“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.” - A.A. Milne
Weeds really love the comfy environment that our manicured lawns provide! After all, these rugged, adventitious plants have hard-earned their place after generations of survival in far harsher environments and know a thing or two about how to thrive where they’re not wanted.
While it isn’t so bad to let a few native flowers run amok in the backyard, the front lawn is usually best maintained to uphold curb appeal standards.
Many of these weeds are edible and medicinal plants that were intentionally brought here by immigrants and used as leafy vegetables that grew anywhere and everywhere - fast. Easily providing them nutrient-dense greens for themselves or their livestock. Others hitchhiked here in horseshoes and boot treads, earning many names like ‘White Man's Footprint’ because they sprung up everywhere colonial travelers went.
Regardless of whether these are natives or imports - when they pop up in the lawn, they can quickly become an issue! Here are 10 more Top Lawn Weeds and how to get rid of them best!
Before you villainize these plants, remember they’re just doing what comes naturally! Who wouldn’t want to grow in that pampered, enriched environment, regular moisture, and frequent applications of fertilizer? It really is greener in your manicured lawn than in the gutter!
Your typical lawn grass is part of the monocot family and that is why broadleaf weed killers destroy everything else that doesn’t grow with parallel veins. Knowing what to apply and when can make or break your victory lawn.
Whether it’s your typical native wildflower that is struggling to hold onto its shrinking environment, the noxious weed that can be somewhat harmful to crops, health, wildlife, or property, or the invasive, non-native weed imports brought over from elsewhere and now erupted into the environment.
Here are the top weeds typically found causing problems in your lawn.
Prostrate Knotweed is a very widespread and very common annual herb/weed that is related to Buckwheat and Dock. Found in all 50 states, it is a very widespread and invasive plant. Low-growing and rooting at nodes along the way, the plant is named for its round ‘knuckles’ or ‘knots’ at each leaf node. Spreading out from a central rosette and taproot Polygonum is also known as Wire or Knot Grass.
It can release growth-inhibiting chemicals into the soil that kills other plants and seems to thrive in compact soils with low oxygen. Sometimes with reddish stems, reddish nodes, and even a white bloom to the foliage, the tough stems can take on a woody texture after years of mowing. Making hand removal difficult. It grows early, grows fast, and spreads easily while dispersing thousands of seeds. Finding its way into lawn edges, sidewalk cracks, and bare spots fast.
Treat in spring and summer with a combination of lawn aeration, mowing to remove flowers before they become seeds, improving drainage of your soil, hand-pulling, and pre-emergents, plus 2 4-D and herbicides that contain dicamba and glyphosate.
Native Spotted Spurge, or Prostrate Spurge (Euphorbia), is an annual flat-growing and fast-growing weed that spreads wide from a rosette and taproot-like Knotweed but has very flat leaves and a reddish spot in the center of each green leaf. Identified by their Euphorbia family’s milky white sap that can be a skin irritant.
Spreading through waste areas, garden beds, and bare spots, it quickly gains a foothold in the edges and crevices of your lawn or pavement. These annual weeds can grow up to 3 feet across and seeds that are made that summer will sprout and take hold before winter!
Wear gloves when pulling by hand and use pre-emergents in spring and summer, while applying broadleaf weed herbicides in between to control large infestations. Feeding your lawn to strengthen it, covering and filling bare spots, mowing high to shade Spurge out, and watering deeply but less often are ways to support your lawn so it can take care of this problem on its own.
Darling little native Viola growing around the edges of your lawn and garden may look nice, but in some areas, they can become a nuisance. Like Dandelions and Clover, let them bloom for the bees, then treat them later in the season before they go to seed. The heart-shaped leaves and lovely white, lavender, or blue flowers are usually welcome sights in spring anyway! Violets can spread fast by seeds, rhizomes, and stolons, and won’t require much maintenance or fuss. They love the shade and turfgrass varieties become less vigorous in shade, allowing Violets to take over. If Violets are a problem in your yard, you may have too much shade to plant grass and you might consider using something else instead.
Add untreated flowers to salads and as a garnish, candy them for desserts, or make them into beautiful pink and purple jelly, while some use the leaves medicinally and in culinary applications too.
