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Lespedeza

Common lespedeza (Kummerowia striata) has a leaf and a pinkish-purple flower. Photo courtesy of Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Common lespedeza (Kummerowia striata) has a leaf and a pinkish-purple flower.
Photo courtesy of Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Description

Common lespedeza, also known as Japanese clover (Kummerowia striata, syn. Lespedeza striata), is a very common summer weed that can easily choke out thin turf. It is often found in open woods and fields and frequently in disturbed areas and turf.

Common lespedeza (Kummerowia striata) has a prostrate growth habit. Photo courtesy of Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org

Common lespedeza (Kummerowia striata) has a prostrate growth habit.
Photo courtesy of Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org

Lespedeza is a mat-forming, wiry stemmed, prostrate, freely branched summer annual. It has dark green trifoliate (arranged in threes) leaves with three oblong, smooth leaflets. Leaflets have parallel veins nearly at right angles to a prominent mid-vein. Its leaves have smooth edges and a short spur at the tip of each leaflet. Lespedeza has a semi-woody taproot and grows close to the ground, making it difficult to cut with a mower. It flowers in late summer with pink to purple, single flowers found in leaf axils on most of the nodes of the main stems.

Cultural Control

Common lespedeza grows well in thin turf and dry, compacted areas. To discourage lespedeza’s growth, it is recommended to increase the mowing height and to keep the soil’s pH and fertility at correct levels for the turfgrass species. For more information on growing healthy turfgrass, see HGIC 1201, Fertilizing Lawns; HGIC 1205, Mowing Lawns; and HGIC 1207, Watering Lawns.

Hand pulling is an option, especially in landscape beds where herbicides pose a possible threat to desirable plants.

Chemical Control

In Lawns: Cultural controls should first be implemented before applying herbicides for lespedeza control. However, if after taking steps to modify lawn care techniques, chemical control may still be necessary to reduce the lespedeza population further. Herbicides should be carefully chosen according to turf species, and all label instructions followed.

A three-way broadleaf herbicide can be used on bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, and tall fescue. The active ingredients of a three-way herbicide typically include the following broadleaf weed killers: 2,4-D, dicamba, and mecoprop (MCPP). The dicamba and mecoprop components are more effective for lespedeza control than 2,4-D. Examples of three-way herbicides are:

  • Ferti-lome Weed-Out Lawn Weed Killer with Trimec® Concentrate
  • Southern Ag Lawn Weed Killer with Trimec® Concentrate
  • Bayer BioAdvanced Southern Weed Killer for Lawns Concentrate; or RTS (Ready to spray)
  • Bonide Weed Beater Lawn Weed Killer Concentrate
  • Spectracide Weed Stop Weed Killer for Lawns Concentrate; or RTS (Ready to Spray)
  • Ortho Weed B Gon Weed Killer for Lawn Concentrate; or RTS (Ready to Spray)
  • Ortho WeedClear Weed Killer for Lawns Concentrate

Note: The first two products listed contain a greater concentration of dicamba and mecoprop than the other listed brands. Herbicides containing 2,4-D should be applied at a reduced rate on St. Augustinegrass and centipedegrass to prevent damage to these lawns. Read the product label for the number of fluid ounces of the 3-way herbicide to add per gallon of water in a pump-up sprayer. If a second application is needed, apply the herbicide in spot treatments about 30 days later. Do not spray lawns under drought stress or if temperatures are over 90 °F. Do not spray during the spring green-up of warm-season turfgrasses.

In addition to three-way herbicides, there are several other herbicides that can be used for lespedeza control in home lawns. Atrazine may be used to control lespedeza in centipedegrass and St. Augustinegrass only. Atrazine is a post-emergence broadleaf weed killer that also controls several common grassy weeds and has some pre-emergence activity. Do not apply atrazine to lawns during the spring green-up or if the turfgrass is under drought stress. Do not apply atrazine sprays if the temperatures will exceed 90 °F. Examples of products containing atrazine are:

  • Southern Ag Atrazine St. Augustine Weed Killer
  • Hi-Yield Atrazine Weed Killer

Note: Read and follow all label instructions when using herbicides. Repeat herbicide spot applications may be required for acceptable control. Read the product label for the number of permitted applications per year and the time interval between sprays. Do not mow within 48 hours after application of most herbicides. Most post-emergence herbicides need to dry on the leaf surface before irrigation or rainfall occurs. See Table 1 for turfgrass tolerance to herbicides.

CAUTION: Most herbicides should not be applied during spring transition (green-up period of a warm-season turfgrass lawn) or when air temperatures exceed 90 ºF, as this can cause severe damage to the turfgrass. A newly seeded lawn should be mowed a minimum of three times before applying an herbicide. Rainfall or irrigation a day or two prior to herbicide application reduces the chance of turfgrass injury and enhances weed uptake of the herbicide.

