Henbit in the Garden

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As the night time temperatures have dropped down, winter annual weeds have popped up in our gardens. One of the most common is Henbit. Henbit is an annual or biennial broadleaf weed that reproduces by seeds that germinate in the fall or winter. These winter annuals form a small rosette of leaves that overwinter, and complete their development in spring, forming flowers and seeds. They die in late spring and early summer after setting seed. This plant, often confused with purple deadnettle, grows during any period of warm weather that occurs in winter. Recognize it by its square stems, a characteristic it shares with other members of the mint family, and by its rather pretty pink-purple flowers. The flower petals are fused into a two-lipped tube that are one of the first blooms to show color in early spring.

Purple flowered henbit While it can reach 16 inches tall, many plants can develop a prostrate growth habit and are not affected by mowing. It can also root at the lower nodes, making it a tough competitor for the soil moisture and other resources used by our turf grasses and ornamental plantings. This plant branches freely from the base stems which are green or purple in color.

A dense, vigorous turf is the best way to out compete weeds such as henbit. A lawn that is mown at the proper height, aerated at the proper time, fertilized at the correct rates and times, and watered right will have fewer weeds. If you are trying to eradicate henbit with an herbicide, it is best controlled in fall or when it’s actively growing. If there aren’t that many plants, they can be pulled out (remove the entire plant, including the roots) or mown down before they set seed. In landscape beds, henbit can be inhibited with the use of mulch. A 3-inch mulch layer is ideal to reduce weed growth.

Pollinated flowers are key to the seed making process of the plant, so to reduce the amount seeds making it into fertile ground, control these plants before flowering. Many of these early flowers never open completely, and the plant can produce seeds by self-pollination. However, if you are interested in helping pollinators, henbit flowers are a good food source for them in the spring. These flowers provide both a pollen and nectar source for long tongued bees such as honey bees and bumble bees. For more information on managing this plant take a look at http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/pests/weeds/hgic2321.html

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.