From far away, your lawn is full, green, and glorious. But when you step into the lawn, you see those pesky broadleaf weeds are at it again. Let’s learn about some of the most common broadleaf weeds and how to tackle them.
- What is a weed?
- What are broadleaf weeds?
- Common broadleaf weeds
What is a weed?
Weeds are plants that are out of place in a landscape. Although not all weeds are a detriment to a healthy lawn, most homeowners think they are a detriment to a pretty lawn. Here are a few common characteristics of weeds:
- Are not planted by the homeowner
- Are a “plant out of place”
- Spread in many ways: roots and tubers, seed, wind, compost, animals, foot traffic, etc.
Weeds have pros and cons. (Who knew?)
✓ Help to cover the soil
✓ Some weeds “fix” valuable nutrients (like nitrogen)
✓ Many are edible
✓ Weeds act as indicator species to help you “read” what’s going on in your lawn
✗ May compete with other cultivated plants for sun, nutrients, water, and space
✗ Prolific seed producers
✗ Can serve as hosts for overwintering insects or diseases
What are broadleaf weeds?
There are two major types of weeds: broadleaf and grassy. Simply put, if you see something that doesn’t look like grass, it’s probably a broadleaf weed. If it looks like grass (not the kind you planted), it’s probably a grassy weed. This table describes some of their differences:
|Seedlings sprout with two leaves (dicots)
|Seedlings sprout with one leaf (monocots)
|Leaves are wider
|Leaves are thinner (bladed)
|Leaf veins are netted
|Leaf veins are parallel
|Examples: Dandelion, white clover, broadleaf plantain
|Examples: Crabgrass, yellow nutsedge, quackgrass, annual bluegrass
Common broadleaf weeds
These weeds are common throughout most of the U.S. Read on to discover how to identify and treat these common broadleaf weeds.
A note on terms:
Pre-emergent: These products prevent seeds from sprouting.
Post-emergent: These products kill living plant tissue once it’s sprouted.
1. Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major)
Broadleaf plantain is fairly easy to recognize in your lawn. Its broad green leaves form a basal rosette (low-growing circular leaves), and its flowering stalks appear from mid-spring through early fall. This perennial loses its leaves in the winter and re-grows again in spring.
Plant type: Perennial
Alternate names: Buckhorn plantain, ripple grass
Where it lives: Throughout the country except in the Northeast
How to get rid of broadleaf plantain:
- Hand-pull (Be sure to get the deep taproot.)
- Pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicide. Try corn gluten if you prefer a natural pre-emergent.
Bonus: This weed is edible.
2. Common chickweed (Stellaria media)
Common chickweed is a low-growing annual plant that is either considered a weed or a delicious edible. This plant grows low to the ground and puts out small, clustered white flowers for a few months out of the year. The leaves are small and have a strong center vein and side veins branching out.
Its mat-like growth habit means that it will easily escape your lawn mower blades, so don’t expect to use mowing as a method of control. Chickweed thrives in full sun or partial shade and grows most vigorously in fertile soil.
Plant type: Winter annual. In some areas, it grows year-round.
Alternate names: Chickenwort, starweed
Where it lives: Throughout the country but not in the Rockies
How to get rid of common chickweed:
- Hand-pull (Pull stems and roots. Pull before the plant flowers and sets seed for best results. Don’t put plants that have seed heads in the compost pile.)
- Use a broadleaf herbicide or pre-emergent.
Bonus: This weed is edible — leaves, flowers, and stems.
3. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Who doesn’t love dandelions? With their yellow flowers and wispy, feather-light seeds, dandelions can hardly be called weeds. But if you’re aiming for that perfect lawn look, they may throw a wrench in your hopes and dreams.
Whatever your perspective, weeds are an indicator species, and dandelions thrive in yards with the following conditions: low pH, compacted soil, high potassium, and low calcium. Yep, a weed can tell you all of that. So, after you hand-pull the dandelion, get a soil test, pull out the aerator, and prepare for summer lawn domination.
