How to Identify and Control Broadleaf Weeds

Broad-leaved Button Weed

When lawn weeds pop up in your yard, it’s important for you to know precisely what type of weed you are dealing with. There are multiple categories of weeds, including grassy, sedge, or broadleaf weeds.

Knowing what type of weed is in your lawn will help you figure out the best way to get rid of it. We’ve created this guide for how to identify and control broadleaf weeds so homeowners can plan out the best treatment method for their weed problem.

What are broadleaf weeds?

As their name suggests, broadleaf weeds are unwanted plants with wide leaves. According to Clemson University, many broadleaf weeds are dicots, which are a separate group from grasses. Many common lawn weeds belong to this group of plants.

When comparing broadleaf weeds to grassy weeds such as crabgrass, broadleaf weeds have characteristics that make them easily distinguishable. Here are some characteristics of broadleaf weeds:

  • Large, wide leaves
  • Netted veins, where the main leaf vein branches out into smaller veins
  • Nodes with one or more leaves
  • Showy flowers (for some, not all)

Additionally, broadleaf weed seedlings germinate with two leaves (compared to grass and grassy weeds, which sprout with one). However, sometimes these leaves remain underground.

How to identify broadleaf weeds

graphic showing species features
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Identifying broadleaf weeds in a lawn is easy compared to identifying grassy weeds because broadleaf plants don’t look like turfgrass at all. However, pinpointing which specific broadleaf weed is terrorizing your lawn requires a bit more investigative work. 

Here are some characteristics to take note of that can make weed identification easier:

  • Leaves
    • Leaf shape: Broadleaf weeds have more varied leaf shapes than grassy weeds.
    • Leaf margins: These are the edges of a leaf. They can be smooth, serrated, and lobed, among others.
    • Phyllotaxy: This is the arrangement of the leaves on the stem of a plant. They can be opposite, alternate, or whorled. 
    • Presence of a leaf stalk
    • Presence of an ocrea (leaf sheath)
  • Flowers
  • Growth habit or pattern

To help homeowners identify a broadleaf weed, it is important to be aware of the different lifespans of broadleaf weeds:

  • Annual weeds go through their whole life cycle of germination, maturation, seed production, and death within 12 months. They can be divided into summer or winter annuals, depending on when they germinate.
  • Biennial weeds typically bloom in the spring and go dormant in the winter. Biennial plants only live a couple of years.
  • Perennial weeds live for multiple years and they can grow in all seasons, depending on the type of plant. 

Common broadleaf weeds

Here are some common types of broadleaf weeds you might find in your lawn and their defining characteristics.

Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major)

Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major)
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Also called ripple grass, broadleaf plantain is another incredibly common weed, possibly second only to dandelions in prevalence. Similar to dandelions, this perennial weed is edible. 

Broadleaf plantain grows in disturbed, compacted, and soggy soils. The seeds for this Eurasian native germinate in late spring, mid-summer, and sometimes even early fall. 

  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Spreads through: Seeds
  • Distinct characteristics:
    • Leaves: Egg-shaped leaves grow low and in a circle (basal rosette)
    • Flowers: White flowers bloom in spikes on a tall, straight stalk from mid-spring to early fall

Broadleaf plantain is not the only weed in the Plantago genus. Buckhorn plantain (also called narrow-leaved plantain) is another weed that can invade your lawn. The leaves of this weed are twisted and narrower than the broadleaf plantain.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

The blooming season for bull thistle lasts from June to September. The spiky green fruit at the top of its stalk is distinctive and easy to recognize. Bull thistle is a tall weed, growing up to 3 to 6 feet. 

For preventative measures, try applying pre-emergent herbicides to kill bull thistle weed seeds before they germinate in the spring or fall. If bull thistle has already appeared in your yard, be careful when hand-pulling the weed since its fleshy taproot can make it difficult to pull out.

  • Life cycle: Biennial
  • Spreads through: Seeds
  • Distinct characteristics:
    • Leaves: Lobed leaves are thin and spiny
    • Stems: The stem is tall and erect
    • Flowers: Pink magenta flowers
    • Growth habit: Produces a tall stem, called a bolt, and the flower blossoms grow on top of the long stalks

Common chickweed (Stellaria media)

Common chickweed (Stellaria media)
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Also called chickenwort and starweed, common chickweed is a winter annual that grows relatively flat. Aside from its tendency to grow low to the ground, you can identify common chickweed through its small, white flowers. 

Like dandelions, common chickweed is another edible weed. This European native likes disturbed soils best, but it’s a versatile plant that can thrive just about anywhere. 