But when Violets get out of control its time to hand pull with gloves, ensuring you get the entire clump and taproot, or apply a broadleaf killer that contains 2,4-D or Dicamba, or herbicide with a spreader/sticker to help it stick to the waxy leaves better. Apply herbicide in the fall for best results.
Difficult to control because of the sheer amount of seeds, aerial bulblets, and their resilient perennial bulbs that multiply underground. This cold-hardy and early-blooming Wild Allium family members may look pretty when in full flower, and are often smothered in honeybees and pollinators, but they can spread fast and become a problem before you can blink! Usually jumping the borders of veggie gardens or from the wild, untreated patches can be used as you would an Onion, Chive, Garlic or Garlic scapes, even the blooms are edible! Native here in North America, these are not imports, but just highly adaptable plants.
Easily identified by their onion and garlic smell when crushed, forming dense clumps and having a hollow, round stem, Allium family members typically have white flowers and white bulbs underground with papery covers similar to larger store-bought onions and garlic. They are cold tolerant, handle wet soil, and are drought resistant, so are part of many alternative lawn plants and great for pollinator-friendly prairie and garden designs.
Hand-pulling results in leaving behind the bulblets that form around the mother bulb, so you need to dig deep and collect all the bulbs in the soil and remove them completely. Otherwise, spot treating with an herbicide for lawns while following the steps noted above on keeping your lawn healthy so it can fight back on its own. Reducing competition and shading out the invaders while dethatching and aerating your lawn regularly helps too.
Also known as Ground Ivy, Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) is a perennial vine that spreads both above ground and below, and by seed. The pretty scalloped leaves and purple flowers are welcome in backyards, shady areas, and out-of-the-way locations for the bees, their low-growing beauty, and incredibly adaptable. Many alternative lawn choices include this lovely member of the Mint family.
Common throughout the UK, Ground Ivy most likely was inadvertently transported by settlers. Now, some people actually plant this instead of using turfgrass, especially in very shaded locations where the grasses do not do well but Creeping Charlie will thrive. Used as an alternative to hops for brewing, it has the family scent and flavor and is sometimes used medicinally.
Broadleaf weed killer is best if you have lots of Creeping Charlie, but not always very effective. Otherwise, hand pulling, frequent mowing, improving your soil's drainage, and watering less frequently help prevent Glechoma from getting a foothold. Like other members of the Mint family, leaving behind even the smallest root or stem will have it completely regrow. Smothering may be the only recourse if you have a large infestation.
Also going by the names Egyptian grass, Morocco Millet, and False Guinea Grass, this aggressive Bermuda grass look-alike has a smooth glossy look to its green blades and a prominent white midrib. The hairy undersides and tiered open panicle seedheads in a reddish-black tone. Growing upright but spreading via seed, underground roots, and stolons, Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense) grows and spreads fast, reaching 6 feet in some instances.
Controlling this grass is best with a preemergent application to stop its seeds from getting started in the spring - especially in areas where this is a problem. Controlling the seedling's young is easy with hand-pulling or other hand-removal methods. Considered a noxious weed in many parts of the US, Johnsongrass was introduced as livestock forage. Large infestations need to be controlled in the autumn with Roundup, salt of glyphosate, or a foliar systemic herbicide that kills at the roots.
Also known as Snake Plants, Broad-Leaf Plantain, Buckhorn Plantain, and Slender-Leaf Plantain, these perennial weeds choose compacted soil locations, bare spots, and areas where grass has died, preferring those over the deep, fluffy, enriched locations in the main lawn, so usually they’re not a big problem. Plantain (Plantago spp.) happily pops up in both sun and shade. Brought over on purpose for medicine and by accident as seeds in the hooves of horses carried over by pilgrims, spread by wagons and boots as settlers spread out across the States.
A single flowering shoot can have thousands of tiny seeds. However, you may recognize these seeds - they’re better known as Psyllium which is the primary component of many over-the-counter bulk-forming laxatives used to treat constipation. The plant leaves are used medicinally for skin issues, used in salves, and dried, then drank as a tea. Growing from a rosette and deep taproot, these broad leaves have monocot-like parallel veins but they are not in the monocot family.
Best controlled with a broadleaf weed killer in the fall, by hand pulling and ensuring they don’t go to seed. Another method of prevention is preventing your soil from becoming hardpan and compacted.