A more recent herbicide combination of thiencarbazone, iodosulfuron, and dicamba, as found in Celsius WG Herbicide, is selective to control many broadleaf weeds and several grass weeds in all four of the common warm-season grasses. It cannot be used in fescue lawns but can be used to remove fescue from warm-season lawns. Apply when annual lespedeza is actively growing and again 2 to 4 weeks later. The addition of a non-ionic surfactant, such as Southern Ag Surfactant for Herbicides, Hi-Yield Spreader Sticker Non-Ionic Surfactant, or Bonide Turbo Spreader Sticker, will increase control. Celsius WG Herbicide is safe to apply during spring green-up of warm-season grasses. Follow label directions for mixing and use.

Metsulfuron, such as in Quali-Pro MSM Turf Herbicide, gives very good control of lespedeza in bermudagrass, centipedegrass, St Augustinegrass, and zoysiagrass lawns. Quali-Pro Fahrenheit Herbicide also contains dicamba along with metsulfuron. For these two professional use products, a non-ionic surfactant, such as Southern Ag Surfactant for Herbicides, Hi-Yield Spreader Sticker Non-Ionic Surfactant, or Bonide Turbo Spreader Sticker, is required at 2 teaspoons per gallon of spray mix for best control. A non-ionic surfactant will help the herbicide adhere to the leaves for increased penetration.

Do not apply metsulfuron to a lawn if over-seeded with annual ryegrass or over-seed for 8 weeks after application. Do not plant woody ornamentals in treated areas for one year after the application of metsulfuron. Do not apply metsulfuron herbicides within two times the width of the drip line of desirable hardwood trees. Do not apply metsulfuron products to lawns under drought stress or when high temperatures are above 85 °F. Follow label directions for mixing and use.

Table 1. Turf Tolerance to Herbicides for Lespedeza Control.

Herbicide Bermudagrass Centipedegrass St. Augustinegrass Tall Fescue Zoysiagrass
atrazine D S S NR NR
(3- way) 2,4-D +

MCPP + dicamba

S I I S S
metsulfuron S S S-I NR S
thiencarbazone, iodosulfuron, & dicamba1 S S S2 NR S
S = Safe at labeled rates
I = Intermediate safety, use at reduced rates
NR = Not registered for use on and/or damages this turfgrass.
D = Fully dormant turf only. However, during the warmer winter weather of recent years, bermudagrass lawns have not gone fully dormant in South Carolina.
Note: Do not apply post-emergence herbicides, except Celsius WG Herbicide, to lawns during the spring green up of turfgrass.
1 This mix of active ingredients requires the addition of 2 teaspoons of a non-ionic surfactant (that is, a wetter-sticker agent to aid in weed control, added at 0.25% by volume) per gallon of water, such as Hi-Yield Spreader Sticker.
2 Spot treatments to St. Augustinegrass at temperatures above 90 degrees may cause temporary growth regulation.

In Landscapes: If lespedeza is a problem in landscape beds, glyphosate can be used for spot treatments around ornamental plants. Examples of concentrated glyphosate (41% or more) products are:

  • Roundup Original Concentrate,
  • Roundup Pro Herbicide,
  • Martin’s Eraser Systemic Weed & Grass Killer,
  • Quick Kill Grass & Weed Killer,
  • Bonide Kleenup Weed & Grass Killer 41% Super Concentrate,
  • Hi-Yield Super Concentrate,
  • Maxide Super Concentrate 41% Weed & Grass Killer,
  • Super Concentrate Killzall Weed & Grass Killer,
  • Tiger Brand Quick Kill Concentrate,
  • Ultra Kill Weed & Grass Killer Concentrate,
  • Gordon’s Groundwork Concentrate 50% Super Weed & Grass Killer,
  • Zep Enforcer Weed Defeat III,
  • Eliminator Weed & Grass Killer Super Concentrate,
  • Monterey Remuda Full Strength 41% Glyphosate,
  • Knock Out Weed & Grass Killer Super Concentrate,
  • Southern States Grass & Weed Killer Concentrate II,
  • Total Kill Pro Weed & Grass Killer Herbicide,
  • Ace Concentrate Weed & Grass Killer.

Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that should be used with caution. Do not allow glyphosate spray mist to contact ornamental foliage or stems as severe injury will occur. A cardboard shield may be used to prevent glyphosate spray from drifting to nearby ornamentals. Since lespedeza may not be completely controlled with less strong glyphosate sprays, use a 5% spray solution of glyphosate. Follow label directions for mixing and use.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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