  • Life cycle: Winter annual
  • Spreads through: Seeds
  • Distinct characteristics:
    • Leaves: Small and football-shaped with pinnate veins; arranged in pairs
    • Flowers: Clusters of small white flowers; five petals per flower, but they have deep notches that make it look like it has more
    • Growth pattern: Grows low to the ground, kind of like a mat

There are other species bearing the name “chickweed” that are also considered weeds. These are sticky chickweed (Cerastium glomeratum, also called mouse-ear chickweed) and perennial mouse-ear chickweed (C. vulgatum). The latter has stems that tend to root and grow into new plants.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
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With its sunny yellow flowers, dandelion is a common perennial weed that many homeowners can easily identify, and it’s even more recognizable when its flowers turn into a puffball of white seeds. 

Although they can grow out of control, there are benefits to dandelions on your lawn. Dandelions are quite nutritious and can be eaten, they have medicinal properties, and aside from that, they can even improve the health of your lawn.

It can be difficult to treat dandelions in your yard. If you’re hand-pulling this weed, make sure to get all of its taproot, or else it can regrow. Dandelions aren’t picky when it comes to soil preferences, and this sun-loving weed will grow just about anywhere.

  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Spreads through: Seeds; also regrow from bits of its taproot
  • Distinct characteristics:
    • Flowers: Bright yellow, around 1 to 2 inches in diameter
    • Leaves: Serrated
    • Seed head: “Puffball” seed head that children and adults alike often blow to make wishes

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederaceae)

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederaceae)
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Also known as “Creeping Charlie”, ground ivy is another common broadleaf weed. Like its name suggests, it grows very low and creeps on the ground. Ground ivy loves moist soils with bad drainage.

Aside from the popular nickname Creeping Charlie, ground ivy also goes by a lot of other names: 

  • Alehoff
  • Cat’s foot
  • Creeping jenny
  • Field balm
  • Gill-over-the-ground
  • Hay maids
  • Runaway robin

Although it is edible for humans, it is toxic to horses. When the weed flowers, its budding stem can grow up to a foot tall. Don’t mistake it for henbit, another broadleaf weed that has similar characteristics to ground ivy.

This invasive member of the mint family can be the bane of homeowners due to how difficult it is to get rid of. Hand-pulling only works if you get all of its stolons (above-ground stems); otherwise, it will regrow. You will likely have more success with an herbicide.

  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Spreads through: Seeds and creeping stolons
  • Distinct characteristics:
    • Leaves: Opposite, heart-shaped with scalloped edges
    • Flowers: Blue or purple
    • Growth pattern: Creeping, prostrate

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Sometimes called dead nettle, henbit loves moist, shady lawns, so practice proper lawn care and avoid overwatering your lawn. It’s a member of the mint family that germinates in spring and grows quickly. The flower stalks can grow 4 to 12 inches tall. 

  • Life cycle: Winter annual
  • Spreads through: Seeds
  • Distinct characteristics:
    • Leaves: Scalloped-edged 
    • Stems: Long and a purplish brown color
    • Flowers: Pink or purple flowers grow in tubular whorls

Oxalis (Oxalis stricta)

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The mildly toxic oxalis is a perennial weed with yellow flowers. Also known as yellow woodsorrel, oxalis looks similar to clover; however, its clover-like leaves are actually heart-shaped upon closer inspection. 

This broadleaf weed grows in a variety of environments, but it can be indicative of problems with your lawn, such as incorrect pH levels, pests, and disease.

Oxalis is another difficult weed to get rid of. Aside from spreading through seeds, it also spreads through rhizomes that you’ll need to get rid of to kill this weed fully. Mulching can also help keep it in check.

  • Life cycle: Perennial or annual (depending on climate)
  • Spreads through: Seeds and rhizomes (underground stems)
  • Distinct characteristics:
    • Flowers: Yellow with five heart-shaped petals
    • Leaves: Clover-like, heart-shaped, and in groups of three leaflets; will hang down during intense heat, light, and at night
    • Fruits: Okra-like

Creeping woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata) is another weedy oxalis. You can distinguish it from yellow woodsorrel through its leaves, which have a purple tinge to them.

Prostrate knotweed (Polygonum aviculare)

Prostrate knotweed (Polygonum aviculare)
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Like most prostrate weeds, prostrate knotweed can’t be controlled through mowing; it grows low to the ground where mower blades can’t reach. This summer annual grows almost anywhere — even in cracks in the pavement.