Another prostate-growing rosette-forming grass, Barnyard or Cockspur grass is a summer annual that grows spiky purple seeds and bright green foliage. Like Crabrass, it can have reddish stems closer to the rosette and is related to the Millet food crop. However, it is a noxious agricultural weed that can severely deplete soil nitrogen levels. One plant can produce up to 40,000 seeds!
Barnyardgrass (Echinochloa crus-galli) can grow up to 5 feet in height when in seed. Hand-pull small quantities of this grass, and it’s best to control it before it gets too large or goes into seed. Spray with Roundup or other turfgrass herbicides to control.
The Virginia Buttonweed (Diodia virginiana) is a fast-spreading broadleaf weed found in lawns throughout the southeastern United States. Its tenacity comes from its deep taproot and its perennial nature. Low-growing and spreading, rooting at the nodes as it creeps, Buttonweed does well in moisture. The four-petalled white flowers sow seeds freely.
Reduce watering and use the bare minimum to maintain your turf, and mow your grass a bit higher and more frequently during the growing season. Keep your lawn thick to out-compete this plant. Applying broad-leaf weed killers like Sulfonylurea herbicides and Trifloxysulfuron.
Kyllinga (Kyllinga brevifolia) is a flowering cool-season plant in the Sedge family commonly known as Spikesedges. The bright green blades with triangular stems have seed heads like little round spiky balls with a long trio of slender green leaves. Kyllinga does not have underground tubers like Yellow Nutsedges and has green flowers. The glossy, grassy green leaves have a neat fold right down their middle and prefer moist locations where it forms dense mats in areas of the lawn without any competition.
Kyllinga spreads by seed, horizontal, creeping, and underground stems (stolons). Preemergent works great when applied at the right time, afterward use an herbicide best for killing plants in the Sedge family that contains halosulfuron, imazosulfuron, MSMA, or trifloxysulfuron.
Most weeds need the sun to grow, so be sure to set your lawn mowing height to a taller height - more in the range of 3 inches or so if possible - which will help to shade out some of the weeds. It is always best to spray your lawn for weeds in later summer to eliminate all of the perennial weeds and eliminate the spring-sprouted seedlings before fall ends. This will prevent the weeds from setting seed in spring and spreading throughout your lawn.
Late August or September on actively growing bluegrass lawns that have been watered from rain or from irrigation.
Be sure to pick a day to spray weed killer when your grass is dry to the touch, and rain is not forecasted for 24 hours. Try to spray on a day that is not windy, and at a time when bees and other insects are not active like early in the day or early evening.
So now that you have identified your lawn problems, and have opted for spraying your weeds, follow a few words of advice to do so safely.
There is an assortment of various combinations of 2 4-D, Glyphosate, MCPA, MCPP, and Dicamba weed killers that control both weed grasses and broadleaf weeds. Boiling water, salt spot treatments, and vinegar are more natural methods, but they will also kill good plants with the bad.
Also, try to only spray during times when bees and other beneficial insects aren’t as active. (Shady days, before the sun is up fully or after the sun has set, during cooler temperatures) Try to let the Clover and Dandelions bloom early in the spring so that early emerging pollinators have something nectar-rich to eat, and treat the lawn later in the growing season when there’s more variety for them to forage.
The first step to spraying for weeds is to have the proper equipment:
This applies to both organic and synthetic sprays since none were designed for our skin, eyes, or for breathing.
These adventitious plants are not in the wrong - they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both native and invasive weeds are just doing what nature intended! Some are just a bit better at it than others, and others are prettier so they get a free pass as welcome garden additions.
Those that have not earned the ornamental landscape plant badge of approval for our gardens became villainized and unwanted, but it doesn’t mean they’re not important components to the ecosystem and to something in our environment.
Nature Hills has developed Plant Sentry™ proprietary software to ensure all our plants are compliant with State and Federal Agricultural laws throughout the entire continental US. Plant Sentry prevents the sale and shipment of plants that are restricted in each state because of insects, disease, or invasiveness.
This helps keep invasives from entering your area and spreading more than they already have! Nature Hills is watching out for our shared environment!
It’s always a great idea to plant some flowering plants in your landscape including some native plants to attract some beneficial insects to your yard. Learning to live hand in hand with our environment, leaving some food for the bees and a place for the weeds to grow, all while keeping up appearances with the neighbors is a delicate balancing act!