Help identifying grassy weed using seed head

The Only Weed Identification Guide You’ll Ever Need: 33 Common Weedy Plants to Watch For

Don’t let these pesky plants crash your garden party! The first step is to know your enemy. Then you’ll know the best way to deal with your weed problem.

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What is a Weed, Anyway?

A weed can be any plant growing where you don’t want it to. However, there are some particularly weedy species to keep an eye out for. These aggressive plants not only make your yard look messy, they can also choke out the garden plants you’ve worked so hard to grow. Whether you’re trying to identify lawn weeds or garden weeds, this handy guide will help you identify more than 30 common weeds by photo, plus give you tips for how to best remove them.

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Dandelion

Type: Broadleaf perennial

Size: 12 inches tall, 6 – 16 inches wide

Where It Grows: Lawns and gardens in sun or shade

Appearance: This common lawn weed has a long taproot; leaves are deeply notched. Yellow flowers mature into puffballs. Dandelion seeds are like parachutes that fly away in the wind, helping them invade new spaces in lawns and garden beds.

Weed Control Tips: Mulch to prevent dandelions in gardens. Pull dandelion weeds by hand or treat lawns with a broadleaf herbicide, which won’t kill grass.

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Oxalis

Type: Broadleaf perennial

Size: To 20 inches tall

Where It Grows: Sunny or shady landscape, lawn, or garden areas

Appearance: This garden weed has light green leaves that look a little like clover and cup-shape yellow flowers in summer and fall.

Weed Control Tips: Mulch garden areas in spring to prevent weeds. Pull oxalis weeds by hand or spray weeds with a broadleaf herbicide in spring or fall.

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Crabgrass

Type: Grassy annual

Size: To 18 inches tall and 20 inches wide

Where It Grows: Lawn, landscape, and garden areas in sun or shade

Appearance: Crabgrass is exactly what it sounds like: A grassy weed. This lawn weed grows roots anywhere the stem makes soil contact. Seed heads spread out like four fingers.

Control: Use a preemergence weed preventer to prevent seeds from sprouting, pull crabgrass by hand, or spot-treat with a nonselective herbicide if growing in sidewalk cracks or other places where nothing else is growing.

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Bindweed

Type: Broadleaf perennial

Size: Climbs 6 feet or more

Where It Grows: Landscape and garden areas in sun

Appearance: Identify this garden weed by its arrowhead-shape leaves on twining vines. Bindweed also produces white to pale pink morning glory-type flowers.

Control: Mulch your garden to prevent bindweed. Repeatedly pull or cut down growing bindweed plants and/or spot treat with a nonselective herbicide designed to kill roots, not just above-ground growth.

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White Clover

Type: Broadleaf perennial

Size: 8-10 inches tall, 12 inches wide

Where It Grows: Lawn, landscape, and garden areas in sun to partial shade

Appearance: White clover has three-lobe leaves and round white flower clusters. The plants quickly spread outward to form dense mats of foliage.

Control: Mulch your garden beds to prevent white clover in landscape areas. Use an iron-based herbicide to get rid of clover growing in lawns or dig out the weeds in garden beds.

Test Garden Tip: Clover adds nitrogen to the soil plus the flowers feed many pollinators so some gardeners use this plant to create a more environmentally friendly lawn.

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Nutsedge

Type: Grass-like perennial

Size: 2 feet tall, 1 foot wide

Where It Grows: Lawn, landscape, or garden areas in sun or shade

Appearance: Nutsedge has slender, grassy leaves, triangular stems, and small, nutlike tubers on the root system. When these weeds pop up in lawns, they often grow faster than turf grass, so they are easy to spot.

Control: Mulch garden areas in spring to help prevent nutsedge. Plants are easy to pull up by hand, but it will take repeated weeding to get rid of an infestation. Various herbicides are labeled for use on nutsedge in lawns but it is important to use the right one for the type of turf grass you have to avoid damaging it.