Prostrate knotweed looks similar to spotted spurge and purslane. Spurge has a milky, sticky sap and opposite leaves, while purslane has fleshy leaves and stems. Don’t look at its flowers to help distinguish it; the flowers are rather small and unremarkable.

Prostrate knotweeds’ seeds germinate in early spring, and the plant thrives during the summer season. It is also known as pigweed, and it spreads horizontally rather than vertically. 

  • Life cycle: Summer annual
  • Spreads through: Seeds
  • Distinct characteristics:
    • Leaves: Lance-shaped leaves with a sheath at the base
    • Growth pattern: Creeps on the ground

White clover (Trifolium repens)

closeup of white clovers
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While there are benefits to clover such as its use as a turfgrass alternative, some homeowners consider it a pesky weed. There are many types of clover, but white clover is the most well-known kind. 

White clover is very recognizable with its signature leaves — which it shares with other clover species — and its small, pinkish-white flowers. White clover spreads fast and likes cool temperatures.

Flowers bloom in late spring to mid-fall, growing up to heights about 8 to 12 inches tall. It performs best in moist, cool soils, although it also likes a lot of direct sunlight. 

  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Spreads through: Seeds and stolons
  • Distinct characteristics:
    • Leaves: Three leaflets with a white crescent across each leaflet
    • Flowers: Pinkish-white
    • Growth habit: Creeping. Forms patches

How to control broadleaf weeds

pulling dandelion weeds by hand
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While a strong lawn helps prevent weeds from taking root, it won’t really do much when you’re dealing with a large weed infestation. Here are some broadleaf weed control options for weeds that are already present in your lawn.

Hand-pulling weeds

Hand-pulling broadleaf weeds usually only works if the infestation is very small; it’s most effective for plants with shallow roots. If the infestation is widespread and the broadleaf weed spreads through stolons or rhizomes, hand-pulling probably won’t be viable. 

When pulling broadleaf weeds, make sure to get as much of the plant as possible, especially its roots. Trying to dig up weeds with deep roots will be a tough job and it may be easier to try a different weed control method instead.

For tackling weeds with deep roots, try using a weeding tool such as a garden trowel or a dandelion fork. 

Post-emergent herbicides

Warning: Whenever you use an herbicide, both pre-emergent and post-emergent, it’s important to always read the label directions first before you do anything else.

Post-emergent herbicides kill existing weeds. When you buy post-emergent herbicides, look for products that contain a combination of these components:

  • Dicamba
  • MCPA
  • MCPP
  • 2,4-D

You can also try spot-treating weeds with an herbicide that contains glyphosate, like Roundup. Just be aware that these are non-selective herbicides. Non-selective herbicides target and kill all plants in your yard, including your turfgrass. 

Luckily, there are also selective herbicides available that only target a specific plant. When buying herbicides, consider which type of herbicide you want. Check out our list of best post-emergent herbicides, and choose one that works on the type of weed you’re dealing with.

Usually fall is the best time to apply post-emergent herbicides to your lawn, right before your yard goes dormant for the year. If you don’t want to apply post-emergent herbicides in the fall, you also can apply them in late spring or early summer.

Here are some basic things to be careful of when you apply herbicide to your property:

  • Never spray herbicides around your yard on a windy day. The overspray might land on other plants or blow onto your neighbor’s yard and kill their plants and grass. Wait for a still day without wind before you apply herbicide.
  • Avoid getting the herbicide on grass or other plants as much as possible. Nonselective herbicides will kill any plant they land on, including healthy turfgrass.Try to be precise when you spray herbicide onto the weeds.
  • Never apply herbicides when there are new grass seeds in your lawn. Otherwise, the weed-killing chemical will stop new grass from growing and you will have to reseed your lawn again.
  • After you apply herbicide, don’t mow your lawn for at least 2-3 days. This protects your grass from being overstressed from the herbicides. Don’t mow right before you apply chemical herbicides either. 
  • Wait to water until several days after you apply broadleaf herbicide. If you water too soon after an herbicide application, it will wash away the chemical before it has time to take effect. Then you will have to reapply the herbicide again. Let the herbicide dry first.

Homemade weed killers

Homemade weed killers can be effective, but they often harm turfgrass, as well. There are natural ways to kill weeds that you can try out if you’d rather not use chemicals on your lawn. 

A few of these home remedies including using a vinegar spray or pouring boiling water onto the weeds.

How to prevent broadleaf weeds

Fertilizer pellets spreading from fertilizer
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The best offense is a good defense, and in your yard, that means maintaining a healthy lawn that can outcompete weeds. Here are some lawn maintenance tips for broadleaf weed prevention:

Pre-emergent herbicides

Pre-emergent herbicides prevent broadleaf weeds from germinating and they’re best for managing weed seeds. They won’t kill broadleaf weeds that are already growing, but they’re necessary in preventing weeds from sprouting. 

