Author: Stefan Palm   Date Posted: 24 July 2023 

There is one sure thing about Winter for gardeners and that is the annual invasion of Sour Sobs! The big question is - how do you control them?

At this time of year, Sour sobs can be a serious problem in lawns and gardens. They are one of the most common weeds in South Australia and are classified as a noxious species. 

They are seasonal and only grow from May right through to September. According to Herbguide, over 1.25 million hectares of land in South Australia is infested with Sour sob. Unfortunately, there is no simple or fast way to get rid of them however, with persistence, you can win the battle!

Most authorities on the subject agree that Soursobs were introduced into South Australia from South Africa in 1841, recognised as a weed in the 1850′s, and by 1879 was a serious weed of wheat and gardens.

Geoff Manning writes in his Insight into South Australian History, “Aching gardeners will be enchanted to know that the chiropractor's friend, the sour sobs, were deliberately imported from Tasmania, whither the beastly things had been introduced!”

When Sour sobs first emerge, they can easily be mistaken for clover. There are several ways to identify a sour sob when it is young, but by far, the easiest is to pull one out. If the weed looks like clover and has a single, long, white, tuberous root, then it is almost certainly a Sour sob. Of course, as they mature, they send up a familiar yellow flower which will give them away straight away.

What makes Soursobs so persistent is that they have bulbs and bulbils attached to their root systems. Most people have heard of a bulb but maybe not a bulbil. A bulbil is a small secondary type bulb that is attached to the root. At the right time in the plant's life cycle, it will detach from the main plant and produce a new sour sob of its own. When the weed is physically removed, mown off or poisoned, the bulbils remain in the soil and simply send another stand to the surface, which is less than outstanding news for anyone wanting to get rid of them. Each sour sob weed produces, on average 1 bulb and up to 20 bulbils making them highly invasive and hard to control.

An interesting point to consider when tackling sour sobs is that each bulb or bulbil can only produce one sour sob. Once you remove the sour sob, then the bulb dies. In this way, persistent removal of the weed will eventually conquer it, especially if you remove it while it's a juvenile and has not yet formed its own bulbils.

There are many methods of removal, some more effective than others. Eradication can take several years of repetitive removal, either by physical or chemical means, before you kill off all the bulbs and bulbils in the soil. The aim of the game is to restrict the weed’s capacity to produce bulbils and ultimately exhaust the bulbs that already exist in the soil.

Removal methods could include:

1) Hand-pulling them. I know- It sounds like a ludicrous idea, especially if you have heaps of them. As will all removal methods, it will take a few seasons of persistence,  but it will absolutely do the job in the long term. The goal is that you remove sour sobs as they appear, so in that sense, it doesn't matter by which means you do that (e.g. hand pulling, chemical or otherwise). This method is especially good for those that don't want to use chemicals. 

2) Spot spray with a non-selective herbicide such as Glyphosate (Roundup/zero etc).  Be careful, as chemicals like this will kill everything they come into contact with

3) Try a selective herbicide mixed with a wetting agent. such as Amgrow Bin-Die. Selective herbicides will target the weed and won't harm the lawn, provided that you spray at the recommended rate. Mix a wetting agent with the chemical for better results - use about 5-10ml per 5 litre mix you make up. You'll need to spray at least 3 times at monthly intervals to have any success with this method. 

Try not to let the weed excessively flower. This is when it is most likely to produce bulbils which, of course, leads to more weeds.  When it comes to controlling sour sobs in a lawn, there are no quick fixes. Regular mowing so that they don’t excessively flower is helpful. 

Persistence is the key. However you choose to remove sour sobs, do it often in order to win the battle. Expect to continue to treat for sour sobs for 2-3 seasons in order to achieve any level of control.  Remember that you will no doubt have an extensive collection of bulbs and bulbils that will progressively come up during the cold months. You want to kill these weeds before they produce bulbils of their own.

Comments (12)

Removing soursobs in a kikuyu lawn

By: on 17 May 2023
Hi. How best to remove a fairly substantial infestation of soursobs in a known kykuyu lawn please ? Cheers, Deb

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Deb Thanks for your enquiry We recommend a broadleaf weed spray such as Amgrow Bin-Die Killer. This can be used on Kikuyu lawns. For maximum results spray every few weeks until you exhaust the soursobs out of the lawn. Persistence is the key to beat it

Soursob in sapphire buffalo

By: on 14 August 2021
Hi there, I have a 4mx6m patch of sapphire buffalo that has unfortunately become overgrown with soursob. Are they any overall pesticides that will target only the weed or do I risk killing the entire lawn? Will fertilising the lawn more regularly help it to fend off the weed? Thanks!

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Olivia Thanks for your enquiry You can use a product called Yates Buffalo Pro. This won't hurt your lawn and controls most broadleaf weeds including Soursobs. The key is to keep repeating the spray every couple of weeks until it is exhausted out of the lawn. Fertilising is best done in Spring and will help keep your lawn healthy and strong


By: on 8 April 2021
Hi Paul We are building a new house (West Beach) on an old tennis court which was couch with plenty of soursobs . My strategy is to spray with zero every time I see a soursob so after 10 months we can establish a lawn. Do I need to do more. Cheers Rob

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Rob Thanks for your enquiry Yes, using Zero or any other Glyphosate type product is fine. The main key is to be consistent and persistent spraying regularly every few weeks

Does adding soap to Bin-die help ?

By: on 29 May 2020
When spraying soursobs in a lawn with Bin-Die, does it help the uptake of the poison if you add a little dish detergent to the mix ?

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Steve Yes, you can add a few drops of it in the mix. This can help it stick to the leaf for better results

How to get rid of soursobs in a lawn of couch gras

By: on 10 May 2020
My lawn in mainly couch grass, kikuyu and over a week soursob came to the surface. I do not wish to kill the couch grass/kikuyu with Round Up but would like to control the soursob. What is the best way to control the soursob without harming the lawn?

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Don Thanks for your query You can use a product called Amgrow Bin-Die killer. This won’t hurt your Couch/Kikuyu lawn but will control the soursobs and other broadfleaf weeds. The product will need to be applied every 2-3 weeks until you exhaust it out of the lawn. One application won’t be enough as the soursobs have multiple bulbs. Thank you Andrew

Spot spraying with glyphosate

By: on 8 May 2020
Hi I have soursobs coming up everywhere in my very poorly santa anna couch lawn which i have overplanted with 30cm x 30cm patches of kenda kikuyu (which is going well thanks!). Would it be okay to spray some of the worst patches of soursobs with some glyphosate and put up with the dead patches knowing that good old rock solid kikuyu will get in there eventually and fill the holes? Maria from Glenelg North

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Maria Thanks for your query I would recommend using a product called Amgrow Bin-Die killer. This is safe to use on Kikuyu and Couch and will control soursobs in your lawn. As soursobs have multiple bulbs you just need to repeat the spray every 2-3 weeks until it is exhausted out of the lawn. Hope this helps Andrew

Paving an area where sour sobs had been growing

By: on 5 October 2019
We had a 63 square meter area paved. The paving guys didn’t poison they said there was no need to. 1 month later the pavers were moving and had risen. When they pulled them up there was a mass of white roots from the sour sobs underneath which had made nearly all the pavers move. We have poisoned the ground many times with round up and no sour sobs have come through. Worried that we will have paving redone and the same will happen again due to the roots being so far down. Not sure what to do. Can you please help.

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Chris Thanks for your query You can try a product called Bantox. This controls weeds and grasses and also prevents them from coming up long term for a few seasons Hope this helps you out. Andrew

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