You’ve been working hard on cultivating the perfectly manicured lawn, taking all the necessary steps to plant seed or sod, fertilize, and mow appropriately. Despite your best efforts, there seem to be patches of your lawn that don’t match the rest. There are some common weeds that look like grass which tend to blend in with a lawn and thus can be more difficult to identify and target when compared to the average dandelion.
In this article I’ll help you identify these grass-like weeds and offer advice for how to combat and eliminate them from your lawn.
Common Weeds That Look Like Grass
Click to jump to a specific weed that resembles grass
Also known as finger grasses, crabgrass can be an invasive type of weed that looks very much like grass.
It often sprouts in smaller patches throughout your lawn and has a distinctly coarse texture compared to the rest of your lawn. Thankfully, crabgrass is an annual plant so it only survives for the season and then dies.
That said, it spreads quickly, and because of its thick blades and lateral growth, it can quickly do permanent damage to your lawn by crowding out and smothering the grass surrounding it.
This is why it’s important to be vigilant and act right away if you see crabrass in your lawn.
The best way to get rid of crabgrass is by preventing its germination using a pre-emergent herbicide that can be commonly found in combination with fertilizer that you can spread in early spring.
Once crabgrass has germinated, the best way to get rid of it is by pulling it or using a direct herbicide for your lawn.
Thankfully, crabgrass is not perennial so it is relatively easy to get rid of it with some diligence, and once you improve your lawn the canopy will be too dense for crabgrass to grow.
Wild garlic and onion
While it looks very much like a tall grass, wild onion and wild garlic are very fragrant and thus these grass-like weeds are pretty unmistakable once you get close enough to smell them.
If you finish mowing and it smells like you’ve been making pasta sauce, there’s a good chance you have some wild onion and/or wild garlic hiding in your lawn.
Wild onion and wild garlic also become noticeable as they grow faster than regular grass and quickly surpass the height of your lawn.
They grow in clumps, so if you have them, the rate of growth and growth habit make them pretty easy to identify.
For those who love garlic and onion as an addition to many dishes, this may be more of a fortuitous find (transplant them!). However, even the biggest garlic fans probably don’t want a swath of it in the middle of their lawn.
Thankfully, these weeds that resemble grass tend to only grow in early spring and late fall, becoming dormant in the summer season.
To remove them from your yard, dig them up (I recommend transferring them to a pot or herb garden) – just make sure to get bulb and all, or they’ll come back.
Herbicides will also work to kill wild garlic and onion, just make sure to check the label of the product your purchase to ensure that wild garlic and onion are included in the list of weeds it treats.
Before it matures and blooms, nutsedge can look much like a tall grass.
Unlike crabgrass, Nutsedge is a perennial weed that can be quite invasive and difficult to get under control due to its hardy root systems.
It can also be spread throughout your lawn (or from a neighbor’s lawn) both by airborne seeds as well as underground rhizomes or tubers. It will continue to come back year after year unless you get it under control.
Sort of like fight club, the first rule of Nutsedge is not to pull Nutsedge.
If you try to combat it by pulling it, you’re likely to leave behind tubers or rhizomes that will end up sprouting.
One of the most effective ways to prevent Nutsedge is to grow a thick and hardy lawn that will crowd out Nutsedge, and prevent this invasive grass-like weed from being able to properly root and grow those rhizomes and tubers that make it so invasive.
But if you have it, recommending that you hop in your time machine and take steps to prevent it doesn’t help you.
If you have Nutsedge in your lawn, there are specific herbicides that can be applied directly to the base of Nutsedge to kill the entire plant including the underground components, and while I always recommend an organic approach when I can, in this case this will be your best course of action.
Click here to read my article about killing Nutsedge.
Another common weed that looks like grass is couch grass or common couch.
Sometimes referred to as quack grass, this is another invasive species that is hardy and can propagate quickly in your lawn via rhizomes as part of a complex and fibrous root system.
This makes it hard to pull in its entirety.
It also spreads via airborne seeds, thus being able to travel longer distances and quickly find a home in thin lawns.
