Identifying 9 Common Lawn Weeds

Identification is the first step to fighting lawn weeds

There are many dozens of different lawn weeds, but the greatest problems are caused by a select few. While it is tempting to simply use heavy doses of broad-spectrum chemical killers to eradicate weeds, there may also be more specific remedies for specific weeds that don't require massive doses of dangerous chemicals. And some weeds are remarkably resistant to herbicides, responding better to different methods of control.

Here are nine common weeds that most homeowners deal with in their...MORE lawns. Refer to the links for detailed information on how to combat them. 

  • 01 of 09
    The dandelion bloom (image) is one of the most recognizable weed flowers. Some even like it.
    The dandelion has one of the most recognizable blooms among the weeds. David Beaulieu

    The common dandelion is a member of the aster family. It arrived in North America from Europe and quickly established itself as a wildflower—and common lawn weed. 

    Unlike many weeds, dandelion is a perennial plant, and its tenacious long taproot makes it a difficult enemy to eradicate. But dandelions can be pulled by hand, and they can also be killed with vinegar if you want to avoid chemicals.

    Or, you can eat your dandelions. Yes, dandelions are edible and delicious. All parts of the plant are...MORE good in salads or as cooked greens. 

  • 02 of 09
    Creeping Charlie is a weed or herb with scalloped edges on its leaves.
    Creeping Charlie has leaves with scalloped edges. David Beaulieu

    Although it's just a common lawn weed, one can 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 one's mind off the work involved in mowing.

    Creeping Charlie is one of the most stubborn of lawn weeds, but it has shallow roots an is easy enough to pull if you are patient and diligent. It is also susceptible to...MORE non-chemical control using household borax. 

    This member of the mint family is also used as a salad green in some places.

  • 03 of 09

    Common Plantain (Plantago major)

    Common plantain weed with its hosta-like leaves.
    Common plantain has leaves with prominent veins, looking rather like the foliage on some hosta plants. David Beaulieu

    Common plantain (Plantago major) may take you back to your childhood. Did you have a pet bunny as a kid? What did you feed it? If you built a bottomless outdoor cage for your pet (with the cage resting directly on the ground, without legs), your bunny no doubt would eat the vegetation under him. Grass would have been on the menu, but another favorite dish would have been common plantain (if present). Common plantain is also edible by people and may be used in salads or as a cooked green.

    Common...MORE plantain has a broad leaf, but a relative, Plantago lanceolata, has grass-like foliage and is called buckthorn plantain, or ribgrass

    You can dig up plantains to get rid of them organically—the roots are relatively shallow, although this. However, this is a perennial weed, and any portion of the roots that aren't pulled will regenerate. 

  • 04 of 09
    Common ragweed leaf up-close.
    The leaf of common ragweed is deeply lobed. David Beaulieu

    There are two types of ragweed, both of which are the curse of allergy sufferers, but the form that haunts lawns is Ambrosia artemisiifolia, common ragweed. 

    Unlike some of the other examples on this list, Ambrosia artemisiifolia does not have a taproot, so weeding is easy: just pull it up. Ragweed thrives in poor soil, so keeping your lawn healthy and well fed will also discourage ragweed.

    Unlike many lawn weeds, this one is indigenous to North America, not a foreign invader. 

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09
    Succulent stems of the weed, purslane.
    Purslane has succulent stems. PaoloBis/Getty Images

    Purslane is a ground-hugging weed with fleshy leaves. It tends to thrive in dry, sandy soils.

    It is also one of the most nutritious plants on the planet, said to contain more healthful omega 3 fats than any other plant there is. So before you poison it, consider instead harvesting it for use in salads or in stir-fries. As a preface to this strained yogurt and garlic recipe, the author says of purslane that it "has been present in many ancient cuisines all over the world for thousands of...MORE years." Purslane is a personal favorite among the edible weeds listed here. If you like juicy foods, then this plant, being a succulent, furnishes plenty of juice in every bite.

