When it comes to wintery lawn pests, henbit is one of the most commonly faced culprits. Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is an annual forb in Nebraska. It is a member of the mint family and is often confused with ground ivy. It is generally a problem in newly seeded turfs established in the fall. Henbit has a four-sided, square stem. The leaves are hairy, rounded, coarsely lobed, deeply veined, and are opposite. Toward the base of the stem, the leaves are long, petioled, and toward the top the leaves clasp the stem. The flowers are tubular or trumpet-shaped, pink or purple in color, and rise from the leaf axils. Henbit flowers in early spring.
Henbit thrives in places with shade and can grow up to 16 inches tall. Its root system is fibrous and it loves places where turf is thin. Henbit won’t harm your lawn and can actually help prevent erosion, but it can harbor spider mites. If you want grass to be the only thing in your lawn, there are options to get rid of it.
Organic Prevention and Treatment
Herbicides can be an option, but we always recommend adjusting your lawn practices before adding chemicals to it. Henbit loves sparse turf, so heavier turf presence (more grass there) can choke the weed out. Mulch is also a great way to keep it from taking root by preventing surface seeds from germinating while still conserving moisture. Spraying in the spring might make you feel better, but it can cause the plant to produce and drop more seeds. If the area isn’t too large, these weeds can be hand-pulled. Increasing the density and health of the lawn in the thin areas can help too. Improve the lawn either by overseeding or by changing cultural practices to promote grass growth.
Horticultural vinegar (which is different than what you use in your kitchen) can be used in a spray bottle for spot treatment in gardens or landscape beds. Hand weeding can also be effective, but can be tedious and not get all the plant roots.
If choosing a herbicide, the best option is to apply a pre-emergent before henbit has a chance to pop up. However, be careful doing this if you are planning on spreading new seeds. This should be done in the fall, before temperatures drop and seeds can germinate. If your henbit problem is new and you’ve got a lot of young, thriving weeds, consider a post-emergent broadleaf herbicide. The longer the plant is there, the less effective chemical treatment will be. The most common and effective mixture of herbicides is a three way concoction of 2,4-D, dicamba, and mecoprop (MCPP).
If you don’t want to go the chemical route or perhaps have become at peace with the flowery henbit popping up, consider using it in meals. Henbit is a non-minty member of the leaf family, and like dandelions and other weeds can be very useful in salads. It can also be mixed in recipes with curry and cinnamon for a spicy change or put on a cucumber sandwich. We don’t know much about the nutritional benefits of henbit but it has been used as fever reducer, laxative, and stimulant in herbal remedies. Henbit is often confused for the creeping Charlie or dead nettle but all three are edible, so have no fear. As always, if you are going to eat wild plants, be sure that they are free from pesticides.
Henbit: hate it, love it, leave it, eat it. The choice is yours.