets’ behavior. Foxtails often get stuck to the bottoms of paws and limping may be a sign your pet has been harpooned. Unfortunately, foxtails quite often get in pets’ eyes, sticking under their eyelids. If this happens, you should take your pet to the vet right away.


The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Controlling these weeds in your landscape early is the key.

Here’s how:

  • An ounce of prevention… If you keep foxtails from ever growing in the first place, you’ve won the battle. We recommend putting a pre-emergent herbicide down in the early spring, before they start to germinate. Make sure to get one that is specifically labeled for annual grasses, such as barnyardgrass or crabgrass. In your lawn, products like BEST® 16-6-8 with Dimension or BEST® Dimenions 270G works well and can also be used in in ornamental beds. Be sure to check the label for flower and plant varieties.
  • After germination, but before seed heads form or dry out, use a post-emergent herbicide spray on young foxtails. Use Bayer® All-in-One Weed & Crabgrass Killer in lawns. Once the seed heads have formed or dry out, a manual clean-up with a garden hoe & a rake is likely the best method.
  • Regular lawn mowing to three inches keeps lawns from becoming overgrown and giving foxtails a chance to take over. Don’t mow too short, though! Foxtails grow well in grasses under two inches tall.
  • If you prefer the manual approach, hand-pull foxtails before the seed heads ripen.
  • Foxtails love frequent watering, so water your lawn less frequently. When you do water, though, water more deeply to make up for the reduction in frequency. This keeps your lawn healthy, but discourages foxtails.
  • More often than not, these pests will be growing in untamed areas of your landscape. You can use products such as RoundUp® QuickPro® or ProMax® for non-selective areas (it will kill all weeds and plants). Follow package instructions for proper use.

You can outfox foxtails! All it takes is a little time and effort, but you’ll spend far less time (and money) at the vet! Not to mention, your landscape will look much nicer.