Foxtail – Weed ID Wednesday

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Foxtail is often problematic in hayfields and pastures, as it can spread quickly and can cause health issues with livestock. Foxtail is in the grass family and its leaves can look similar to grass blades and can blend right in with our desirable forages until foxtail’s distinguishable seed head makes its appearance. There are a few kinds of foxtail that are present in our piedmont region of North Carolina, including giant, yellow, and green – these are all annuals. Knotroot is a perennial foxtail and is less common in our area. The seed head has awns, or hair-like projections, and makes foxtail fairly easy to identify.


Foxtail is not ideal for two main reasons- both of which apply to hay fields that are harvested and pastures that are grazed.

  1. Injury to Animals
    • If animals are grazing in pastures that have mature foxtail present, the seed heads could cause eye injury because of the height of the plant and awns on the seed head. If foxtail seed heads are present in hay or in pasture, the seeds and awns can become lodged in the gums of horses and cause lesions and infections.
  2. Grass Family / Spread by Seed
    • Because foxtail is a grass, it is not controlled by common broadleaf herbicides that are often used in pastures. The most common foxtails are annuals, which means the plant completes its life cycle in a growing season and drops seeds to reproduce. One plant of foxtail can produce anywhere from 500 to 2500 seeds in one growing season. This tells us that to effectively control foxtail, we have to control the seeds.

Control Options

Mowing foxtail is not an effective form of control because the plant reacts by growing an additional shoot to produce another seed head. Mowing also does not impact any existing seeds in the soil or seed bank.

Spraying a preemergent, such as Prowl H2O, is an option for controlling seeds that are present in your pastures and hayfields before they germinate. Foxtail typically germinates as early as mid-April in our region, so plan to spray before April 1st if you know you’ve had foxtail present and are looking to start your control. Always remember to read the label of any product you use and be fully aware of any restrictions in place. Prowl H2O has a hay and grazing restriction that will need to be planned around and observed. If your pasture or hayfield is newly planted, Prowl should not be sprayed. Know that if your fields are heavy in other annual grasses that you may find beneficial, including crabgrass, Prowl may injure or kill those as well.

Pasture or field renovation is often brought up when heavy infestations of foxtail are present and cannot be worked around. This is often a conversation in more extreme cases and comes with a lot of work, specially timed herbicide applications, working the ground, and a good bit of cost. More information can be found on the Oregon State University website but please talk to a local extension agent about all other options before choosing to renovate.

The best management option for looking to control foxtail, and most other weeds, long term, is to take a two-prong approach.

  1. Look at your overall management plan first. Take a soil sample and apply lime and fertilizer per the recommendations and develop a grazing plan. Taking the best care of your pastures and hayfields that you can by applying the proper amendments, overseeding when necessary, and not overgrazing will allow your grass to grow better. The idea is that a strong stand of grass will out work into out competing weeds of all kinds, including foxtail. If weeds don’t have access to the things that they need to grow, they will become less and less of an issue.
  2. Choose a spraying program that works with your goals. Knowing that we need to control the number of viable seeds to get a hold on our foxtail population, points to a preemergent being a good option.

By making your overall plan work together by combining growing stronger grass and minimizing the number of viable seeds, a foxtail population should begin to decline. Remember to think of weed control and pasture management as a process and not overnight results.

More information can be found at the following resources:

Brief Foxtail

How to Tell Foxtail From Timothy and Control It

Foxtail Control in Pastures and Hayground

Foxtail field Foxtail plant

Written By

Abby Whitaker, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionAbby WhitakerArea Agent, Agriculture - Livestock, Forage Crops Call Abby Email Abby N.C. Cooperative Extension, Buncombe County Center
Updated on Mar 3, 2021
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