Everything You Need To Know About Grassy Weeds

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Maintaining a perfect lawn in Nebraska can be challenging enough, but that challenge gets even more difficult when you start to see grassy weeds popping up all across your yard. Dealing with grassy weeds is especially tricky because of how closely related they are to the grass in your lawn. Unlike your turfgrass, however, grassy weeds will utilize their invasive roots and aggressive expansion methods to grow and spread at an unhealthy rate, meaning these weeds will leave little nutrients in the soil for your lawn. To make sure this doesn't happen here in our own backyards, Summit Lawns has put together this guide to grassy weeds to help you identify and fight grassy weeds in Nebraska!

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What Are Grassy Weeds?

Nutsedge in lawn

To put it plainly, grassy weeds are just weedy types of grass. All lawn weeds are defined as any type of undesirable plant growing in your lawn where it is not wanted. In the case of grassy weeds, this usually refers to plants that are members of the Poaceae family, which is the same family that comprises the healthy turfgrass in your lawn! This classification is what makes grassy weeds so difficult to detect, as they are essentially just slightly different-looking grasses hiding in your lawn.

The problem with grassy weeds is that they do not grow in the same manner as turfgrass. The various types of grassy weeds often produce hundreds or thousands of seeds per season, and their roots are often shallow and fibrous to gain first access to water, minerals, and other natural resources from the soil. If a grassy weed invasion is allowed to spread across your lawn, you will quickly notice clumps of unattractive-looking grass that disrupt the uniformity of a well-maintained lawn. To make matters worse, your lawn will start to wither and become thin or discolored as grassy weeds absorb the majority of the nutrients and crowd out the roots of your turfgrass.

What Do Grassy Weeds Look Like?

crabgrass bunch growth

Though identifying grassy weeds requires a closer examination, there are ways to differentiate the grass in your lawn from undesirable grassy weeds. It may sound overly simple, but all you really need to do is search for different-looking grass blades. Spotting the differences may require more than a quick glance, but grasses (and grassy weeds) come in all kinds of different shades, shapes, textures, and heights. Grassy weeds will cause your lawn to look uneven and patchy because there will be areas of taller and atypical grass compared to the surrounding turfgrass. For instance, if your lawn is seeded with Kentucky bluegrass and some ryegrass seeds find their way into your lawn, those seeds will sprout grass that is a completely different color and texture than the rest of your lawn. As long as you have a keen eye when you are out in the yard, identifying grassy weeds should be no problem!

Look For These In Your Lawn:

  • Taller growth than the surrounding grass
  • Quicker growth rate
  • Brighter, green leaf blades
  • Different leaf shapes (rolled, pointed, etc.)
  • Discolored or thin patches in your lawn
  • Prominent seed heads
  • Shallow, invasive roots
  • Bunching or clumping growth pattern

Where To Find Grassy Weeds

identifying barnyardgrass

We have talked mostly about finding grassy weeds in lawns because that is where they are most commonly found, not to mention how difficult they are to spot in a lawn. However, because of the ways grassy weeds spread, it is not uncommon to find them in places like roadsides or cracks in the cement also. Grassy weeds utilize a combination of underground runners and seed dispersal (depending on the species) to grow new plants, which means they can be found just about anywhere. You are likely to invite a grassy weed invasion to your yard if your lawn is struggling to grow properly. Lawns can struggle for a variety of reasons, with excess levels of nitrogen in the soil and drainage issues being among the most common reasons you might find grassy weeds in your lawn.

Common Sites Of Grassy Weeds:

  • Shady spots in a yard
  • Areas with poor drainage
  • Overly fertilized lawns/soil
  • Compacted lawns
  • Near sprinkler heads
  • Underneath trees & shrubs
  • Untended borders & beds
  • Generally struggling lawns

Life Cycle Of Grassy Weeds

goosegrass seedhead

Some types of grassy weeds only live through one season, while others are capable of reappearing in your lawn for several years. After a seed finds its way into the soil on your property, it will begin to germinate and go through photosynthesis to attain the proper level of nourishment for growth. Once the root structure of the weed is established, it will begin to produce leaves and start competing with nearby grass for resources. During this stage, weeds will sprout new shoots and produce more seeds in order to reproduce and invade other areas, starting the cycle over again.

Annual Grassy Weeds

annual bluegrass up close

Annual grassy weeds are plants that complete their life cycle within one year. They tend to have a short germination period and can quickly invade a lawn, growing rapidly in the warm months before dying off in winter. Most annual grassy weeds produce seeds that are dispersed every season and remain dormant in the soil until the right conditions are present for germination. These plants tend to thrive in areas with ample sunlight, fertile soil, and plenty of water. Winter annuals (often misidentified as biennials) will even go dormant in the cold months and attack your lawn as soon as spring arrives, well before your lawn even has a chance to get established. These plants only survive for one season and do not have enough time to develop overly complex root systems. For this reason, seed dispersal is the main way annual grassy weeds spread.

Common Examples:

  • Crabgrass
  • Goosegrass
  • Barnyardgrass
  • Annual Bluegrass

Perennial Grassy Weeds

identifying nutsedge

Perennial grassy weeds, on the other hand, may live for two or more years, and they can often thrive throughout multiple seasons. While some perennials can survive unfavorable conditions, such as drought or freezing temperatures, others prosper under more favorable conditions with adequate sunlight and moisture. Perennial grassy weeds often reproduce by using underground root systems to spread from one area to another, sometimes over great distances. Surviving through multiple seasons means these weeds have more time to develop roots (even deeper tap roots), tubers, and runners all across your lawn. In addition to spreading by rhizomes and stolons, perennial grassy weeds can also produce seeds; however, this is usually a secondary method of reproduction. The strong, invasive roots of perennial grassy weeds are the real troublemakers!

Common Examples:

  • Nutsedge
  • Quackgrass
  • Bermudagrass
  • Perennial Ryegrass

Preventing & Removing Grassy Weeds

identifying goosegrass

Preventing grassy weeds is always going to be easier and more effective than trying to remove them after they've matured. Non-selective weed killers are the most effective option for removing established grassy weeds, but these types of herbicides can not differentiate between the grass in your lawn and the weeds you are trying to remove. Professionals like the team here at Summit Lawns should always be consulted before trying to apply any chemicals to your lawn. Give us a call today at (402) 413-6622 for all your weed control needs in Nebraska, and make sure to keep the following tips in mind to prevent grassy weeds:

  • Fertilize Properly - Too much nitrogen in your lawn is a common cause of grassy weeds, which is why fertilizing properly is so important.
  • Water Deeply - The shallow roots of grassy weeds get first access to water, so longer watering sessions give your lawn a chance to hydrate.
  • Mow High - Allowing your grass to grow slightly taller than normal can help crowd out any weed seedlings that try to emerge.
  • Aerate Compacted Soil - Aeration decompresses compacted soils, which allows your lawn to thrive and crowd out harmful weeds.
  • Use Mulch - Mulching your garden beds and soil can help to reduce the spread of grassy weeds by preventing them from emerging.
  • Apply Pre-Emergent - Pre-emergent is best applied in spring when young seeds are still germinating. Check out our guide to pre-emergents for even more help!