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Creeping Charlie

Type: Broadleaf perennial

Size: 4 inches tall, several feet wide

Where It Grows: Shady lawn, landscape, or garden areas

Appearance: Identify this lawn weed and groundcover by its scalloped leaves, creeping stems, and clusters of purple flowers in late spring.

Control: Mulch garden areas in spring to prevent creeping charlie. Pull plants by hand or spray with a postemergence herbicide in spring or fall.

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Lamb’s-Quarter

Type: Broadleaf annual

Size: To 4 feet tall and 18 inches wide

Where It Grows: Landscape and garden areas in sun or shade

Appearance: Lamb’s-quarter’s scalloped, triangular leaves have gray undersides.

Control: Mulch your garden to prevent lamb’s-quarter. Pull weed plants by hand or use a postemergence herbicide.

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Plantain

Type: Broadleaf perennial

Size: To 8 inches tall and 12 inches wide

Where It Grows: Moist lawn and garden areas in sun or shade

Appearance: When you’re identifying weeds in your garden, if you spot broad, flat, oval-shape leaves arranged in a low rosette, you’ve likely found a plantain.

Control: Mulch to prevent plantains growing in the garden. Pull these weeds by hand or use a postemergence herbicide in lawns.

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Dayflower

Type: Annual grass relative

Size: To 30 inches tall and wide

Where It Grows: Sunny or shady landscape areas

Appearance: Dayflowers have dark green leaves sprouting from a stem and brilliant blue flowers through the summer.

Control: Mulch the garden to prevent weeds or use a preemergence herbicide in spring. Pull weeds by hand or spot-treat with a nonselective postemergence herbicide.

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Purslane

Type: Broadleaf annual

Size: To 6 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Where it grows: Dry, sunny landscape and garden areas

Appearance: Identify this weed groundcover by its fleshy, dark green leaves and small yellow flowers at the ends of the stems.

Control: Mulch your garden to prevent purslane or use a preemergence herbicide in the spring. Pull plants by hand or spot-treat with a nonselective postemergence herbicide.

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Velvetleaf

Type: Broadleaf annual

Size: To 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide

Where It Grows: Fertile, sunny landscape and garden areas

Appearance: Velvetleaf gets its name because of its large, velvety heart-shape leaves up to 10 inches across. The weed blooms with yellow flowers in summer.

Weed Control: Mulch your garden to prevent velvetleaf or use a preemergence herbicide in spring. Pull existing plants by hand or use a postemergence herbicide.

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Wild Violet

Type: Broadleaf perennial

Size: 6 inches tall, 6 inches wide

Where It Grows: Shady lawn, landscape, or garden areas

Appearance: Wild violet is a groundcover with heart-shape leaves and purple flowers in late spring.

Control: Mulch garden beds in spring to prevent wild violet. Pull weeds by hand or spray with a postemergence herbicide in spring or fall.

Test Garden Tip: This plant is sometimes grown as an ornamental in shade gardens.

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Smartweed

Type: Broadleaf annual

Size: To 42 inches tall and 30 inches wide

Where It Grows: Sunny landscape and garden areas

Appearance: Identify garden weeds like smartweed by its lance-shape leaves often marked with purple chevrons. It’s an upright plant with pink or white flowers in summer and fall.

Control: To prevent this weed, mulch garden beds in spring. Pull plants by hand or apply a postemergence herbicide once it grows.

Test Garden Tip: This weed is native to areas of North America. Unlike many exotic weeds, it does support local wildlife.

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Quickweed

Type: Broadleaf annual

Size: To 2 feet tall and wide

Where It Grows: Sunny landscape and garden areas

Appearance: Quickweed has jagged, hairy leaves and small white daisy-shape flowers in summer.

Control: Use a mulch or a preemergence herbicide in spring to prevent quickweed. If plants do grow, pull them by hand or spot-treat them with a postemergence herbicide.

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Pigweed

Type: Broadleaf annual

Size: 6 feet tall, 2 feet wide

Where it grows: Sunny landscape or garden areas

Appearance: Pigweeds are tall plants with a taproot. Identify weeds by their hairy-looking clusters of green flowers (though some varieties are grown as annuals).

