Least-Toxic Control of Plantains Choose a different pests


Pest type: Plants

According to UC IPM:
Broadleaf and buckhorn plantain (Plantago major and P. lanceolata) are major weeds of turf, ornamentals, gardens, waste areas, forage legumes, and pastures. Broadleaf plantain is also known as common plantain and dooryard plantain. Other names for buckhorn plantain are narrow-leaf plantain, ribwort plantain, English plantain, and ribgrass. The genus, Plantago, consists of about 250 species worldwide, 16 of which are found in California. Both broadleaf and buckhorn plantain were introduced from Europe and followed the European settlement of North America. For this reason, one common name for the plantains is “white man’s foot.”

Broadleaf plantain is a perennial plant that grows best in moist areas with full sun or partial shade and compacted soil. Its fibrous root system is primarily found in the top 18 inches of soil. The smooth, oval leaf blades are 2 to 6 inches in length with five to seven ribs that parallel the leaf margins. The leaf veins converge at the base into a broad petiole (leaf stem) that may be up to 5 inches in length. The upright flowering stalk terminates in a long cylindrical spike head that may be 2 to 6 inches in length. Seeds are small (1/16 inch in diameter), reddish brown, and angular.

Buckhorn plantain is a perennial plant that has a taproot and longer, narrower oval leaves than broadleaf plantain. Its leaves measure 3 to 12 inches in length, are 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches wide, and have three to five ribs. The blade merges smoothly into the petiole, which is shorter than that of broadleaf plantain. The base of the leaf stalks and the crown of the plant are covered with tan, woolly hairs. The flowering stalk of buckhorn plantain is much longer than that of broadleaf plantain; it measures from 12 to 18 inches. Its dense spike of flowers is about 1 to 2 inches in length and shorter than the spike of broadleaf plantain. Seeds are black, shiny, boat shaped, and about 1/16 inch in length.

Is it a problem?

According to UC IPM:
Weeds may cause allergies or lead to skin rash on contact. Most weeds are simply a nuisance because they are considered unappealing in a lawn. A few weeds should be tolerated, but weed infestations that overtake turfgrass are signs of unhealthy soil. Plantains can be a major weed problem for turfgrass or ornamental managers. In turfgrass they form dense clumps that give poor footing for athletic fields and golf courses. The plantains have a texture and color that varies from normal turf cultivars, and their flower stalks extend above the turf, reducing its aesthetic quality. When plantains infest turfgrass or ornamental plantings, they usually form dense populations of individual plants. Plantain crowds out desirable species and reduces the vigor of those plants that survive.

On the other hand, young leaves of broadleaf plantain are sometimes used as a potherb or in salads. Older leaves can be steeped in hot water to produce a tea that some use as a mouthwash to treat mouth sores and toothaches. A poultice is also made to treat sores, blisters, insect bites, and other external injuries. Whole seeds have a laxative effect if eaten raw. With the recent interest in medicinal plants, many plantain-related products are now available for upper respiratory tract infections and other ailments.

Pest prevention practices

Remove potential habitat
Foster natural resilience
Cover cropping

In-Depth Information:

According to UC IPM:
Once a few plants become established in turfgrass or ornamental areas, seed and plant parts can contaminate equipment, particularly lawn mowers, and spread to new areas. Cleaning equipment prior to moving to a new area can reduce the spread of plantains and other weeds.

Solitary new plantain seedlings along fence rows, roadsides, flowerbeds, and in turf should be removed before they produce seed. The area should then be monitored for several months to make sure that removal was complete. Areas with infestations should be isolated and seed heads removed until control can be accomplished.

Having healthy soil, using at least two native turfgrasses, proper watering, and a sensible landscape design can all help your lawn ecosystem develop a natural resistance to weeds. Indeed, plantains and other weeds in your lawns are often a sign that the balance of your soils are off. Low pH, low fertility, soil compaction and poor drainage tend to promote plantain growth, so aerate your lawns, apply lime to raise the pH levels, avoid overwatering and test your soil for proper fertilization guidelines. Dense stands of turf and ornamentals will shade the soil surface making establishment of new plantain seedlings more difficult, so keeping a mowing height of 2-3 inches should help to crowd out new weeds.

Monitoring and record-keeping

Keep an eye out in your lawn for areas where plantains begin to take root. The first ones may be a sign that your soils are compacted and too low in pH.

Non-chemical and mechanical controls

Create a barrier
Mow lawn above 2 inches
Aerate soils
Proper watering
Remove debris and habitat
Handpick and destroy

In-Depth Information:

According to UC IPM, one of the most important management methods is to prevent soil compaction, which provides the conditions under which this weed grows best. Arrange landscapes so that soil is less likely to become compacted. Spread out foot and vehicle traffic over a broader area. Use fences or hedges to reduce traffic and install rock or pavement pathways where traffic cannot be avoided. Do not trample areas soon after irrigation or rainfall. Arrange soccer fields and athletic areas so that heavily used areas such as goals, midfields, and sidelines can be rotated. Loosening the soil in lawns to provide better drainage and a better environment for more desirable species can be beneficial. If areas are compacted, loosen the soil and overseed with a locally adapted grass seed.

Prevention is very important. Pulling or hand-hoeing is helpful if done periodically during the year. However, regrowth from the extensive crown system limits the effectiveness of this method. By preventing isolated plantain plants from producing seeds in and around production fields, you can reduce the seed source for new seedling establishment. A healthy vigorous crop stand can shade out and discourage germination of new seedlings. Plantain can be managed in orchards through summer cultivations or by maintaining a competitive cover crop.

Mulching with landscape fabrics can be effective for controlling seedlings of both species. Even established broadleaf plantain can be controlled if the fabric is overlapped and no light is allowed to penetrate to the soil. Cover fabric mulches with an organic mulch to improve aesthetics. Organic mulches may also effectively control plantain seedlings if they are at least 3 inches deep, are coarse enough, and regularly inspected and weeded so they do not serve as a growth medium for new plantain seedlings. Because mulches degrade over time, regular inspection is necessary to ensure adequate shading and prevention of weed establishment. For organic mulches, it helps to apply a 6-inch layer initially to account for the gradual degradation that will occur over the growing season. Reapply as necessary.

Biological controls

Goats are herbivorous foragers that are very effective at controlling weeds since grass is their least desirable food choice. They can be especially effective for roadside management, along railroad tracks, parks, forests, etc. Many people now make a living by contracting themselves and their herd out for weed control around the nation.

Least-toxic chemical options as a last resort

  • Horticultural vinegar, or acetic acid, is also effective at killing certain weeds. Avoid spraying other green vegetation, such as turfgrass, since this is a nonselective plant killer.
  •  Herbicidal soaps are highly refined soaps that can penetrate the waxy coating on plant leaves, causing them to dry out.

Acetic Acid (Vinegar)

Corn Gluten Meal


Chemicals to Avoid

Look at your product labels and try to avoid products containing those chemicals listed below:

(A = acute health effects, C = chronic health effects, SW = surface water contaminant, GW = ground water contaminant, W = wildlife poison, B = bee poison, LT = long-range transport)

2,4-D (C, SW, GW, W, B)

Isoxaben (GW, W)

MCPA (C, GW, W, B)

Mecoprop (MCPP) (GW, W)

Triclopyr (GW, W)