Leafy Spurge - A Tough Noxious Weed to Control

In previous articles I have mentioned the importance of weed control for several different species here in southeast Nebraska. One weed I didn’t mention was a noxious weed in Nebraska, “ Leafy Spurge”. This has been a longtime noxious weed in Nebraska, but we generally have a problem with it in more of the range or pasture land areas of Nebraska. It isn’t an issue in cropland here in southeast Nebraska. Unfortunately somehow it seems to show up here in pastures or along roadsides. It’s possible it spreads by birds, other wildlife, hay or even in seed.

The reason I am mentioning it today is; I saw a patch of leafy spurge growing in a pasture this weekend. It is very distinguishable with its bluish-green leaves and yellowish green tops. The problem with leafy spurge is once it is established, it is hard to control and completely eliminate. It has a very extensive root system that contains substantial root reserves that helps it withstand stress and spread each year, increasing the size of a patch.   Each stem produces an average of 140 seeds, with seeds remaining viable in the soil for up to eight years. Leafy spurge is also distinguished by its white-milky sap. The plant contains a toxic substance, that causes vomiting and a laxative effect when consumed by livestock. It has caused death in cattle, but sheep and goats can tolerate leafy spurge in their diets and can be a method of cultural control. Leafy spurge outcompete desirable plants for nutrients and water.  Infestations in rangeland and pasture can result in a decrease of carrying capacity of livestock by 50 to 75 percent, due to a loss of grass production.

There are various biological control methods available including; root feeding types of beetles, a foliar feeding moth, a gall midge and a stem boring beetle. The use of fire and mowing along with chemical treatment of various herbicides can help manage control of leafy spurge as well. Herbicides, such as 2,4-D ester, Grazon P+D, Stinger or Tordon are just a few of the chemicals available for control. It usually will take multiple treatments over several years to eliminate leafy spurge completely. The best and cheapest management is prevention. Much of this information came from this article:  https://beef.unl.edu/beefwatch/2020/leafy-spurge-0 in “BeefWatch” by Gary Stone. Also in EC130, the Guide for Weed, Disease, and Insect Management in Nebraska that people receive at Pesticide Applicator Training has information on herbicides for control of leafy spurge in the Noxious Weed Section.  If you have other questions, feel free to contact me at the Nemaha County Extension office at (402) 274-4755, (402) 274-9639 (cell) or glesoing2@unl.edu .   

leafy spurge in a brome grass pastureGary Lesoing
Extension Educator
Nemaha County
May 2021



 Photo of Leafy Spurge in a brome grass pasture





Photo of Leafy Spurge in a brome grass pasture