10 Weeds That Look Like Grass Because they often blend in with your lawn, weeds that look like grass can establish themselves before you realize they’re there. At that point, they’ve been taking If you’ve noticed some weeds that look like wheat appearing all over your lawn, you might be wondering what they are. I’ll explain what they are in this post. Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum), also known as highwaygrass, is an aggressive, warm-season perennial grass. Bahiagrass has a mat-forming habit with a light…
10 Weeds That Look Like Grass
Because they often blend in with your lawn, weeds that look like grass can establish themselves before you realize they’re there. At that point, they’ve been taking nutrients from your lawn for weeks, gathering the strength to fight off your control efforts. Knowing how to identify common grassy weeds lets you get the jump on them before they make themselves too comfortable.
Annual Bluegrass (Poa annua)
Annual bluegrass is a lighter, brighter green than its relative Kentucky bluegrass and produces a long ligule, or membrane, that holds the base of the leaf to the stem. When viewed from the side, the leaf tips curve up like the bow of a ship. It prefers cool, moist conditions and is likely to turn brown when summer temperatures rise.
Foramsulfuron can get rid of existing annual bluegrass, and it’s safe for some turfgrasses. Several pre-emergent herbicides, including bensulide, dithiopyr, and oryzalin, can be applied in the fall to stop annual bluegrass from coming up in spring.
Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis)
This common lawn weed is named for its distinctive horizontally spreading crab-shaped growth habit. Full grown crabgrass leaves are bright apple green with a central fold and noticeably wider than the leaves of most lawn grasses. It’s a warm-season annual that thrives in hot weather.
To spot treat a small crabgrass patch, thoroughly douse it with vinegar of 5 percent acidity or higher and repeat the process for several days or until the crabgrass dies.
Herbicides containing quinclorac control crabgrass without harming most turfgrasses. Some pre-emergents such as dithiopyr, prodiamine, and pendimethalin are safe to use on healthy, well established lawns. Ultimately, a thick, healthy lawn is the best defense against this weed.
Quackgrass (Elymus repens)
Also known as common crouch, quackgrass is a cool-season perennial most easily recognized by its auricles, the finger-like leaves that grasp the stems and project outward from them. The grass spreads aggressively through rhizomes and forms coarse-textured, ashy blue-green patches.
The safest way to get rid of small patches of quackgrass is to dig it up by the roots or solarize it by covering it with black plastic, such as a black bucket, for at least four weeks during the height of summer. Spot treatment with a non-selective herbicide is also an option. Keep in mind that non-selective herbicides can also kill any lawn grass they touch, so careful application is essential.
Creeping bentgrass (Agrostis palustris)
This cool-season perennial grows as a dense, fine-textured mat and spreads through stolons, forming gray-green patches that stand out as light spots in most turfgrasses. It starts to look puffy when it grows past 1 inch, but it tolerates short mowing well, making it a popular choice for golf courses. While it flourishes in cool, wet spring weather, it turns brown when temperatures heat up. Mesotrione is one of the most effective herbicides for controlling creeping bentgrass.
Nutsedge (Cyperus sp.)
Two species of this perennial weed show up in lawns: yellow nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) and purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus). They favor wet areas and produce long, narrow leaves and brush-like flowers in either yellow in mid-summer or dark reddish-purple in late summer.
Dig up a clump, and among its roots you’ll find the “nutlets” that give this sedge its name. Post-emergent herbicides containing sulfosulfuron work well for controlling nutsedge, but killing off the nutlets is essential. Avoid overwatering your lawn.
Carpetgrass (Axonopus sp.)
Boggy, shady areas with acidic soils are the preferred home of both broadleaf carpetgrass (Axonopus compressus), sometimes called blanketgrass, and narrowleaf carpetgrass (Axonopus affinis). These grasses form a dense, coarse, medium-green mat that can grow up to 12 inches high. Both warm-season perennials, they turn green late in spring, send up tall, crabgrass-like seedheads in summer, then turn brown as soon as temperatures drop again.
