10 Common Lawn Weeds—and How to Get Rid of Them for Good

From crabgrass to dandelions, here's how to deal with weeds.

Photo: Olivia Barr

Lawns provide an ideal home for many unwanted plants—otherwise known as weeds. From coast to coast, many lawn care problems are associated with a handful of common lawn weeds. While a healthy lawn is the first step to combating weeds, sometimes additional control strategies are needed. Following are 10 of the most common lawn weeds and ways to manage them, including chemical-free weed killers and store-bought products that really work.

01 of 10

Crabgrass, Digitaria ischaemum

Common Lawn Weeds, Crabgrass Weeds Along Sidewalk
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Crabgrass resembles its ocean-dwelling namesake, with spreading stems hugging the ground. The grass is a true annual, completing its life cycle in a single year. Seeds germinate in spring and begin growing before warm-season lawn grasses get started. Limit crabgrass seed production by mowing your lawn regularly in late summer when crabgrass is producing seedheads. Maintaining a dense, healthy lawn is often all that is needed to prevent crabgrass.

How to prevent crabgrass: For problem areas, use an organic or synthetic pre-emergent herbicide, such as Espoma Organic Weed Preventer (organic) and Barricade Professional-Grade Pre-Emergent Weed Control (synthetic). These chemicals are designed to kill seedlings before they establish a root system. To be effective, pre-emergent herbicides must be applied before crabgrass seeds germinate, when soil surface temperatures reach 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. One way to time this application is to apply pre-emergent herbicide when you see the first forsythia begin to bloom. Important note: pre-emergent herbicides also prevent grass seeds from germinating, so you cannot use these products where you plan to seed grass.

02 of 10

Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule

Common Lawn Weeds, Henbit Weed light purple flower
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This common winter annual or biennial commonly invades lawns in the late fall and winter. Henbit is easily recognizable in spring when the purple flowers appear in whorls among the upper leaves. A dense, vigorous turf is the best defense against henbit. First, select a turfgrass cultivar adapted for your area, and then properly fertilize, mow, and water to encourage dense growth. In late summer and fall, water the lawn deeply but as infrequently as possible, as weed seeds need moisture near the soil surface to germinate.

The best weed killers for henbit: For a safe-to-use mineral herbicide, look for iron-based products such as Bonide Weed Beater FE and Natria Lawn Weed & Disease Control. Apply to young, actively growing weeds in the spring or fall when temperatures are cool. Treatments should be reapplied three to four weeks after the first application for optimal control.

03 of 10

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale

Common Lawn Weeds, Dandelion in Grass
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Many of us have fond childhood memories of dandelions, but are not so excited about them in our lawns now that we are homeowners. This perennial weed develops a deep tap root that is difficult to pull by hand. Use a hand weeder or trowel to remove as much of the root as possible. It is easier to hand pull young dandelions. Be sure to pull dandelions before they go to seed, as each plant produces hundreds of seeds.

How to prevent dandelions: Dandelions thrive in thin, sparse lawns. Regular overseeding and other steps to maintaining a dense lawn reduces seed germination. Leaving grass clippings in place also helps, while benefiting your lawn. Both the iron-based herbicides and pre-emergent products listed above also work for dandelion control.

04 of 10

Nutsedge, Cyperus esculentus (yellow nutsedge) and Cyperus rotundus (purple nutsedge)

Nutsedge weed in Grass
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Nutsedge is a grass-like weed with distinctive triangular or v-shaped leaf blades. This weed can be particularly aggressive in areas that are well irrigated. Plants have an extensive underground network of basal bulbs, roots, and thin fibrous rhizomes, which makes management challenging because these reproductive structures are often left behind when hand-pulling. Improving drainage of wet areas and managing irrigation can make the lawn less favorable to nutsedge. If only a few plants are present, hand-weeding may be the best way to eradicate the weeds. It is necessary to dig down and remove the entire root system. Monitor the area regularly after removal for regrowth and repeat hand removal until all nutsedge is eliminated.

