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Common Lawn Weeds

Help With Identification, Control

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There are many common lawn weeds that you may know by their appearance yet not by name. But in such cases, do you truly "know" them? Perhaps not well enough to get rid of them (if that is your objective), I would argue. For there is often a certain trick to killing a particular unwanted plant, a trick that somebody has written about on the web. But if you don't know the plant's name, how can you search for it on the web and gain access to said information? It's a familiar catch-22: it takes knowledge to acquire knowledge.

If that's the catch-22 that you face, you've arrived at a resource that may help you out of your predicament. I provide pictures below of several common lawn weeds to help you with identification, while also offering some preliminary control tips here and there. If you wish to delve more deeply into control methods for a particular entry, just click the link above its picture.

1. Crabgrass

Crab grass photo.
David Beaulieu

They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and I take pleasure in observing the slightest glint of benefit I can find in each of the common lawn weeds listed below. But it's difficult to come up with a "good point" for crabgrass. I suppose one could say that, in dire circumstances, you could mow it short and treat it as if it were a legitimate warm-season grass, hoping that no one would notice -- but that would be a stretch even for someone with my sense of humor regarding bad landscaping.

Luckily, in the article to which I link here (above the picture), I supply you with all the information you need to get rid of crabgrass: the what, the when and the how. The focus here is on pre-emergent herbicides; if what you need is information on postemergent herbicides, go to my article on crabgrass killers.

2. Dandelions

Photo showing what the seeds of dandelions look like.
David Beaulieu

As I point out above, most of the rest of the common lawn weeds that I cover here boast a silver lining, of which you can take advantage if you're willing to hear them out. In the case of dandelions, it's the fact that they are edible weeds.

What's that you say? Enough of this nonsense of finding the good in dandelions? You want to get right to the information on how to get rid of this lawn nemesis? No problem. When you click the link above the photo (left), you'll immediately find tips on dandelion removal, including why it's important to recognize this common lawn weed as being a perennial, specifically.

Those of a more tolerant nature can proceed on to Page 2 of the article to learn about eating dandelions. Observation: eating them is a lot easier than killing them, plus it's more fun.

3. Creeping Charlie

Photo of the leaf of a gill or "creeping charlie" weed.
David Beaulieu

Although it's just a common lawn weed, I count creeping charlie among the fragrant plants. When you mow a lawn that has creeping charlie mixed in with the grass, the fragrance is released into the air. Perhaps it's a small thing, but inhaling the pleasant aroma takes my mind off the work involved in mowing.

Not interested? All right, don't get your nose out of joint! In addition to citing creeping charlie's uses (for example, did you know that it was once employed in the beer-making process?) in this article, I also broach the subject of getting rid of it. Included in the latter information is a link to a site that tells you how to apply Borax to this common lawn weed to kill it. I should note, however, that many regard this approach as risky and avoid it in favor of other options.

4. Common Plantain

Photo of common plantain.
David Beaulieu

Common plantain (Plantago major) and I go way back. I had a bunny named "Buttons" as a kid, and my dad built a movable outdoor cage for my pet. The cage rested directly on the ground (no legs), so Buttons would eat the vegetation under him and -- when I thought he had "mowed down" enough grass and weeds in one spot -- I would slide the cage over to a fresh area, where the munching could continue. His favorite dish on the menu was common plantain.

But common plantain isn't just edible for rabbits: people can eat it, too. By the way, be aware of the alternate common plant name of "broadleaf" plantain as a reminder that there are different kinds of plantain weeds. Plantago major happens to have a wide leaf. But another type has more grass-like foliage and is called "buckhorn" plantain or "ribgrass": Plantago lanceolata.

You can dig up plantains to get rid of them organically. However, they have a taproot, and any portion of the root system left in the ground will regenerate, so be prepared to dig deep and thoroughly.

5. Common Ragweed

Photo of common ragweed.
David Beaulieu

Ragweed is what I like to call one of the "itchy rash plants." There are actually two types of ragweed: the common type (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) and giant ragweed. But the former type is more, well, common in lawns.

Unlike some of the other common lawn weeds in this list, Ambrosia artemisiifolia does not have a taproot, so weeding is easy: just pull it up. A characteristic in which it differs from most of the other plants in the list is that it's indigenous to North America.