Dousing this grass with a solution of 1/4 cup salt in 1 gallon water is often enough to kill it, but if it doesn’t, allowing the soil to dry out or applying lime to lower the soil pH might. Oryzalin is effective as a pre-emergent herbicide.
Broom sedge (Andropogon virginicus)
A warm-season perennial, this grass grows upright in narrow bunches, particularly in sunny areas of low soil fertility and low soil pH levels such as abandoned lots and near railroad tracks. It’s medium green in summer, then turns a coppery orange and stiffens in fall.
Herbicides aren’t much help here. Contrary to its name, this plant is a grass, not a true sedge, so many treatments that control it also harm turfgrass. Spot treating with vinegar or any non-selective herbicide is your best bet for small areas. In large areas, proper fertilization and liming as needed gets rid of broom sedge over several years.
Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense)
Young johnsongrass resembles corn seedlings and quickly matures to a height of up to 7 feet. Its 1/2- to 1-inch-wide leaves are marked by a white vein running down the center. From May to the first frost, this warm-season perennial produces purplish flowerhead tufts that can grow up to 1 foot long.
The simplest way to get rid of this grass is by dousing the seedlings in vinegar or digging them up and disposing of them. For larger patches, the herbicide sulfosulfuron is one of the most effective choices, and it won’t harm most turfgrasses. If you’re willing to re-seed or re-sod in spring, tilling the soil in autumn gets rid of johnsongrass by bringing the rhizomes to soil surface, where the winter cold will kill them.
Goosegrass (Eleusine indica)
This annual silvery-green grass is most easily identified by its flowerhead comprised of two to 10 finger-like strands that spread out like a goose’s foot. It grows in a spreading formation like crabgrass, but can also grow straight up to 16 inches.
Goosegrass thrives in compacted, poorly drained soil, so aerating your lawn helps discourage this weed, as can applying corn gluten meal to your lawn in spring. For chemical treatment, a combination of benefin and trifluralin works as a pre-emergent, while mesotrione is an effective post-emergent. Dithiopyr can work as both.
Foxtail (Setaria sp.)
These warm-season annual grasses are best known for the long, bottle-brush flower spikes they produce in late summer. They grow in nearly any soil conditions, forming clumps between four to 40 inches across.
The three species you might find are yellow foxtail (Setaria pumila), the smallest species with yellowish-orange flower spikes, green foxtail (Setaria viridis), a larger species with greenish-beige flower spikes, and giant foxtail (Setaria faberi), which can reach up to 7 feet and produces drooping flower spikes.
Spot-treating with vinegar works for small clumps, but for large areas, use a pre-emergent herbicide containing acetochlor or a non-selective herbicide. Alternatively, repeatedly till the weeds under in summer.
Weeds that look like grass are easy to mistake for one another, so accurate identification is an essential first step toward controlling them. Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can choose a natural control method or a chemical herbicide that will kill the grassy weeds without harming your lawn grass species.
Weeds That Look Like Wheat in Lawns
What image comes to mind when you hear the word “wheat”? For me, it’s The Gladiator movie as Maximus runs his hand through the wheat fields on his return home. Epically cool in the movie, not so cool when it’s happening in your front yard. Especially when you learn that this is probably not even true wheat, but weeds that look like wheat, and often with detrimental side effects to your lawn.
Most Common Weeds That Look Like Wheat
When you think of a weed that looks like wheat, it usually means that it has grassy leaves with an inflorescence or spiked seed head, and that is most probably the part of the plant that you are associating with wheat. Common examples are Foxtail grasses, Wild barley, Couch grass, Fingergrass, and Barnyard grass.
A Closer Look At Lawn Weeds That Look Like Wheat
Unfortunately, these next few copycat species that look a lot like wheat, are mostly invasive and can crowd out and suffocate your lawn grass. Although these look like they are meant to be growing in your garden at first glance, they are actually detrimental to your lawn’s overall health.