When choosing a weed control method, pick one that will kill weeds permanently so they don’t come back again next season. Some herbicides, particularly contact herbicides, don’t kill plants all the way to the root, so the weeds can regrow.

To use pre-emergent herbicides as a preventative measure, you should apply pre-emergent herbicides in the fall, usually between October to early November. If you can’t make a fall application work, you can also apply pre-emergent herbicides in late spring or early summer. 

Check out our list of the best pre-emergent herbicides and choose a product that works on broadleaf weeds, not just grassy weeds.

Proper lawn maintenance

Fertilize properly

Fertilizing the right amount at the correct time provides your lawn with the nutrients needed to grow strong. Improper fertilization can injure or kill your lawn and feed weeds instead. You can also use a soil test to know what nutrients your lawn is lacking.

When you fertilize your lawn, use a spreader to cover your grass in fertilizer. This ensures that your lawn will get the right amount of nutrients it needs.

Mow frequently

Mowing is important for your lawn’s health. Make sure to mow your lawn to the proper height for your grass type, and never cut off more than ⅓ of the grass’s total height at once. 

Frequent mowing also can injure some broadleaf weeds, and cutting off their seed heads before they go to seed stops them from spreading.

Adjust your mowing height according to what type of turfgrass you have growing in your yard. Each type of grass has a different mowing requirement and need, so know the right height for your turfgrass before you start mowing.

Here’s a chart showing the proper mowing height for different types of turfgrass:

Type of grassBest mowing height
Augustinegrass2 to 4 inches
Bahiagrass2 to 3 inches
Bentgrass¼  to ¾ inches
Bermudagrass½ to 1½ inches
Buffalograss2 to 3 inches
Centipedegrass1½ to 2½ inches
Fine fescue1½ to 2½ inches
Kentucky bluegrass1½ to 2½ inches
Ryegrass1½ to 2½ inches
Tall fescue2 to 3 inches
Zoysiagrass½ to 1½ inches

Water appropriately

Too little water will dry up your lawn and weaken it, leaving it defenseless against weeds. However, too much water can encourage weeds to grow. Water your lawn with about 1 to 1½ inches of water per week, no more and no less.

Keep in mind that it’s better for your lawn to be watered less frequently but more deeply. Avoid shorter water sessions that are more frequent; this makes it harder for your plant to develop deep roots. The best time of day to water your lawn is between 6 and 10 a.m.

Plant a new turfgrass

Some homeowners are dealing with a yard that has been so completely overrun that there isn’t much grass left. If that’s the case for your lawn, it will be an intensive and time-consuming task to try to save your yard from the weeds. 

If this situation describes your yard, you might consider reseeding your lawn with a new type of weed-resistant turfgrass after you get rid of the weeds. 

Certain cultivars are more resistant to weeds than others, since certain types of turfgrass grow densely, which stops weeds from growing between the grass. 

FAQ about broadleaf weeds

Are broadleaf weeds poisonous?

Some broadleaf weeds are poisonous, but not all of them are. Some are even edible and are chock full of nutrients. Make sure to properly identify your weeds before eating them.

Is nutsedge a broadleaf weed?

Also called nutgrass, nutsedge looks more like grass. However, it’s not a grassy weed. That doesn’t make nutsedge a broadleaf weed, though.

Nutsedge is its own class of weed due to how difficult it is to get rid of. Sedges don’t react to any run-of-the-mill weed killer.

What types of grass are the most weed resistant?

The type of turfgrass in your lawn is just one of many factors that can help homeowners grow a weed-resistant lawn. Certain types of grass grow densely and are more resistant to weed growth than others, such as:

  • Zoysiagrass, a warm-season grass, is a good pick for landscapes in warmer climates. This cultivar’s dense growth prevents weeds from growing in the midst of such thick grass. 
  • Homeowners looking for a cool-season grass that is weed-resistant should try tall fescue. Like zoysiagrass, tall fescue has dense growth that doesn’t leave any space for weeds to grow in between the grass blades.

When to find professional weed control services

There are many ways to get rid of broadleaf weeds, but it can be time-consuming to deal with them yourself.

If you’d rather save your precious time, hire a professional weed control service through Lawn Love to get rid of those pesky weeds for you. Lawn Love pros can deal with weeds, mow your lawn, and more.

Main Photo Credit: Dinesh Valke from Thane, India | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

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.