6. Purslane

Purslane weed photo.
David Beaulieu

Do you think it odd to eat plants that some have deemed to be weeds? You shouldn't. As a preface to her strained yogurt and garlic recipe, Elizabeth Taviloglu, About.com Guide for Turkish Food, says of purslane that it "has been present in many ancient cuisines all over the world for thousands of years." Purslane is my personal favorite among the edible weeds listed here. I like juicy foods, and this plant, being a succulent, furnishes plenty of juice in every bite.

What, gourmet food be damned, you say? You just want to know how to get rid of purslane? OK, the main fact that you need to keep in mind is that this common lawn weed is a prolific seed-producer. A chemical control regimen will address the issue at both ends: with a preemergent herbicide (e.g., dithiopyr) and a postemergent herbicide (e.g., 2,4-D). Persistence is required.

Likewise, if you choose to engage the enemy organically (by digging it up), you will have to be persistent. Leaving the tiniest pieces of vegetation in the soil can result in the arrival of new reinforcements, as purslane plants possess regenerative powers.

But remember: if you can't beat eat them, just eat them.

7. Yellow Dock

Picture of yellow dock, a tall weed.
David Beaulieu

Yellow or "curly" dock is one of the easier plants listed here to identify. If you click the link above the photo to access my full article, you'll see a picture of the distinctive dried flower head (or what most people would think of as the seed head), which resembles coffee grounds. Dock is a tall plant, so you may not associate it with lawns. But if you've been busy with more pressing affairs and haven't been able to mow recently, when you finally get around to the task you may find that some yellow dock seed has germinated.

This is another plant with a big taproot. While digging it out is possible, you'll have to be thorough. Follow up removal by checking to see if new growth has emerged from any root fragments left behind. If you don't care about staying organic and you're dealing only with an isolated yellow dock plant here or there, the leaves are big enough that you could carefully daub a bit of Roundup (glyphosate) onto the foliage to kill the plant.

And how is this wild plant potentially beneficial? Yellow dock is known for its medicinal qualities. As I explain in my article, there's a simple medicinal use for yellow dock of which you can take advantage without holding a degree in herbalism. It involves another wild plant that you may have in your landscaping: stinging nettle.

8. Clover

Photo of red clover leaf.
David Beaulieu

Like how to get rid of moss in a lawn, how to get rid of clover is a question that I frequently receive from readers of my Landscaping site. While the former concern is justified, you might wish to re-think worrying about the latter. Click the link above the photo of red clover (left) to access my full article, which introduces clovers by way of relating interesting facts about shamrocks (did you know that there are even "black shamrocks?") and four-leaf clovers before progressing on to an account of why clover is healthy for a lawn.

But if you feel you absolutely must kill the clover mixed in with your grass, there are both chemical and organic means to do so. For the former, seek a broadleaf herbicide intended for use on the type of grass that you're growing (study the label on the bottle carefully).

A number of organic methods are at your disposal. One is simply to pull up the clover, add nitrogen (using compost, etc.) to that patch of ground (since the very presence of clover, a nitrogen-fixer, signals a nitrogen deficiency in the soil) and reseed with grass. To prevent a reoccurrence of the problem, follow my tips for growing green lawns to keep your grass so lush, thick and healthy that there will be no room for weeds to grow. This is good preventive advice to follow for keeping any unwanted plant out of your grass.

Note: I have also heard of sugar being used as an organic means to kill clover growing in grass but haven't tried it.

A common lawn weed that resembles a type of clover but isn't one is Oxalis stricta, better-known as "sourgrass" or -- as Kelly Burke, About.com Guide to Lawns calls it -- "yellow wood sorrel." True clovers are leguminous. Besides red clover (Trifolium pratense), white clover (Trifolium repens) is a common lawn weed. Another legume that may compete with your grass is bird's-foot trefoil.

9. Wild Violets

As my photo shows there are white wild violets, besides purple-blue and yellow.
David Beaulieu

Wild violets are probably the best of the bunch in terms of appearance amongst the common lawn weeds featured here. In fact, some homeowners find the flowers sufficiently pretty that they decide to just leave the plants alone. Indeed, this relative of the johnny-jump-up isn't far inferior to Johnny in the looks department -- and it's free.

Using the link above the picture, you can access my full article and find out what else wild violets have to offer, plus (in case you're not impressed) how to get rid of them.

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