1) Giant Foxtail (Setaria faberi)
Giant Foxtail is characterized by leaves that have hairs on their upper surface but nothing on the leaf sheath. Its inflorescence is a fuzzy panicle resembling a foxtail, hence the name, that is held up on a smooth erect stem. This plant can reach 16 inches in overall height.
It is an invasive summer annual with a clump-forming growth habit. Originally from Asia and mistakenly introduced to America in the 1920s when it was mixed in with other food grain crops, it thrives in fertile soil. Other similar varieties are Foxtail millet, yellow foxtail, and green foxtail.
2) Wild Barley (Hordeum spontaneum)
Wild barley is an annual that grows throughout winter and seeds in spring. If you can identify it and keep it mowed short it won’t become a recurring problem as it has a quick life cycle and can be cut consistently to prevent it from forming seeds. The long ”hairs” on the seedheads can cause irritation to animals’ eyes, skin, gums and get tangled in their coats, so this is not a pet-friendly weed to have growing in your yard.
3) Quackgrass/Couch grass (Elytrigia repens)
Quackgrass is a cold-season invasive perennial. It has rhizomes that spread underground and can split into separate clumps. This means it spreads fast and is very hard to get rid of.
If you notice fast-growing clumps standing taller than your lawn, investigate the possibility of quackgrass. To positively identify it, look at the base of its stem, where the leaf starts, for two clasping finger-like projections that can be found, called auricles. Other than suffocating your beautiful lawn it does not pose a health risk to either you or your pets.
4) Feather Finger Grass (Chloris virgata)
Generally accepted to be native to America, it easily establishes itself as a weed in areas where it is not necessarily welcome. It aggressively invades bare and disturbed patches of ground and spreads easily along roadsides. It is a common weed in cultivated crops such as alfalfa, maize, and sorghum.
5) Barnyard Grass or Junglerice (Echinochloa colona)
Originally from Asia, this annual invasive grass has distinctive reddish-purple stalks bearing seed heads at the top. It grows by branching out from its base. It can commonly be found in grain crops, gardens, waterways, roadsides, or any other area when it can sneak in and establish itself. The grass’s upright panicles are green, often with a purple tinge, and the tip bends over when mature. Neatly 4-rowed racemes are characteristic.
It is found growing predominantly in damp, fertile soils and can withstand seasonal flooding. It grows in more tropical climates such as South Florida, Texas, and in South-Eastern California. The grass begins flowering at 3-4 weeks and reaches 2m in height, so don’t blink or it will be taking over your yard.
So What Problems Can Grassy Weeds Cause?
I am sure that many of you have seen these weeds growing in your lawn and wondered: Why not just leave them? Is this really something that should be causing me to panic?
They generally grow taller than grasses that have been specifically chosen as a lawn grass. This means your lawn will end up with uneven tuffs that need to be mowed more regularly. They are also typically hairy and have rough seed heads, getting caught in pets’ fur, causing skin irritation, and generally just not resulting in a lush, soft lawn that you want to walk over barefoot (there’s truly no better feeling than this!).
Anything you use to kill grassy weeds will generally kill your lawn too. This makes getting rid of this particular weed type that much harder. You should either spray them with a post-emergent weedicide or pull them out, making sure you get all the roots too. The best method for application would be spot treatment with a paintbrush or an accurate jet spray, as you don’t want to kill your lawn grass with any weedicide drift.
Some Lawn Grasses Have a Wheat-Like Appearance Too
Some lawn grasses form wheat-like seed heads too and they aren’t bad news at all. Examples include Perennial ryegrass, Tall Fescue, and Kentucky Bluegrass. They are all cool-season perennial types of grass that originated from Europe and North Asia.
They are commonly used as turf grasses all year round in the cooler northern states, or as winter cover in the warmer southern states. These grasses are usually seeded over summer grasses, like Bermuda, which goes dormant in winter. This keeps the lawn looking green through the cooler winter months.
When they go to seed they have an erect panicle seed head, and although they are much smaller than those of wheat, there are similarities in their formation. Most people keep their lawns nice and short with regular mowing and so you may never notice the grass forming tiny wheat-like seed heads. But don’t be alarmed if you miss a few mowing sessions, let your lawn grow longer and seed these seed heads. It’s not a bad sign.
