Prostrate spurge (Chameasyce maculatais) a low-growing, mat-forming, annual summer weed. It grows from a taproot that can grow to a depth of 18 inches and can spread as much as three feet across. It has milky, white sap, and the stems can be smooth or hairy. The leaves have a toothed margin; some can contain a reddish spot, earning it the pseudonym spotted spurge.
Spurge thrives in full sun, open, disturbed areas and can indicate that the soil is compacted. Compacted soil is problematic for turfgrasses. It diminishes the potential growth of the root system and can cause thin or bare spots to develop in the lawn. If you have a lot of spurge weeds in your lawn, consider aerating the lawn. For more information, please see HGIC 1200, Aerating Lawns.
Hand pulling is effective when plants are small but offers minimal control once plants mature because of the deep taproot. There are several pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides that provide effective control of spurge plants. Herbicides recommendations vary by site conditions, so please contact HGIC or your local agent for a recommendation.
A single spurge plant can produce over 1,000 seeds. The seeds germinate once the soil temperature warms above 75 °F. However, the seeds need light to germinate, so the best defense against spurge is to keep a 3-inch layer of medium to coarse mulch in beds and keep your grass cut at the upper limit of its recommended mowing height. Please see HGIC 1205 Mowing Heights for more information.
A landscape dominated by spotted spurge could be suffering from a nematode infestation. Nematodes are microscopic worms that attack the root system of plants. They are very prolific in the Sandhills and Coastal Plain of South Carolina. Nematodes cause yellowing and thinning of turf. Please see HGIC 2154, Nematode Problems in Home Lawns, for more information. If you think nematodes could be causing problems in the lawn, contact your local Clemson Extension office for information on how to submit a sample.