Control: Mulch garden areas in spring to prevent pigweed or use a preemergence herbicide in spring. Pull weeds by hand or spray with a postemergence weed killer.

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Canada Thistle

Type: Broadleaf perennial

Size: To 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide

Where It Grows: Sunny lawn, landscape, or garden areas

Appearance: Canada thistle has spiny, gray-green leaves and purple flowers.

Control: Mulch your garden to prevent it in landscape areas. Use a postemergence herbicide in lawns in spring or fall, or dig the weed out by hand.

Test Garden Tip: Thistle has an extensive root system that can grow several feet out from the main plant.

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Knotweed

Type: Broadleaf annual

Size: To 8 inches tall and 2 feet wide

Where It Grows: Sunny or partly shaded lawn, landscape, or garden areas

Appearance: Knotweed is an invasive groundcover with blue-green leaves sparsely appearing on long stems.

Control: Prevent knotweed with a deep layer of mulch or apply a preemergence herbicide in spring. Once the plant grows, hand-pull or spot-treat it with a nonselective weed killer.

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Pokeweed

Type: Broadleaf perennial

Size: To 10 feet tall and 2 feet wide

Where It Grows: Sunny landscape or garden areas

Appearance: Identify this garden weed by its light green leaves, clusters of white flowers, and dark purple berries.

Control: Prevent pokeweed with a deep layer of mulch. Once the plant grows, hand-pull or spot-treat it with an herbicide.

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Poison Ivy

Type: Broadleaf perennial

Size: To 15 feet tall and wide

Where It Grows: Sunny or shady landscape or garden areas

Appearance: Poison ivy can be a vine, shrub, or groundcover. The weed has leaves divided into three leaflets and can sprout clusters of green berries.

Control: Prevent poison ivy with a deep layer of mulch. If the weed starts to grow in your yard, spot-treat it with an herbicide or wrap your hand in a plastic bag, pull the plant up, roots and all, and carefully invert the plastic bag around the plant, seal, and throw away.

Test Garden Tip: The plant contains oils that cause a severe allergic skin reaction in many people when touched. These oils are present even on dead leaves and can become airborne and inhaled if the plant is burned.

How to Identify Common Lawn Weeds

No one likes a weedy lawn. Following are 16 of the most troublesome lawn weeds, with information to help you identify and control them, so you can have the nicest most weed-free lawn on the block:

Annual bluegrass: Annual bluegrass is a bright green annual grass with grain-like seedheads that give the lawn a whitish, speckled look. Annual bluegrass is sometimes called winter grass in mild-winter climates where it shows up in dormant Bermuda grass lawns. (The dormant grass is brown.)

Aerate compacted soil. Mow higher to shade out seedlings. Mow more frequently, so seedheads don’t mature. Water only when necessary. Apply pre-emergence herbicide in late summer to early fall. Spot-treat with a selective herbicide in dormant Bermuda grass lawns.

Bermuda grass: Bermuda grass is a light green, perennial grass with fine textured leaves. It spreads rapidly by seed, stolons (creeping, above-ground stems), and rhizomes (below-ground stems). Seedheads are arranged like helicopter blades.

Tough to control without herbicides, eventually Bermuda grass takes over and becomes the lawn in many mild winter areas. Pre-emergences can prevent seeds from germinating. You can spot-treat existing plants with glyphosate and then replant (glyphosate kills everything) or renovate the entire lawn. Otherwise, if you’re trying to keep your cool-season grass, make sure that it grows vigorously by caring for it properly.

Broadleaf plantain: Broadleaf plantain has bright green leaves that are often scalloped.

Aerate compacted soil. Avoid overwatering. This weed is easy to pull by hand when the plant is young. Control with appropriate, labeled weed-and-feed products.

Burclover: Burclover is easy to identify by its light green, cloverlike leaves, yellow flowers, and spiny seed pod (the bur).

Take better care of the lawn. Aerate soil to improve water penetration. Water more efficiently and fertilize at recommended levels.

