Common Lawn Weeds
Wouldn’t it be great if the rest of your plants grew as well as the weeds in your lawn and yard? Unwanted broadleaf plants infiltrate the turf grass of homeowners, golf courses and parks. Organic lawn care does not call for broad-spectrum herbicides like chemical lawn does and relies on. Instead we allow some of these common lawn weeds to grow along with the turf grass to create a healthy green patch of groundcover ideal for play, recreation and in a design sense a quiet spot in a busy ornamental garden.
But you need to know how to identify these ‘volunteer’plants that start growing in your lawn so you can decide if you want to keep them or need to eliminate them. Here are a few common lawn weeds that you may find growing along with your bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass.
Using harsh chemicals and herbicides can have a negative environmental impact. Organic herbicides and pulling weeds by hand are always the safest protection. Let’s start with a plant that is not a weed in your lawn! Despite what the so-called experts say. That is White Clover.
White Clover, Dutch Clover (Trifolium repens)
“Trifolium repens, the white clover, is a species of clover native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. It has been widely introduced worldwide as a pasture crop, and is now also common in most grassy areas of North America and New Zealand.” Wikipedia
Clover is an integral part of an organic, natural lawn. Clover roots hold nitrogen that is then used by the turf grass for green growth. The relationship between turf grass and clover is a wonderful example of a crucial symbiotic, beneficial relationship between plants that results in a lovely, soft, balanced and healthy lawn.
Unfortunately, the makers of certain well know chemical herbicides (Round-Up and Scotts Turfbuilder, Bayer Advanced) found that their herbicide treatments killed off all broadleaf plants growing in the lawn, even the beneficial White Clover. So what did they do? They convinced us that clover was just another common lawn weed. That solved a dilemma for them but resulted in the overuse of lawn chemicals that is wreaking havoc on our watersheds and rivers. Is it really worth poisoning our water to have a “weed free” lawn?
We at Naturally Bubbly think not. Find out more about how to establish and grow and organic lawn and change your perspective on how to care for our planet. Maybe there is an argument for using chemicals to grow food in countries where there is little arable land and lots of hungry people, but certainly there is no excuse for pouring chemical herbicides and pesticides into our home landscapes.!
Crabgrass (Digitaria) – A Totally Unwanted Weed in Any Lawn
Two kinds of crabgrass may afflict your lawn: large, (Digitaria sanguinalis) and smooth, (Digitaria ischaemum). The large variety is also known as hairy crabgrass, and it sticks out like a sore green thumb in a nicely mowed lawn. That is because it is indeed large and has hairy leaves. From both weeds extend thin spikes that hold seeds to assist in growing more crabgrass. Thanks to those seeds, they come back every spring to enjoy the summer in your lawn. The smooth variety does not have hairs as the large variety does.
Soil compaction from construction or vehicle wheels at the edge of your driveway, and drought can damage your turf and allow crabgrass to get a hold, so fix damaged lawn areas right away and keep your lawn watered in severe droughts. A very well established lawn that is free from damage will not have a Crabgrass problem though. Don’t cut your grass too short because taller grass (3 inches is the recommended height) will shade and choke out Crabgrass before it can take hold.
Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major) – Another Unsightly Problem for Your Lawn
This is considered to be the second most common broadleaf perennial weed, with dandelion being the first. It is native to Europe, but it also grows in North America. A very hardy weed, it can handle many extremes of moisture and dryness, and hard soil does not affect it. Therefore, you are as likely to see it in a pasture or open field as you are on a golf course or private lawn.