The best weed killer for nutsedge: For large infestations, chemical control may be necessary. Nutsedge requires the use of very specific herbicides, such as Ortho Nutsedge Killer for Lawns, to achieve satisfactory control. Normally, two applications are required 10 to 14 days apart. When applying control products, avoid mowing three to five days before and after treatment and do not water for at least 24 to 48 hours after application. Begin chemical control in the late spring or early summer when nutsedge is young, actively growing, and most sensitive to herbicide.

05 of 10

Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea

Common Lawn Weeds, Creeping Charlie weed with pale blue purple flowers and scalloped green leaves
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Also called ground ivy, creeping Charlie has characteristic foliage that is bright green and scalloped along the margins. This perennial plant produces stems that root at the nodes, allowing it to spread rapidly and making it difficult to control once established. As with henbit, practice defense by maintaining a dense, vigorous lawn and selecting the best adapted turfgrass for your area. Hand removal is the best way to get rid of any creeping Charlie that establishes. Remove as much of the trailing stems as possible when weeding, and over time, you will exhaust the energy stored in the roots. Creeping Charlie is most common in shady lawns.

How to prevent creeping Charlie: Overseed cool-season grasses as necessary to maintain a dense turf. Iron-based weed killers can also be effective at managing creeping Charlie.

06 of 10

Shepherd's purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris

Shepherd's Purse tiny white flowers lawn weed
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Look for rosettes of the distinctive, deeply toothed leaves of this annual weed and remove young plants by hand early in the season. Continue to monitor for weeds and remove before they set seed to reduce the seed load in the soil.

The best weed killers for shepherd's purse: The iron-based herbicides listed above are labeled for use against shepherd's purse, as is Barricade Professional-Grade Pre-Emergent Weed Control. Applications of Barricade should be made in late summer, fall, or winter to prevent seed germination of this cool-season weed.

07 of 10

Quackgrass, Elytrigia repens

Common Lawn Weeds, Quackgrass
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This weedy grass produces long blades with a rough surface and easily recognized wheat-like seedheads. Plants develop a deep root system and can regrow from pieces of root left after weeding. Maintain a dense lawn through proper care and overseeding thin areas to limit quackgrass through competition. Mow the lawn regularly to prevent seed formation and remove by hand where practical.

The best weed killers for quackgrass: The pre-emergent herbicides listed above can also be applied in early spring to prevent seedlings from establishing. Remember that pre-emergent herbicides cannot be used in conjunction with overseeding.

08 of 10

Broadleaf Plantain, Plantago major

Common Lawn Weeds, Broadleaf Plantain with large green leaves and spikes
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This broadleaf perennial can produce a rather large rosette of smooth-edged leaves up to 12 inches across. In summer, long seed-covered stalks stand upright. Hand weeding is typically effective against plantain, as long as you remove the bulk of the roots. It helps to weed after a rain or after irrigating the lawn, as roots loosen in the damp soil.

The best weed killer for broadleaf plantain: If problems persist, apply an iron-based herbicide to manage remaining broadleaf plantain weeds.

09 of 10

Chickweed, Stellaria media

Common Lawn Weeds, Chickweed tiny white flowers
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This winter annual weed has tiny, fuzzy leaves and small white flowers in spring. Plants produce hundreds of seeds, so preventing plants from setting seed is key to control. It is easy to pull by hand but is low growing and often hidden in turf. Plants also flower shortly after germination, making the window for control rather short.

The best weed killer for chickweed: Since the window for weed control is so short, applying a pre-emergent herbicide such as Barricade Professional-Grade Pre-Emergent Weed Control in late fall or early winter is among the more effective control measures. For established plants, the iron-based herbicides listed above can be applied.

10 of 10

Prostrate knotweed, Polygonum aviculare

Prostrate Knotweed, Weed Growing Between Patio Pavers
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This annual summer weed grows low to the ground with wiry, spreading stems and small, blue-green leaves. The common name refers to the swollen area at each node, which look like small knots. Knotweed thrives in compacted soils. As such, regular soil aeration can make the lawn less suitable to knotweed. Hand removal of established weeds is generally effective in the home landscape.

The best weed killers for common knotweed: Where chemical control is necessary, the iron-based herbicides listed above are effective against young knotweed plants. Barricade Professional-Grade Pre-Emergent Weed Control can be applied in late winter or early spring before knotweed seeds germinate to prevent them from establishing.

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