Like with most things, the best form of defense against lawn weeds is a good offense. In this case a thriving, healthy lawn. Any bare spots, or where the grass is growing sparsely, allows for weed seeds to settle and sprout.
With the correct watering and mowing schedule, your lawn should form a healthy dense mat that doesn’t allow for invasive grassy weeds to establish. However, if you see a tuft of grass growing taller than the rest of your lawn, or a slightly different color to it, or if you see it starting to form a wheat-like seed head, don’t hesitate to grab it and pull it out before it has the chance to reseed.
About Tom Greene
I’ve always had a keen interest in lawn care as long as I can remember. Friends used to call me the “lawn mower guru” (hence the site name), but I’m anything but. I just enjoy cutting my lawn and spending time outdoors. I also love the well-deserved doughnuts and coffee afterward!
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Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum), also known as highwaygrass, is an aggressive, warm-season perennial grass. Bahiagrass has a mat-forming habit with a light green color, coarse texture, and open canopy. It is native to South America and was introduced into the U.S. in Florida as a forage grass around 1913.
Bahiagrass is easily identified by its distinctive “Y-shaped” seed head. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and spreads by seeds and rhizomes (a horizontal, modified stem found at or just below ground level). Bahiagrass growth is favored by drought, so it is an indicator plant for droughty soil conditions. The aggressive nature and drought tolerance of bahiagrass make it ideal for erosion control along roadsides and highway rights of way. However, its aggressive nature also makes it difficult to control as a weed in the landscape.
Bahiagrass habit with seed heads.
Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org
Bahiagrass has distinctive “Y-shaped” seed heads.
Bert McCarty,©Clemson University
Before starting a weed control program, homeowners should realize that the complete eradication of bahiagrass (or any weed) from the landscape is not practical. A more practical approach is to control (not eradicate) the weed by limiting the infestation to a tolerable level.
Control in Lawns
Maintaining the health and density of your lawn is the best method for preventing a weed problem. Proper mowing height, irrigation, and fertilization of turfgrass will be the best defense against weeds. For more information on these topics, see the following fact sheets: HGIC 1201, Fertilizing Lawns; HGIC 1205, Mowing Lawns; and HGIC 1207, Watering Lawns.
If bahiagrass becomes a problem in a turf area, it can be dug up, or an herbicide may be used. If an herbicide treatment is chosen, treatments should be timed appropriately for optimum effectiveness.
Since bahiagrass is a perennial weed that also reproduces by rhizomes, post-emergent herbicides will also be necessary for improved control. Post-emergent herbicide applications should start in May when bahiagrass is small and starting to actively grow. See table for safe herbicides according to turf species.
Turf Tolerance to Post-emergence Herbicides for Bahiagrass Control.
|Herbicide||Bermudagrass||Centipedegrass||St. Augustinegrass||Tall Fescue||Zoysiagrass|
|S= Safe at labeled rates.
I= Intermediate safety, use at reduced rates. Temporary yellowing of the turfgrass may occur.
NR= Not Registered for use on and/or damages this turfgrass.
D= Dormant. However, with the mild winters of recent years, bermudagrass lawns may not become completely dormant.
Once bahiagrass weeds have been eliminated in areas of the turf, bare spots will be left behind. To prevent the invasion of new weeds in these bare spots, it is best to fill them with plugs or sprigs of the desired turfgrass.
Glyphosate: Non-selective herbicides, such as glyphosate, can be used for spot treatments; however, desirable grasses can be severely injured or killed with contact. Multiple applications of glyphosate will be required to control bahiagrass. Examples of glyphosate products in homeowner sizes are:
- Roundup Original
- Martin’s Eraser Systemic Weed & Grass Killer
- Tiger Brand Quick Kill Grass & Weed Killer
- Ultra Kill Weed & Grass Killer Concentrate
- Ace Concentrate Weed & Grass Killer
- Bonide Kleen-up Grass & Weed Killer
- Gordon’s Groundwork Concentrate 50% Super Weed & Grass Killer
- Monterey Remuda Full Strength 41% Glyphosate
- Hi-Yield Super Concentrate Killzall Weed & Grass Killer
- Southern States Grass & Weed Killer Concentrate
- Zep Enforcer Weed Defeat III
- Eliminator Weed & Grass Killer Super Concentrate
If it is not practical to prevent glyphosate from getting on desired grasses, then a selective herbicide should be used. The following information is a guideline for choosing a selective herbicide according to turfgrass type.
