Broadleaf Weeds vs. Grassy Weeds: How to Tell Them Apart

green clovers and weeds in lawn

There are many types of weeds that can invade your lawn. When crafting your weed control program, you’ll need to identify the type of weed in your lawn: Is it a broadleaf weed, a grassy weed, or something else? Today, we’ll find out the differences between broadleaf weeds and grassy weeds to make identifying one from the other easier.

Once you’ve figured out whether the weed in your yard is grassy or broadleaf, you can narrow it down even further to identify the specific type of weed it is. Once you know that, you can choose the best weed control method for that type of plant. 

What counts as a weed?

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If you think only specific plants can be weeds, you are a bit mistaken. A weed is any plant that is unwanted, out of place, or unintentionally grown. By this definition, even turfgrasses and wildflowers that some homeowners grow intentionally can be considered weeds by others who don’t want them in their lawns.

Lawn weeds can be divided into three categories: broadleaf, grassy, and sedge. Each category has its own characteristics and different control methods, which is why it’s important to identify the weeds in your lawn before attempting to pull them out or apply herbicides. What works for one weed may not work for another. 

What is a broadleaf weed?

White clover (Trifolium repens)
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Broadleaf weeds are weeds that don’t look like grasses, as they have broader leaves (hence the name). Broadleaves typically belong to the group of flowering plants called dicotyledons (dicots). Many common weeds are broadleaves, including:

  • Dandelions
  • Common chickweed
  • Clovers (like white clover)
  • Ground ivy
  • Knotweeds
  • Milkweeds
  • Thistles
  • Plantains
  • Henbit

Aside from their wide leaves, you can identify broadleaf weeds by the netted veins on their leaves, which branch out in different directions instead of running parallel, as in grassy weeds. They also typically have showy flowers and a deep taproot, which grassy weeds usually lack. Learn how to identify and control these weeds in our article all about broadleaf weeds

What is a grassy weed?

Foxtails (Setaria spp)
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As their name suggests, grassy weeds are weeds that look like turfgrass. In fact, grassy weeds are grasses in their own right, belonging to the same group of flowering plants as your lawn, called monocotyledons (monocots). However, they outcompete weakened turfgrasses and are disliked for their look and (for many) their short lifespans.

Here are some common grassy weeds:

  • Crabgrass
  • Goosegrass
  • Annual bluegrass
  • Sandburs
  • Foxtails
  • Bermudagrass
  • Zoysiagrass
  • Bentgrass

Remember, a weed is any plant that is unwanted. Some turfgrasses spread so easily that they can reach into areas where they aren’t wanted and become weeds. Typically, these grasses spread quickly through rhizomes and stolons.

Telling a grassy weed from a broadleaf weed is pretty easy, but telling grassy weeds from your lawn grass itself can be a bit tricky. Check out our article all about grassy weeds to learn how to identify and control the most common culprits hiding in home lawns. 

Broadleaf weeds and grassy weeds compared

graphic for grassy weeds broadleaf weeds
Photo Credit: Juan Rodriguez

Since broadleaf and grassy weeds are typically from different groups of plants, it’s quite easy to spot the differences between them. Look at the table below to find out how they differ.

CharacteristicBroadleaf weedsGrassy weeds
Leaf widthWide leaves, broader than grassy weeds and turfgrassesLong, narrow leaves similar to blades of turfgrass
Leaf shapeMore varied than grassy weeds and turfgrassesVery little variation
Leaf margins (edges)More varied than grassy weeds and turfgrassesVery little variation
Leaf arrangement (phyllotaxy)More varied than grassy weeds and turfgrassesUsually alternate (in which only one leaf grows, as opposed to two leaves next to each other on both sides of the stem)
Leaf veinsNetted veins (meaning they branch out like a tree); can be pinnate or palmate Parallel veins (meaning they run in parallel lines along the length of the leaf)
Flowers● Usually showier than grassy weeds and turfgrasses
● Have petals in multiples of four or five
● Flowers are unremarkable
● Have petals in multiples of three
Stems● Usually solid
● Nodes usually have one or two leaves
● Usually hollow and rounded
● Nodes are usually hard and closed
Root systemBroadleaves have taproots, which is a thick root with smaller branches that digs deep into the ground.Grassy weeds have fibrous roots, which are a collection of smaller, thinner roots that spread out horizontally instead of digging straight down.
SeedlingsSprout with two “leaves”Sprout with one “leaf”

While broadleaf and grassy weeds do differ a lot, they also have similarities. Weeds spread very fast, no matter the type of weed. They also thrive when your lawn is in poor shape, so always keep your turf in top form with good lawn care practices to prevent weeds of all shapes and sizes. 

FAQ about broadleaf and grassy weeds

How do you prevent weeds from overtaking your lawn?

Good lawn maintenance goes a long way. Staying on top of properly mowing and watering your lawn make up the bulk of weed prevention, but it’s also important to practice proper lawn fertilization. Too much or too little of anything can be harmful, even in lawn care.

Why do we need to classify and identify weeds?

It’s important for homeowners to know what weeds are in their lawns because it helps them formulate a proper weed control program. For example, controlling broadleaf weeds through hand-pulling can be more difficult, as you need to remove the deep taproot in its entirety. Another example is how annual weeds are easier to control than perennial weeds.

Proper weed identification is also important so you know what type of weed killer should be used and when. Winter annuals should be targeted with a post-emergent herbicide in the fall or early spring, for example. Knowing when a weed is expected to sprout will also make pre-emergent herbicides more effective.

What category is nutsedge?

Although nutsedge (also called nutgrass) looks like grass and can be considered a grass-like weed, it’s a different category when it comes to weed control. These monocots are notoriously difficult to get rid of, so it’s important to know the distinction, as not all weed killers that work on grassy weeds will work on sedges like nutsedge.

Are there broadleaf weeds that look like grasses?

There are some broadleaf weeds that do look like grass, such as doveweed. However, that doesn’t make them grassy weeds. Their method of control can be quite different, so always check your weeds carefully using the identification tips in this article. 

When to hire a professional weed control service

If you’re unsure about your weed identification skills or simply don’t have the time to weed out unwanted plants, then it might be time to bring in the big guns. Professional lawn care services have the knowledge and expertise to get rid of weeds plaguing your lawn so that you don’t have to worry about doing it yourself. Connect with a Lawn Love pro today to take care of all your lawn care and landscaping needs, including weed control.

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Janine Caayao

Janine Caayao has always been fascinated with growing plants, from fruits and veggies to bonsai trees and orchids. Now, she’s interested in urban gardening with her family. She loves finding new tips and tricks to keep their plants thriving.