Similar to many of the other grass-like weeds, prevention by crowding out seeds is the most effective way to prevent these species from invading, which is why proper and regular lawn maintenance and improvement are always my best defense against lawn weeds.
This weed gets its name from the appearance of the mature heads that bloom on these grass-like stalks. The heads look like small fuzzy foxtails!
They can grow anywhere from 10cm to 100cm tall and are very common in prairies and meadows. Despite its cute name, it is an invasive species that can be quite problematic, especially for farmers, and a nuisance to lawn owners everywhere.
This hardy annual plant with hundreds of seeds per foxtail plume spreads easily, as these seeds can travel great distances with enough wind.
Despite how hardy these lawn weeds are once established, they are quite a picky species when it comes to germinating. They prefer moist soil and are easily crowded out by densely planted lawns or fields.
Green Foxtail also prefers warmer soil in the range of 15 to 35 degrees Celsius (59-95 degrees Fahrenheit), but this weed can germinate at any point in the season as long as conditions are favorable.
Like most lawn weeds, Green Foxtail can be controlled with some herbicidal solutions, but the best way to prevent this invasive species is by crowding it out with a thick, healthy lawn.
Another hardy perennial, Smooth Bromegrass, is highly adaptable and it is able to grow even in cold conditions and survive for quite a long time once established.
Like Nutsedge, Bromegrass can grow rhizomes underground through intricate root systems, which will help it to spread across your lawn quickly … especially if your lawn is thin.
These qualities make it an invasive species that can easily get out of control.
However, Bromegrass serves an important purposes as hay and grazing fields for livestock and it can also help to prevent soil erosion due to this strong root system.
Despite these qualities, most homeowners probably don’t want it in their lawn. To control and eliminate Smooth Bromegrass in your lawn, I recommend mowing it down low and attempting to crowd it out with a thick, healthy lawn canopy. In a worse-case scenario, you should opt for an application of herbicide designed to target this grass-like weed.
Also known as “poverty rush” or “path rush”, this grass-like perennial tends to grow in clumps, which is similar to crabgrass.
It is propagated by above-ground seeds as well as below-ground tubers that form with the help of the root system. The deeper root structure with rhizome propagation makes slender rush a particularly invasive species to get under control in lawns, because it can still be present even if you can’t necessarily see it yet.
Herbicides are not usually an effective way to control slender rush.
Manual weed management tends to be the most effective way of dealing with this invasive weed that looks like grass. This can involve pulling weeds by hand. Do so carefully, and be sure to get the root system as well.
The other options is a mowing routine that doesn’t allow for the plant to mature and spread seeds above ground.
You’ve likely heard this species discussed in the context of a grass, however it is an invasive perennial that has characteristics of a weed, particularly if your lawn is primarily a different type of turfgrass.
Similar to some of the other species discussed above, tall fescue has the ability to propagate via rhizomes underneath the ground. It is highly drought resistant, and in areas where it has been planted it has often taken over, crowding out other species of grass.
If you wanted to get rid of tall fescue grass that has run wild in your yard, you’d probably have to solarize it. Solarizing involves covering up large areas of grass to deprive it of sunlight and also increase the heat underneath the tarp so that it kills everything underneath.
Herbicides could also be used, but it would take a large amount which could get costly and be harmful to the environment, so I recommend solarizing tall fescue.
Restoring Lawn and Order
It’s interesting to compare various grass-like weeds and perennials that are less desirable than the perfectly manicured lawn.
Eliminating Weeds That Look Like Grass
Careful selection of grass species is important in establishing a lawn.
It’s also possible to crowd out many of these invasive species by planting additional grass seed seasonally (overseeding) to create a thick and lush lawn.
Pre-emergent methods can also be an effective backup method of prevention, and using a pre-emergent every spring for several years as you overseed, fertilize, and use proper irrigation to improve your lawn can help to create that thick, dense lawn canopy that will prevent weeds from taking root in your grass.
Finally, spot treatment with the appropriate herbicide can nip any problematic weeds in the bud.
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