The broad leaves have several veins that run to the end of the oval-shaped leaf. It will flower in the summer to produce seeds, but the flower is not attractive like that of the Creeping Charlie. It is a tall, thin spike that is full of seeds rather than petals. The best way to deal with plantain is to pull it out of the ground by hand without breaking off the root.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
This annual appears in the winter, and you will usually find it in the shade, especially around the base of trees with heavy mulch. It grows in a mound shape that ranges from three to seven inches tall. When you think of weeds, you probably think of unsightly plants. This one, though, tries to be pretty by blossoming with white or pink flowers in the early spring. The chickweed may live well into the spring or longer if left to its own accord. The best maintenance for it is to pull it by hand and ensure that you have a thick lawn to choke it out.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
The dandelion is a perennial plant, meaning it lives for more than one or two years. Dandelions seeds will germinate all spring and early summer. When weeding established dandelions, if you don’t get rid of the whole plant including its long taproot it will grow back from that same root year after year.
The dandelion has a pretty, yellow flower head that sits among course, jagged leaves. The flower head is a composite of florets. The seed head is globe-like and looks like a thin cotton ball. As children we loved to blow the seeds from the stem and watch the fluff float off in the wind. Whoops, we were really spreading dandelions throughout our lawn and our neighbor’s lawns! A kindly word about dandelions is that the greens are edible, and the long taproot breaks up compacted soils.
Because it grows back from its own vegetation and seeds, it is hard to manage dandelion. The best prevention is to maintain a strong, healthy lawn. As with crabgrass, taller thicker turf grass will help prevent dandelions in your lawn.
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
This weed is two faced in that it is a nuisance for many lawns and a blessing for others. It is hard to control, so when unwanted, it can be problematic. However, some people enjoy it in their yards. It is also called Creeping Charlie and Gil-Over-the-Ground. It, like chickweed, likes damp, shady spots that are not overwhelmed by tall grass. It is quick to spread and will take over a large area if not stopped.
Ground Ivy’s interesting leaves are bright green and scalloped. In mid spring, it will put out purple flowers that resemble tiny orchids, but they don’t last very long. Sometimes they go unnoticed in taller grass because they do not extend out above the blades of grass. If you damage the leaves on the ivy, it emits the smell of mint.
Once it takes a liking to your lawn, it is hard to keep at bay. After you remove it, make sure the lawn has few shady spots and stays relatively dry. Tall thick grass as always will help prevent Ground Ivy.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
This perennial weed is not as pretty as some of the others. It is interesting, though, because it will bleed a milky looking substance should you cut or break one of its leaves or limbs. It grows straight up in the air as if reaching for the sun. When it dies, it dries out and is very unsightly. The leaves on this weed are a bit thorny and may irritate the skin when you are pulling the weed. Frequent mowing will help keep it under control.
While you may not want milkweed in your lawn, allow it to grow somewhere around your property as it is the sole host for Monarch butterfly larvae.
Silvery Thread Moss (Bryum argenteum)
Moss is most common in damp, shady areas – especially those that receive frequent irrigation. It grows in patches, and is most often found in turf grass. It is green at first, and it may go unnoticed. The moss later fertilizes itself and develops spores that are a golden, red color. Eventually, these spores explode off the plant to produce new patches elsewhere. Less shade and better drainage will inhibit the growth of moss in your lawn. If you have a lot of moss growing in your lawn, that is a clue that the area is probably too shady and moist for a successful lawn.
Violets in the lawn can be beautiful in the spring, but then become a problem later in the summer. They grow as thick as turf grass and spread by like lightening by seed. Each violet plant can produce thousands of seeds that hide under the leaves and drop when ripe. No matter that you pull violets every year, new seedlings will be there to grow large next season.
Violets like most common lawn weeds especially crabgrass, take advantage of damaged lawn areas, so your best bet is to prevent that by quickly repairing and re-seeding, as well as by maintaining your grass at 3” high if possible. Violets like damp, clay soils, so if your lawn grows in soil like this, you should try and embrace your violets and allow them to a balanced part of your organic lawn.
More Help Identifying Your Common Lawn Weeds
Naturally Bubbly was contacted by some lawn folks who offered us this nifty graphic that may or may not help you identify your lawn weeds. NOTE – Their website may or may not have non toxic advice about how to get rid of the undesirable weeds in your lawn. But it helps to know what you are dealing with!