What You Should Know About Different Types of Lawn Weeds

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It’s an all too familiar situation. It seems like you have done everything right this year and your lawn is going to make it through the growing season without any unwanted guests moving in on its root system and its territory.  However, surely enough, these unwanted guests end up showing up – weeds.

Weeds. They seemingly grow overnight, out of nowhere, to discount the hard work you have put into your lawn all year.

You aren’t alone in this battle.  Many homeowners wage the same war every year. Even the healthiest, thickest lawn often have to contend with some form of common lawn weeds.

There are several things you should know about different types of lawn weeds.  Below you will learn about the different types of weeds and the reasons they show up in your lawn.  You will also learn different ways to remove them and control their aggregate growth in your lawn.

A bunch of three leaf clovers in a lawn.
Clover taking over a lawn

Why Do Weeds Grow In Your Lawn

Weeds are opportunistic plants. They take advantage of different weak spots in your lawn.  The best defense you can engage in is ensuring you use proper maintenance practices when caring for your lawn.  Just because you are trying to take care of your lawn does not mean that you are caring for it properly.

Poor maintenance practices are the primary reason that weeds begin to overtake your lawn.  Essentially, you are creating a prime environment for the spreading of weed seeds and the unencumbered growth of these unwanted plants.

Common mistakes include:

  • Improper irrigation
  • Improper fertilization
  • Compacted soil
  • Cutting the grass too low
  • Using poor quality grass seed
  • Importing store bought soil

These practices are entirely preventable and only require a little bit of research on your part.  These are things that can be amended reasonably quickly by ensuring that your maintenance processes are being performed correctly.

Because lawn and plant weeds are opportunistic, they will grow anywhere that they can find room.  That can be in sections of your lawn that are thinning, or in places where you have overwatered. Weeds will even grow in the cracks of your driveway if left untreated.

Every lawn is unique and is different from the next.  So get to know your lawn and listen to what it’s telling you. Understanding your lawn’s needs, combined with the best possible maintenance techniques, are the best medicine for keeping the weeds away.

A bunch of white clover
White clover

Common Types of Lawn Weeds

A lot of people wrongfully assume that a weed is a weed.  They are all the same and can be eliminated with one broad, blanketed treatment that covers them all. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Weeds differ in their overall life cycles, in the composition of their root system, and in their physical appearance (broadleaf or grassy). Proper identification of the weeds in your lawn is key to combating their growth as there are different treatments for different types of weeds.

A couple of ragweed are in the foreground in focus.
Ragweed

Weeds Categorized Based on Their Life Cycles

Annual Weeds

These weeds spread seed, germinate, and grow for one season and then naturally die off. These include:

  • Oxalis
  • Chickweed
  •  Bittercress
  • Witchgrass
  • Goosegrass
  • Crabgrass

Biennial Weeds

This type of lawn weed has a two-year life cycle.  The first year the seed spreads, germinates, and grows into a leafy plant-like weed.  The second year, the weed will flower and produce seeds to renew the life cycle for the generations that follow.  These new seeds germinate and will continue the circle of life.

Biennial weeds include:

  • White campion
  • Wild carrot
  • Bull thistle
  • Evening primrose
  • Burdock
Burdock with their magenta, spiky flowers
Burdock

Perennial Weeds

A perennial weed is a description of a lawn weed that returns every year and typically produces long taproots in addition to seeds.  They reproduce by not only spreading seed but through their root systems as well.

Perennial weeds include:

  • Dandelion
  • Canada thistle
  • Ground ivy (also known as creeping Charlie)
  • Poison ivy
  • Ragweed
  • White clover
  • Field bindweed
  • Yellow nutsedge

Weeds Categorized Based on Appearance

Broadleaf Weeds

The one thing that all of these types have in common is their broad leaves. These weeds’  leaves are divided into two by a vein running down the center with smaller veins branching out from it.

They do not come in a specific style and can be either annual, biennial, or perennial in their growing cycles.

Broadleaf weeds can bloom in single flowers or clusters.  Their fibrous roots can be made up of a thin roots system, a large taproot, or a combination of the two.  Broadleaf weeds can grow upright and vertically or spread across the ground horizontally.