Plant type: Perennial
Alternate names: Lion’s tooth
Where it lives: All 50 states
How to get rid of dandelions:
- Use a screwdriver or weed puller to remove the whole plant — including the taproot. Do this before they set seed, if possible.
- If you prefer to use chemicals, post-emergent broadleaf weed killers will do the job as well. North Carolina State University explains that pre-emergent herbicides may not be effective in an area where the flowers are established.
Bonus: This weed is edible.
4. Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
Also called “creeping charlie,” ground ivy is another well-known broadleaf weed. Ground ivy is a perennial and a member of the mint family. This invasive species has pretty, heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges and is a challenge to eradicate from the home lawn.
Ground ivy spreads by creeping on the ground and rooting at the nodes. It puts out blue or purple flowers in spring and summer.
Plant type: Perennial
Alternate names: Cat’s foot, field balm, runaway robin, hay maids, alehoffs
Where it lives: Is an introduced species throughout the U.S. with the exception of Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, and New Mexico
How to get rid of ground ivy: Notoriously difficult to control.
- If you hand-pull, you must remove all of the stolons (above-ground stems) to prevent it from coming back. Another approach: Ground ivy often indicates that the ground has very poor drainage. So, you may try renting an aerator to see if you can eliminate this issue.
- If you prefer a chemical approach, one study recommends a mixture of 2,4-D, dicamba, and mecoprop. Another mixture to try is clopyralid, triclopyr, MCPA, and dichlorprop. Even so, experts note that this weed often returns after post-emergent chemical controls are used.
Bonus: Ground ivy has a rich ethnobotanical history going back to Greco-Roman times. But if you want to brew a pint of alehoffs, don’t invite your favorite horse to the table. Ground ivy is toxic to equines.
5. Yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta)
If you mistake this plant for a shamrock, the leprechauns won’t hold it against you. Yellow woodsorrel has three heart-shaped leaves on each stem and puts out yellow flowers from late spring through early fall.
This weed thrives in wet — but well-drained — fertile soils and is often found in meadows, woodlands, and lawns. Because it spreads by both underground and above-ground stems, as well as by seed, it is considered to have an aggressive growth habit.
In warm climates, this weed lives year-round. Yellow woodsorrel grows most quickly in fall and spring.
Plant type: Acts as an annual or perennial depending on the climate
Alternate names: Sourgrass, lemon clover, sheep sorrel
Where it lives: Native to all of the lower 48 except Oregon, California, Nevada, and Utah.
How to get rid of yellow woodsorrel:
- Use mulch in ornamental beds to eliminate access to sunlight. This will reduce (but not eliminate) new sprouts.
- Use non-selective herbicides on young plants or pre-emergent herbicides before plants have germinated. This plant is very difficult to eradicate once established.
6. Prostrate knotweed (Polygonum aviculare)
As its name suggests, this is another weed that you can’t control by mowing. Its prostrate (low) growth habit means it easily escapes your weekly mowing routine. In addition, it can grow in almost any soil, even compacted and contaminated soil, and often lives in the cracks of your hardscaping or pavement. Prostrate knotweed looks similar to purslane or spotted spurge.
This weed emerges anytime from early spring into summer and flowers from early summer through fall. Don’t look for showy flowers, though; their flowers are insignificant.
Plant type: Summer annual (Perennial in some areas)
Alternate names: Knotgrass, birdweed, wiregrass
Where it lives: Can be found in all states except California
How to get rid of prostrate knotweed:
- Hand-pull and correct soil issues: Prostrate knotweed indicates that you may have compacted soil, so by aerating your soil, you reduce the chances that it will make a home in your lawn. Use a few inches of compost in your flower beds or about ½ inch per year across the lawn to further reduce compaction.
In addition, knotweed may be an indicator of low pH, low calcium, or excessive potassium and magnesium. Poor drainage may also be an issue. Correcting these conditions may eliminate or reduce this weed in your lawn.
- Spray a broadleaf herbicide for existing plants. Apply a pre-emergent herbicide in spring.
7. White clover (Trifolium repens)
White clover is a common lawn weed with white flowers and three-leaved stems. Although some consider it a weed, others use it as a lawn alternative, cover crop, or erosion control plant. If you prefer to mow your weeds, white clover flowers grow from 4-6 inches tall, so mowing will keep the flowers in check.