    As a lawn weed, purslane is a prolific seed producer. A chemical control regimen will address the issue at both ends: with a pre-emergent herbicide (such as dithiopyr) and a post-emergent herbicide (such as 2,4-D). Persistence is required.

    If you choose to engage the enemy organically (by digging it up), you will have to be persistent, too.The tiniest pieces of vegetation in the soil will regenerate.

  • 06 of 09
    Dock flower (seed) heads against a snowy backdrop.
    Curly dock has dried seed heads that remind people of coffee grounds. David Beaulieu

    Yellow or "curly" dock is one of the easier plants listed here to identify. It has a distinctive dried flower head that resembles coffee grounds. A dock is a tall plant when mature, so you may not associate it with lawns, but seeds may well sprout up as tiny plants in your lawn, and especially along fence lines if you haven't trimmed diligently. 

    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...MORE 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.

    Yellow dock is known for its medicinal qualities. Herbalists have used it to treat anemia since it is high in iron. It can also be used to relief the burning sensation of stinging nettle. Do not eat yellow dock raw, though, as it can cause intestinal discomfort. Careful preparation is required for any use. 

  • 07 of 09
    Red clover's leaf (image) is tripartite. This is why St. Patrick could compare it to the Trinity.
    Red clover has three leaflets, marked with a lighter-colored "V.". David Beaulieu

    There are many species of clover, all of which homeowners would like to banish from the lawn. This is perhaps a mistake, as clovers are actually quite healthy for a lawn. It is fragrant, resists most pests, helps to aerate the soil, and best of all, as a member of the pea family, clover actually adds nitrogen to the soil. There is a lot to be said for a lawn that contains a healthy percentage of clover within its turf-grass blend. Besides red clover (Trifolium pratense), white clover (Trifolium...MORE repens) is the most common lawn clover. 

    But if you are resolute about eradicating the clover mixed in with your turf 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). Along with other broadleaf weeds, clover will also be killed by such herbicides. 

    For more environmentally friendly controls, you can simply to pull up the clover. Be aware, though that the presence of the clover in the first place indicates that your soil is lacking in nitrogen. If you remove the clover, you should add nitrogen in the form of compost or granular fertilizer. If entire patches of lawn are bare once the clover is removed, you should reseed these areas with turf grass. To prevent the reappearance of clover, keep these spots healthy and well-fed. 

    A common lawn weed that resembles a type of clover but isn't one is Oxalis stricta, better-known as sourgrass or as yellow wood sorrel.

  • 08 of 09
    As my photo shows there are white wild violets, besides purple-blue and yellow.
    Wild violets add so much visual interest to a lawn that some people choose to let them grow. 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 you won't have to buy it. Violets may actually work very well if you want a naturalistic feel to your lawn. 

    But if you prefer a lawn of uniform turf grass, violets...MORE can be pulled, provided you extract the entire root system. Chemical controls include spot-treating with glyphosate (Round-Up) or using a broad-leaf weedkiller such as Weed-B-Gone. Fall is the best time to treat violets. 

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09
    Photo of 5-inch leaf and bent stem of of smooth crabgrass. It's also called small crabgrass.
    Smooth crabgrass bears a leaf blade that is about 5 inches long. Note also the bent stem (upper right). David Beaulieu

    Many weeds have a "silver lining" in the way of offering attractive flowers, pleasant scent, or by being edible. You can find no such advantage with crabgrass. 

    These annual grasses can produce as many as 150,000 seeds per plant and are very hard to combat. This is not a weed that can be readily pulled, and as a grass, it is not susceptible to broadleaf herbicides. Most of the chemicals that kill crabgrass will also kill all other turf grasses. 

    The best solution for controlling crabgrass...MORE is using pre-emergent herbicides designed specifically for crabgrass. Crabgrass thrives in bare, poor soil, so keeping your turf grass healthy and thick is one of the best preventive measures.