Pasture Weeds – Henbit vs Purple Deadnettle

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Have you seen short, purple-tinted plants with little purple flowers in your pastures and hayfields? It could be either Henbit or Purple Deadnettle, they are often confused for one another! Although their control methods will be similar, it is interesting to be able to spot the difference between the two.

flowering examples of henbit and purple deadnettle

Image 1. Henbit, left. Purple deadnettle, right.

In Image 1, Henbit is on the left and purple deadnettle on the right! Henbit leaves can be described as rounded, coarsely toothed, hairy, and deeply veined. Purple deadnettle’s leaves tend to be more heart shaped and are more purple in color. According to NC State, “(Henbit) is similar to purple deadnettle in appearance but its upper leaves do not have petioles, whereas purple deadnettle’s do. Purple deadnettle also has upper leaves that are distinctly red- or purple-tinged. Purple deadnettle and henbit both have distinctive four-sided (square) stems, and flower in early spring.” More information on Henbit

Managing winter pasture weeds from robbing space, sunlight, nutrients, and water from desired forage grasses is important to ensure the quality of hay or grazing pasture this spring.

Both henbit and purple deadnettle are winter annuals that reproduce by seed. This means that to effectively control the population of either, we need to focus on limiting seed production. Because of their growth habits, you’re not likely to see effective control by mowing. It will send out another stem and flower in efforts to produce seeds to complete its life cycle.

Chemical control is a good option if you scout your pastures, plan to spray early spring or late fall into early winter, and pair it with a good management strategy. Talk to your local extension agent on chemical control options and always read the label in full on any product you plan to use.

A good pasture management plan is the best / most important tool in our toolbox of what we have to use for most weed management. It is important to think through your overall plan to make sure you’re working towards growing the best forages you can. This will help your pasture grass out-compete weeds that may have been an issue before.

Ask yourself these questions to start:

  1. Have you taken a soil sample in the last three years?
    • If you have taken a soil sample recently, did you apply lime and fertilizer per those recommendations?
  2. What measures do you take to ensure that your pasture is not overgrazed?
    • What is your stocking rate? (# of animals per acre)
    • Do you rotate pastures?
    • How short is your grass when you rotate?

These questions are a great starting point for re-evaluating your management plan for your pastures. Reach out to your local extension agent to continue this conversation.

purple deadnettle in bloom

Image 2. Purple Deadnettle

henbit in bloom

Image 3. Henbit