White clover is a pollinator favorite. Bees, moths, and butterflies frequent its globe-shaped flowers. It can also be used as a forage crop for livestock and is known for its ability to add nitrogen to the soil.
Plant type: Perennial
Alternate names: Dutch clover, ladino clover
Where it lives: All 50 states
How to get rid of white clover:
- Use a trowel or hand-pull to remove this plant from flower beds or lawns. Use mulch in ornamental beds. As an indicator species, clover often lives in compacted soils with low pH, low nitrogen, and too much or too little water. Get a soil test to see if you need to add nitrogen or lime. Aerate to reduce soil compaction.
- Use an iron-based herbicide for chemical control.
Bonus: This weed is edible. The entire plant can be consumed in a raw or cooked form.
Pro Tip: Whether you are using chemical or natural weed control (mow, dig, spray), try to work early in the morning or late in the evening. Bees are less active at this time. Alternatively, do your weed control before the plants bloom in early spring or after the flowers dry up in fall.
Pulling weeds is a low-cost, chemical-free weed control method. If you’re ready to get out and get a little exercise by hand-pulling your weeds, here are a few tips to make the job easier:
✓ Pull after it has rained (or after you’ve watered). This makes it more likely that you’ll get the whole plant, roots and all, not to mention that the job is a whole lot easier when the soil is moist.
✓ Pulling weeds (or using chemicals) when they are small is easier and more effective. Also, the plant hasn’t yet set flowers or seeds, so you’re preventing future generations of weeds in your lawn.
✓ For some weeds, it is imperative to pull the root as well. Know your weed and if this is important for that species.
Pro Tip: Mulch is a great weed deterrent for flower beds and reduces the amount of hand-pulling you’ll have to do. If weed seeds land on the mulch, they usually die since there is no soil in which to grow.
Even though many of these weeds are edible, consider a few things before you eat a wild plant.
—Never eat weeds that have been sprayed with any type of chemical. If you only use fertilizers, ask your local Cooperative Extension office for more information.
—Even if a plant is edible, know the weed’s particulars before you dine. For example, some are better cooked vs. raw. Others can only be used in limited quantities — as a garnish, for example.
Once you know that your weeds are safe to eat, you can enjoy them without the worry that they’ll cause illness or discomfort.
—Selective vs. non-selective herbicides
Selective herbicides will only kill certain plants. Non-selective herbicides kill any greenery they come in contact with. If you only want to kill weeds and not grass, buy a selective herbicide or make sure the chemical only hits the weeds you want to kill.
—Pre-emergents vs. post-emergents
As the name implies, you must apply pre-emergent herbicides before the weed seeds sprout. Contact your local Cooperative Extension service to see when it is best to use pre-emergents on your particular weed in your area. Timing (when in the year to treat) and temperature are critical.
Once the weeds germinate (sprout), post-emergents come into play. In general, these products are most effective on smaller weeds, so treat early on.
Pro Tip: If you need help with weed identification around your lawn, several smartphone apps can help make the job easier.
An annual weed is just one type among three: annual, perennial, and biennial.
Annual weeds: These weeds live for one year or one growing season (can overlap calendar years).
—Summer annuals: These weeds sprout in the spring, reach maturity during the summer months, and set seeds in the fall. They die during the fall or after a hard frost.
—Winter annuals: These weeds sprout in late summer or early fall, overwinter, and put forth flowers in the spring. By early summer, they die.
Biennial weeds: These weeds put forth roots, stems, and leaves the first year and go dormant that winter. During the second year of life, they flower, set seed, and die.
Perennial weeds: Perennial weeds live for three or more years. Some perennials produce seeds but most reproduce vegetatively through tubers, stolons, rhizomes, or bulbs. These weeds are among the most difficult to eradicate.
If the weeds in your lawn make you weary, contact one of our local lawn care professionals. They have expertise in local weeds and can help you turn the tide against weeds in your lawn.
Main Photo Credit: Олександр К | Unsplash