How to Identify and Control Broadleaf Weeds

broadleaf weeds

When dealing with lawn weeds, homeowners should know exactly what type of weeds they are. Part of this is knowing what category the weeds are – grassy, sedge, or broadleaf. Knowing what type of weed is in your lawn will help you figure out how to get rid of it. We’ll tackle one category of weeds in this article: broadleaf weeds, which are one of the easier types to identify. 

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 versus grassy weeds like crabgrass, broadleaf weeds have characteristics that make them easily distinguishable. These also make them stick out against turf. Here are some characteristics of broadleaf weeds:

  • Wider 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; the leaves you’ll see would be the true leaves aboveground. 

How to identify broadleaf weeds

graphic showing species features
Photo Credit: 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 needs 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

Common broadleaf weeds

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

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

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With its 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 puffy ball of white seeds. Getting rid of dandelions can be difficult. If you’re hand-pulling this weed, make sure to get all of its taproot, or else it can regrow.

Although they can grow out of control, there are benefits to dandelions on your lawn. Dandelions on your lawn can tell you your lawn’s overall condition; they grow in compacted, acidic soils with high potassium and low calcium levels. Aside from that, they’re quite nutritious and can be eaten.

  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Spreads through: Seeds. It can 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.

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.

  • 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. It has 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”, and they’re 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.

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. And similar to dandelions, this perennial weed is edible. Broadleaf plantain grows in disturbed, compacted, and soggy soils.

  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Spreads through: Seeds
  • Distinct characteristics:
    • Leaves: Grow low and in a circle (basal rosette)
    • Flowers: Flowers along a 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. This weed has narrower, twisted leaves than the broadleaf plantain.

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.

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 will only work 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

Ground ivy also goes by a lot of other names: cat’s foot, field balm, runaway robin, hay maids, alehoff, and gill-over-the-ground, among others.

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)

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Like most prostrate weeds, prostrate knotweed can’t be controlled through mowing; it grows low to the ground where your mower blades can’t reach. This summer annual grows almost anywhere — even in cracks in the pavement — except for California. It spreads horizontally rather than vertically.

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.

  • 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)

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While there are benefits to clover (like its use as a turfgrass alternative), some homeowners consider it to be a pesky weed. There are many types of clover, but white clover is the most well-known kind. White clover spreads fast and likes cool temperatures.

White clover is very recognizable with its signature leaves — which it shares with other clover species — and its small, pinkish-white flowers. It grows low to the ground.

  • 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

The methods of controlling broadleaf weeds are similar to those for controlling other types of weeds. The best offense is a good defense; in your yard, that means maintaining a healthy lawn that can outcompete weeds. Here are some lawn maintenance tips for broadleaf weed prevention:

  1. Fertilize properly. Fertilizing the lawn in the right amounts at the correct time provides your lawn with nutrients 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.
  2. Mow frequently. Mowing your lawn is important to its 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 can also injure some broadleaf weeds, and cutting off their seedheads before they go to seed keeps them from spreading. 
  3. 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 1-1 ½ inches of water per week, no more and no less.

While a strong lawn helps prevent weeds from taking root, it won’t really do much when you’re dealing with more than just a small infestation. Here are some broadleaf weed control options for weeds that are already present in your lawn:

  • Hand-pulling broadleaf weeds can work, but only if the infestation is very small. When pulling weeds, make sure to get as much of the plant as possible, especially its roots. If the infestation is widespread and the broadleaf weed spreads through stolons or rhizomes, hand-pulling probably won’t be viable. When pulling up broadleaf weeds with taproots, make sure you pull out the whole thing. 
  • Pre-emergent herbicides prevent broadleaf weeds from germinating. They won’t kill broadleaf weeds that are already growing, but they’re necessary in preventing resprouting. Check out our list of the best pre-emergent herbicides and choose a product that works on broadleaf weeds, not just grassy weeds.
  • Post-emergent herbicides kill existing weeds. Many broadleaf herbicides won’t harm your lawn if used properly. Some post-emergents are selective herbicides, which only target certain weed species. Check out our list of the best post-emergent herbicides, and be sure to choose one that works on the specific type of weed you’re dealing with.

When choosing a weed control method, be sure you pick one that will kill the 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.

FAQ about broadleaf weeds

Are broadleaf weeds poisonous?

Some broadleaf weeds are definitely 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 do annual and perennial mean?

Annual and perennial are descriptors of a plant’s life cycle. Annual weeds and plants 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.

Perennial plants live much longer than that. Typically, they have structures like tubers, bulbs, stolons, and rhizomes that help them regrow after frost. They are usually more difficult to control, as they have other means of spreading aside from seeds.

Biennials are flowering plants that live for around two years. In the first year, they germinate and grow. After a period of dormancy in the winter, they develop flowers and make seeds.

To find out more, you can read our article on annual, biennial, and perennial plants.

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, you could 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.

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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.