Atrazine: Atrazine is a post-emergence herbicide for bahiagrass control that also has pre-emergence activity to give fair control of bahiagrass seed. It will also give post-emergence control of many broadleaf weeds. However, it is only safe to use on centipedegrass and St. Augustinegrass lawns. For maximum effectiveness, apply atrazine when air temperatures reach 65-70 °F for four consecutive days. Examples of atrazine products in homeowner sizes are:
- Hi-Yield Atrazine Weed Killer Concentrate
- Southern Ag Atrazine St Augustine Weed Killer Concentrate
Sethoxydim: For centipedegrass lawns, the use of sethoxydim (BASF Segment II Herbicide) will suppress bahiagrass. Sethoxydim should be applied no sooner than 3 weeks after centipedegrass spring green-up. Wait until lawns are fully greened. For a more effective bahiagrass treatment, do not mow 7 days before or after treating with sethoxydim. Reapply sethoxydim 3 weeks after initial application to suppress bahiagrass growth and seed head development. Do not make more than two applications per growing season.
Imazaquin: Image Kills Nutsedge is a homeowner-packaged, post-emergence herbicide product that will aid in the control of and reduce competition from bahiagrass. It may be applied to established bermudagrass, Zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, and St. Augustinegrass but do not apply to tall fescue. Do not apply imazaquin to St. Augustinegrass for other weed control during the winter. Do not apply imazaquin just prior to or during spring transition (green-up of the lawn). Do not use imazaquin in vegetable gardens, and do not use the grass clippings from treated lawns as mulch in landscape beds or around vegetables, fruit trees, or small fruit plants. A repeat application may be made for difficult to control weeds after 6 weeks.
Metsulfuron: Quali-Pro MSM Turf Herbicide, Quali-Pro Fahrenheit, and Blindside Herbicide are professional use herbicide products that will control bahiagrass, as well as many broadleaf weeds.
Metsulfuron can be used on bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass, centipedegrass, and zoysiagrass. The Quali-Pro Fahrenheit also contains dicamba for broadleaf weed control. Blindside Herbicide also contains sulfentrazone for nutsedge control.
A non-ionic surfactant (such as Southern Ag Surfactant for Herbicides, Hi-Yield Spreader Sticker, or Bonide Turbo Spreader Sticker) is required at 2 teaspoons per gallon of spray mix for best control with the metsulfuron products above. Read the metsulfuron product label for more information. Some discoloration of turfgrass may occur after the application of metsulfuron, and increased yellowing and stunting of turfgrass may occur with the addition of the surfactant. A repeat application may be required in 4 to 6 weeks for best control of bahiagrass. Follow label directions for a reduced rate on centipedegrass.
Do not over-seed or re-sod for 8 weeks, or plant woody ornamentals in treated areas for one year after applying metsulfuron. Do not apply metsulfuron herbicides within two times the width of the drip line of desirable hardwood trees. Do not allow spray drift to contact desirable shrubs, and high temperatures at application may increase herbicide drift. Make metsulfuron applications when temperatures are below 85 °F. Allow one week between application of metsulfuron and other lawn pesticide products. Read the product label for other precautions for each turfgrass species.
Control in Vegetable Gardens
It is best to attempt to treat weeds before tilling the soil for a vegetable garden. Tilling can break up and spread weed seed and perennial grass rhizomes throughout the garden plot. Some methods used to remove weeds in the vegetable garden include hand pulling, mulch, and post-emergent herbicides.
