What is Chickweed and How to Get Rid of It

closeup of a patch of chickweed flowers

You’ve spent months honing your lawn to a lush green carpet only to step out and discover that it’s been taken over by a dense mat of nasty weeds. If it’s stubborn chickweed, you’ve got quite a task ahead of you. 

Luckily, there are a number of ways to not only remove the pesky intruder but ensure that it never again takes up residence in your lawn. We’ll tell you how to identify chickweed and get rid of it.

In this article: 

What is chickweed?

Chickweed is a common cool-season lawn weed. It reseeds itself, which allows it to produce up to five generations in one growing season. Where the stems meet the bare soil, its nodes can also produce new roots. A European native, chickweed has made itself at home in many flower beds and lawns across the globe. 

Although it grows in a variety of soils, chickweed prefers nitrogen-rich soil with a neutral ph. The weed is notable for its small white flowers, which are double-lobed, and its elastic inner stem. The five white, star-shaped, petals are accompanied by five green, hairy, sepals and pointed oval-shaped leaves. Its root systems are shallow and fibrous. 

There are two main varieties:

Common chickweed

The most abundant of chickweed’s 25-plus species is common chickweed. This is a winter annual which emerges in mid-to-late summer and completes its life cycle in the spring. During its life, this annual weed will produce thousands of seeds, which bear new plants in the summer once germination is complete.

Common chickweed is a playground for insects, pests, and plant viruses. It is adaptable to almost all environmental conditions. And while it grows only about 2 inches high, it forms a dense mat of spreading stems. Small mounds of the weed measure about 3 to 8 inches in diameter. 

Mouse-ear chickweed

A lower growing weed, mouse-ear chickweed is harder to remove by hand than the common chickweed. It is a perennial weed that continues to reseed itself, producing offspring that help it to spread rapidly. 

Mouse-ear chickweed grows in dense, compact patches. It is characterized by its dark green, hairy leaves that feel sticky to the touch.

Preventing chickweed

The best way to prevent chickweed from spreading is by keeping a healthy lawn. Chickweed is no match for a full, strong lawn. Follow these tips:

  • Water thoroughly but less frequently to let the area dry in between, as damp soil encourages growth.
  • Mow on a high setting to keep your grass tall and full; mouse-ear chickweed will invade thin and malnourished grass quickly.
  • Fertilize once or twice a year
  • Add a layer of mulch two to three inches deep, particularly in flower beds; this will deprive chickweed seeds of air and sunlight, preventing them from sprouting.

If chickweed does make its way into your lawn, a pre-emergent herbicide will help kill sprouting seeds. Don’t use this herbicide if you’ve put down grass seed within the last three weeks, however, or if you’re planning on laying grass seed in the next six weeks. Try corn gluten meal, which acts as a natural pre-emergent herbicide by preventing germinated seeds from developing roots. 

Eliminating chickweed

closeup of a chickweed
hedera.baltica | Flickr | (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Before applying pesticides to your lawn that could harm surrounding plants, consider one of many natural solutions to help knock out a chickweed infestation. 

Natural solutions

  • Mowing your lawn frequently interferes with chickweed’s life cycle. Weekly mowing prevents it from flowering, which is an important step in producing seeds.
  • Pull chickweed clumps by hand, making sure to get the roots.
  • Check flower beds for chickweed because it can spread to your lawn. Use a hoe or spade to turn the soil and cover the weeds to cut off their oxygen supply and sunlight while bringing any established roots to the surface.  
  • Smother chickweed in gardens by covering affected areas with either a tarp or mulch. If using a tarp, make sure to use weights to keep the area securely covered. If using mulch, make sure to cover the area with a thick layer. Keep it covered for two to three weeks to ensure the weed dies completely. 
  • Horticultural vinegar contains acetic acid, which helps to fight invasive plants. Make sure to wear protective gear and spray the weed generously and thoroughly, including at the base of its stem to ensure coverage of the nodes and roots. Spray horticultural vinegar every other day until the weed dies. 

Post-emergent herbicides

Soil should be exposed by hand weeding and then aerating with either an aerator or a shovel. Make sure to dispose of all weeds carefully as it can re-root from left-behind stem nodes. To aerate, spike or gash the ground every 1 to 2 feet, 2 to 3 inches deep, and then spread a combination of fertilizer and weed killer of your choice. 

Glyphosate is an effective post-emergent herbicide which is also great for dandelions, Bermudagrass, and crabgrass. Roundup contains glyphosate and is a non-selective herbicide which must be used cautiously to avoid killing surrounding plants. Lawn Love has a useful guide for applying post-emergent herbicides.

Dicamba is a selective broadleaf herbicide which can be applied while weeds are actively growing. This is a great solution for sudden outbreaks throughout the growing season.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.     What is the difference between selective and non-selective herbicides?

Selective herbicides harm only the targeted weeds, while desired grasses and plants remain unaffected. Non-selective herbicides kill all plants by attacking their root systems.

2.    How can I prevent chickweed from invading my lawn?

Good lawn maintenance practices can keep chickweed at bay. This involves regular mowing, fertilization, and allowing your soil to fully dry in between waterings. You can accompany this with a pre-emergent herbicide for areas that are more prone to infestation. 

There are numerous tricks and tools to prevent chickweed from invading your lawn and gardens as well as getting rid of the weed once it is established. For those who would prefer to let an expert handle this job, Lawn Love lawn care professionals are happy to help bring your yard back to its healthiest, weed-free state.

Main Photo Credit: Ole Husby | Flickr | (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Madeline Hoppe

Born and raised in Tampa, FL, Madeline Hoppe is a customer service expert with a deep respect for the written word. In her down time, she enjoys low-key nights watching movies with her family or heading to one of Tampa Bay's local beaches on a summery day.