Finally, the stems of these weeds can be either round or square.

Weeds of this type include:

  • Clover
  •  Violets
  • Chicory
  • Prostrate spurge
Chicory with their purple flowers. Will need post-emergent herbicide to get rid of these.
Chicory

Grassy Weeds

Weeds of this type have garnered the name because they look like desirable grasses they are surrounded by and are far more difficult to detect in your lawn.  Grassy weeds can prove challenging to remove without causing damage to your lawn.  Frequently, the herbicides designed to kill grassy weeds will also kill the existing grass because they are similar in composition.

The blades of these grassy weeds emerge as a single leaf from a germinated grass seed. These weeds grow to be long with parallel veins and round, hollow stems. These possess closed joints (nodes) with alternating leaf blades on each side.

Some specific forms of grassy weeds include:

  • Annual bluegrass
  • Carpetgrass
  • Bermuda grass
  • Annual ryegrass
Bermuda grass with a flower budding out of it
Bermuda Grass

How Do You Control the Growth of Common Lawn Weeds

There are several different ways that you can keep your lawn flourishing without the significant intrusion of weeds.

You should remember that your lawn is different from your neighbor’s lawn.  Their soil may be compacted while yours may have the correct density.  Your lawn may consist of a beautiful bed of Kentucky bluegrass with different needs than the Bahia grass right next door.

The point is that you should take the time to learn your lawn and its needs.

Preventative maintenance, when done correctly, is always the best solution for not only keeping your lawn healthy but keeping the invasion of unwanted weeds to a minimum.

Here are some ideas that will keep these undesirable plants from stealing the sunlight, water, and nutrients the root system of your healthy grass needs to remain vibrant.

Yellow nutsedge that is taking over a lawn
Yellow Nutsedge

Herbicides

Pre-Emergent Herbicides

A pre-emergent herbicide should be used in early spring before the weeds ever begin to appear in your lawn.  This is generally considered the best method for weed control and prevention by lawn care professionals.

By applying a pre-emergent herbicide treatment in early spring, you curtail the growth of unwanted plant life before it ever has a chance to take root in your lawn.

Post-Emergent Herbicides

If weeds have already appeared in your lawn, then a post-emergent herbicide should be used to get rid your lawn of the weeds that are starting to take over.

The post-emergent method is not preferred because it can damage ornamental grass and other desirable plant life in and around your lawn.  Also, post-emergent herbicides are only effective on certain types of lawn weeds.

As always, use care when handling any weed killer or chemicals for lawn treatment.  Read the product description on the back of the bottle for proper application.  You should always avoid contact with the eyes and skin while also avoiding inhaling the fumes from the herbicide.

Bull thistle plants with their purple flowers in the foreground
Bull Thistle

Proper Watering

The best technique for watering your lawn is to water both deeply and infrequently.  This is because the root system of the weeds does not grow as deep as the root system of the healthy grass in your lawn.

By watering deeper into the soil, you can give your healthy grass’ roots the water it needs for optimal growth while keeping it out of reach of the relatively shallow roots of the weeds in your lawn.

By infrequently watering your lawn you are depriving the weeds’ shallow root system of the opportunity to thrive.  Shallow roots are not as healthy as deeper roots and, as a result, require more water to sustain themselves.

Hand Pull

You should always try to pull the weeds in your lawn out manually, whether that be by hand or with a garden tool like a hoe.  Ridding your lawn of weeds in this manner removes the necessity of a chemical treatment that can cause lasting damage to your lawn.

hat need to be hand pulled
Dandelions

Mulch

When you apply mulch to your lawn, you are depriving weeds of the sunlight they need to grow while at the same time keeping your soil moist.

Try and maintain 2″ of mulch in areas that you have chosen to lay it down.

Ridding your lawn of these invasive plants is going to take some time and a lot of patience.  Just when you think you have your property cleared out, they pop up all over again in a different spot.  By making sure your maintenance practices are sound and paying attention to what your lawn needs, you can keep common lawn weeds’ invasion to a minimum.  You may not win every battle you have against the weeds, but with patience and proper maintenance, rest assured, you will win the war.

Happy Planting!

About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants. Read More

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