Cultural Control: Hand pulling bahiagrass may be a practical choice for small garden plots. If hand pulling, be sure to work when the soil is moist so that the bahiagrass roots can easily be removed from the soil.
Organic mulch (such as pine needles, ground leaves, compost, old hay, or grass clippings) can be used in the garden to help suppress bahiagrass development. Before laying the mulch, apply a layer of 6 to 8 wet newspaper sheets to act as a weed barrier. The newspaper layer will prevent weed development by blocking light to the weeds underneath and prevent their growth. Best of all, the newspaper should decompose before next spring. To prevent low oxygen levels in the root zone, keep organic mulch levels at a maximum of 3-inches deep. For more information on mulching the vegetable garden, see HGIC 1253, Controlling Weeds by Cultivating & Mulching.
Glyphosate: A post-emergent herbicide can be used to treat the garden plot before planting. Glyphosate can be applied to the garden plot 3 or more days prior to planting. Glyphosate is most effective when weeds are actively growing, so do not apply during extreme heat, cold, or drought conditions. Multiple applications of a 1.5 to 2.0% glyphosate solution may be necessary to control perennial weeds like bahiagrass. See product label for mixing directions. For examples of glyphosate products in homeowner sizes, please see the “Control in Lawns” section.
Sethoxydim: Some products containing sethoxydim may be applied within the vegetable garden after planting. These will control most grass weeds, in addition to bahiagrass. However, do not apply near sweet corn. Examples of products labeled for use within vegetable gardens are:
- Hi-Yield High Yield Postemergence Grass Herbicide
- Bonide Grass Beater Over-the-Top Grass Killer II Concentrate
- Ferti-lome Over-the-Top II Grass Killer Concentrate
- Monterey Grass Getter
- Poast Herbicide
Control in Landscape Beds
In landscape beds, bahiagrass can be hand dug or controlled with an herbicide. As mentioned previously, it is best to prevent the invasion of bahiagrass by maintaining ideal growing conditions and using a 3-inch mulch layer to block weed development. Bahiagrass is a perennial weed that can emerge from both seeds and rhizomes. Once bahiagrass has made its way into the landscape bed, an herbicide may be necessary if hand pulling is not practical.
Glyphosate: A non-selective herbicide, such as glyphosate, can be used for spot treatments around ornamental plants but should be used with caution. Do not allow glyphosate spray mist to contact ornamental foliage or stems, as severe injury will occur. A cardboard shield may be used to prevent glyphosate spray from drifting to nearby ornamentals. For examples of glyphosate products in homeowner sizes, please see the list above in the “Control in Lawns” section.
Sethoxydim: Sethoxydim is a selective herbicide that can be applied safely in landscape beds containing most landscape plants but check the product label for a listing of tolerant plant materials. Sethoxydim will only control grass weeds; however, do not allow sethoxydim to contact ornamental grasses. A 2.5% solution should be applied before bahiagrass reaches 4 inches tall. Read label directions for mixing. Examples of products containing sethoxydim in homeowner sizes are:
- Hi-Yield Grass Killer Postemergence Grass Herbicide
- Bonide Grass Beater Over-the-Top Grass Killer II Concentrate
- Ferti-lome Over-the-Top II Grass Killer Concentrate
- BASF Segment II Herbicide
- Monterey Grass Getter
Glyphosate and sethoxydim are both more effective when weeds are actively growing and will not work well for weed control under drought conditions. As with all pesticides, read and follow all label instructions and precautions.
CAUTION: Atrazine and imazaquin can travel through soil and enter groundwater; please read the label for all environmental precautions. Users are advised not to apply atrazine or imazaquin to sand or loamy sand soils where the water table (groundwater) is close to the surface and where these soils are very permeable, i.e., well-drained.
Pesticides are updated annually. Last updates were done on 7/22 by Barbara Smith.
Originally published 10/08
If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at [email protected] or 1-888-656-9988.
Millie Davenport, Director of Home and Garden Information Center, Horticulture Program Team, Clemson University
Joey Williamson, PhD, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University
This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.