Weed Grasses in Lawns

Weed Grasses in Lawns

Weed and rough grasses, like broad leaved weeds readily take advantage of weaknesses in your lawn. They are also well suited to loam or clay loam soils particularly as most are fairly neutral in acidity/alkalinity. This means keeping them out is impossible though once again a thick healthy turf will provide a very useful barrier.

All are in abundance in verges, fields and the countryside. Controlling them is only worthwhile in a few cases.

Annual Meadow Grass and Rye Grass

Annual Meadow Grass
Rye Grass

Annual meadow grass (medium green leaf with seed heads present all year round- top image) and rye grass (darker green, leaves dull on top and shiny underneath with tall seed spikes or soldiers).

These make for reasonable lawns and may well go unnoticed in lawns with other failings. Unfortunately they become quite obvious in well maintained lawns and are the bane of the Lawnsmith's life! Golf courses are full of them and are only controlled on greens by hand pulling young plants, regular vertical mowing (like fine scarifying) or renovation by deep scarifying and over seeding.

Rye grass (all varieties) send up seed stalks or soldiers in May and June. They can be a problem to mow so you may need to rake the horizontal ones upright before mowing so the mower blades can get to them. Consider this normal though some years will be worse than others.

Both thrive on any ground and annual meadow grass dominates over other grasses when watering lightly as it has shallow roots. When creating a new lawn switch to deep and infrequent watering as soon as possible after the lawn has established.

Yorkshire Fog

The next weed grass is Yorkshire Fog. A broad soft pale green slightly hairy leaf mistakenly called ‘couch grass’, 'crabgrass' or 'crab grass' that can be quite a problem. Because it forms clumps its colour and broad leaves make it quite noticeable when it reaches a certain size. In addition, it doesn't green up very well when using fertiliser so when your normal grass darkens this stays pale green thereby making it even more noticeable.

Not everyone is bothered by it but if you are then control by cutting out individual plants as they occur or replacing clumps with seed or turf. It is a very delicate grass and any form of abrasion (slash it vertically with a spade OR abrade it with a spring tine rake or scarifier) will weaken it. Unfortunately this can be a slow and laborious process so cutting out the grass is usually the best option.

If clumps are particularly large then use glyphosate to kill it. After a couple of weeks thoroughly rake to remove the dead grass and then re-seed. To ensure the repair merges well with your existing grass, rake some good grass well outside the patch area and over seed this and the patch. This will help blend the new and old grasses without any hard edges.

Finally, if your lawn is covered in it best to bite the bullet, kill off the whole lawn, remove the turf, ideally dig or rotovate the soil and then re-seed. See Creating a New Lawn

Rough Meadow Grass

Finally, the worst of the weed grasses is the least common and easiest to sort. This wild variety forms dense clumps or ‘whorls’ of very rough stiff broad dark green grass.

It is very obvious in any lawn and should be removed as soon as it is spotted as the clumps will just get bigger. Small patches or individual plants can be pulled out, broken off or cut out with a knife and clumps can be replaced with new seed or turf.

Rough stalked meadow grass is also a useful grass for shady areas. However, this would be a variety that has had a little scientific breeding to make it a useful and reasonably attractive addition to your lawn. The ‘wild’ variety invading your lawn is ‘orrible stuff!

The incidence of the latter two grasses seems to have increased in recent years. There is some talk within the industry that this may be a consequence of more extreme weather with extended and unbroken periods of either rain or drought. Until we know for sure one way or the other keeping a healthy lawn will always help reduce weeds and weed grasses.

Other Weed Grasses

There are many other grasses in the wild that can invade your lawn. Fortunately they are less common than the ones above but may include:

  • Soft or Barren Brome
  • Common or Bearded Couch
  • Italian Rye Grass
  • Cocks Foot
  • Meadow Fescue
  • Hair Grass

NB Crab Grass is not in the UK but similar in appearance to Yorkshire Fog

The Final Solution

You may have gleaned from the above that controlling and eliminating weed grasses is not easy. There are no selective weed killers and per-emergent herbicides require such a high degree of expertise and vigilance that even green-keepers don't use them. This means control comes in three steps:

  • Get rid of what you have by either killing the whole area and re-establishing the lawn or just killing the patches and re-seeding
  • Once you have a clean lawn remain vigilant. Weed seeds arrive and will establish from late spring and well in to summer. Manually remove these young plants before they mature
  • Maintain a good lawn care program particularly in regard to mowing, feeding, scarifying and over-seeding