Crabgrass: Crabgrass leaves are blue-green, often tinged purple, and form a tight, compact, crab-like circle (hence the name). Stems are spreading. Seedheads form in summer and fall and can reach several feet high if not mowed.

Growing a dense, healthy lawn is the best prevention. So step up your maintenance and water, fertilize, and mow properly. Hand pull individual plants before they set seed. Appropriate, labeled weed-and-feed products are also effective.

Dallis grass: Dallis grass has leaves are light green and seedheads look a little like the tail of a rattlesnake.

Aerate to improve drainage. Adjust sprinklers to allow wet areas to dry partially between waterings. Dig out individual plants (make sure that you get as much of the short rhizomes as possible) and reseed. Weed-and-feed products provide pre- or post-emergence control.

Dandelion: This perennial broadleaf weed has with yellow flowers and puffball seedheads has leaves that are dark green and scalloped.

Pull individual plants whenever you see them. Cut off flowers before they form seeds. Use an appropriate, labeled weed-and-feed product.

Dock: Dock grows as a tight rosette of dark green leaves with a tall flower stalk that turns rusty brown as it dries.

Aerate to improve drainage. Allow the lawn to dry out between waterings. Dig out individual plants by hand. Reduce shade by pruning trees. Cut off any seed heads that form.

English daisy: This low-growing broadleaf perennial sports pretty, white with a yellow center, daisy-like flowers and dark green leaves.

Some people just leave this weed alone — they like the flowers. Otherwise, pull by hand and water and fertilize more efficiently. Appropriate, labeled weed-and-feed products are also effective.

Ground ivy: Leaves are dark green, round with scalloped edges. Small, purplish flowers appear in spring.

Take better care of your lawn with appropriate watering and fertilizer. Pull young plants out by hand. Spot-treat small invasions with a broadleaf herbicide and then replant. Apply an appropriate, labeled weed-and-feed product.

Henbit: Small, roundish, scalloped leaves appear in pairs along square stems and are hairy. Pink to purple flowers form on the top of upright stems in fall and spring.

This weed is easy to pull by hand. Keep the lawn growing vigorously and mow properly. Apply appropriate, labeled weed-and-feed product.

Mallow: Mallow has dark green, roundish, heavily crinkled, leaves.

Mallow is hard to control. Hand-pull in new lawns. Keep the lawn growing vigorously and mow at the proper height. Apply an appropriate, labeled weed-and-feed product.

Oxalis: Oxalis has bright green cloverlike leaves and small, yellow flowers.

Oxalis is hard to control, even with herbicides. Keep the lawn growing vigorously with appropriate water and fertilizer. Spot-treat small areas with a broadleaf herbicide. Carefully time applications of weed-and-feed products. You may need to repeat applications to provide control. Follow label instructions carefully.

Prostrate knotweed: Prostrate knotweed has small, pointed, blue-green leaves. Tiny, white to yellow flowers form on stems during summer to fall.

Pull individual plants by hand, making sure that you get the crown and roots. Aerate compacted areas. Use an appropriate, labeled weed-and-feed product.

Spotted spurge: Spotted spurge has tiny green leaves, each with a red spot.

Keep the lawn growing vigorously and mow at the correct height. Pull individual plants. Apply an appropriate, labeled weed-and-feed product.

Yellow nutsedge: This perennial sedge has three-sided stems and yellow- green, grasslike leaves. A tall, brownish-yellow flower spike appears in summer.

This weed is hard to control. Aerate to improve drainage. Let the lawn dry out partially between waterings. Pull weeds by hand when very young. Spot-treat plants with appropriate, labeled herbicides. Replant if necessary.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

About the Authors Lance Walheim, former staff garden writer for Sunset magazine, is the nationally recognized author of over 30 widely read garden books, including The Natural Rose Gardener and Hungry Minds’ Roses For Dummies. The National Gardening Association (NGA) is recognized for its bimonthly National Gardening magazine and prolific work in science education for children. NGA is also the coauthor of Gardening For Dummies. Roses For Dummies. Perennials For Dummies. Annuals For Dummies. and Container Gardening For Dummies.