Weeds are the bane of any gardener’s life. And when they pop up in the middle of the lawn you’ve spent hours seeding, watering, feeding and cutting? Well, it’s enough to drive even the calmest gardener to distraction!
You want to get rid of those weeds quick smart – and the first step is to know your enemy! Here we take a look at ten lawn weeds that crop up in gardens around the UK. And we’ll explain how to get rid of them before they take hold.
Common Lawn Weeds in UK Garden
1. Bird’s Foot Trefoil
The quaint name of this weed gives you a clue to its appearance. The leaves are divided into three smaller leaflets, making them look like a bird’s foot.
It’s easy to confuse with clover when it’s starting to grow, but when the flowers appear there’s no mistaking it. They’re small and bright yellow, with an unusual shape that’s a bit like honeysuckle.
You’re particularly likely to find it in soils that are dry and neutral or alkaline. Once embedded, it can be an almighty pain, spreading both beneath and above the ground.
The root system goes deep, but if you act quickly you can usually pull it out without too much trouble. Leave it until it’s formed a large clump, though, and you’ll probably need a herbicide to get rid of it.
Borage is in many ways a very useful plant. Bees love it, and it can be used to treat everything from depression to a sore throat. You can even sprinkle the young leaves and flowers on salads.
But once established in your garden, it can be a veritable menace, seeding freely throughout lawns and flowerbeds.
The hairy stems and lower leaves can irritate your skin when weeding, so make sure you wear gloves. And you’ll need to dig down deep to remove every last bit of the taproot. A residual herbicide will help stop the seeds germinating.
If you’re using a contact herbicide for the top growth, make sure you do so before it flowers. Otherwise you may inadvertently poison bees and other pollinators.
3. Broad-Leaved Dock
The distinctive broad-leaved dock has large waxy leaves which grow in clumps. They can cope with very poor soil conditions, frequently cropping up in lawns that haven’t been given much TLC.
The reason they’re so successful in thin and dry soils is that they have exceptionally long taproots. That makes pulling them out a real challenge. Be prepared to use a garden fork and repair the damage around your lawn later.
Alternatively, you can apply a herbicide to tackle larger clumps. Make sure you use one that’s specifically formulated for broadleaf weeds. Anything that contains clopyralid is a good bet. Glyphosate will work too, but you’ll need to use more of it and apply it several times.
4. Common Ragwort
Common ragwort is another weed that’s at home in poorly tended lawns. It can grow as tall as 3 feet, and lives for just two years. If you damage the base, though, new shoots will develop, making it act more like a perennial.
Large clusters of yellow flowers appear between May and October in the second year of growth. The leaves form a circle at the base of the stem – what’s known as a “basal rosette”.
Ragwort is toxic to horses and livestock, causing liver damage if animals eat too much. The good news is that it’s fairly easy to remove. Wear gloves to pull it out. Equestrian stores also offer ragwort forks to help with the job. Try to catch it before it flowers to prevent it reseeding.
At first sight, it can be easy to miss crabgrass on your lawn. But once it starts to grow, those sturdy blades will look quite different from other grasses. The blades form a ring from a central root, and that root can quickly sprawl across your lawn.
Crabgrass came to the UK from North America, and it thrives in soil that’s hot and dry. While it dies back in autumn, a single plant will produce thousands of seeds. And they’ll sprout all over your lawn as soon as spring comes around.
Regular feeding and cutting to produce a thick, healthy lawn will stop it finding a way in. But once it’s there, it’s easy to remove. Pull it out and it will leave a small gap that will be quickly filled by your lawn grass. Placing your mower on a higher setting will also help, by shading the base of the grass.
6. Creeping Buttercup
The creeping buttercup likes wet, heavy soils, where its dense roots can quickly get a grip. It spreads along the ground with its creeping stem, producing golden flowers that seed from spring to late summer.
It’s a cheerful looking little plant – but it is difficult to get rid of. One option is to lay black plastic over it. You’ll need to leave it in place for several months though – and who wants a plastic-covered lawn?!
A better option is to dig it out with a trowel, hand fork or hoe. As ever, this is a job best tackled before the plant has had a chance to spread.
7. Creeping Thistle
Creeping thistle is a broadleaf weed, and it loves newly seeded and bare patches in lawns. There it will form large clumps of prickly leaves between 1 and 3 feet tall. As with other members of the thistle family, you’ll also get spiky purple flowers in summer and autumn.
It spreads below the surface of the soil, its roots growing horizontally and putting out new shoots. Even worse, those roots are very brittle – and new shoots are generated whenever they break. Try to dig out this weed, and you may find you end up with even more of it!
Herbicides are effective though. To get the best results, use them while the plant is growing and before any flowers have taken on colour.
If you prefer to steer clear of chemicals, use a fork to tackle the roots, carefully teasing out as many as possible. New plants will form from whatever is left behind, but they’ll get weaker with each attack.
It’s a resilient plant, able to cope with a wide range of soil conditions. And because its round leaves grow near the surface of the earth, they’ll survive a mower on even a low setting.
So common are daisies as a lawn weed that there’s a specific tool to get rid of them – a daisy grubber. This handy little gadget costs just a few pounds and is very effective. Just dig the prongs into the soil around the stem, and lever it out.
The dandelion is perhaps the boldest of all lawn weeds. Those large yellow flowers stick out like a sore thumb! And when they turn to dandelion clocks, the merest breath of wind will send seeds all over your grass.
The leaves are shaped like teeth – the name actually comes from the French for “lion’s teeth”. They form in a rosette around the base of the stem. And because they’re so low to the ground and have a deep taproot, they’re hard to pull out by hand.
Give yourself an easier life by tackling dandelions as soon as they appear. A weeding knife will help you get to the base of the root. Make sure you get rid of the whole thing, though. Any left behind will quickly regrow and send out new leaves and flowers.
The surest way to rid yourself of dandelions is with a herbicide. But if you’d rather avoid using chemicals, pouring boiling water over them is a good alternative. Leave the plant to wilt, then pull it out.
10. White Clover
Like the daisy, white clover looks lovely in a wildflower garden – but considerably less lovely in your lawn!
The leaves are made up of three leaflets. Above these stand small globes of white flowers, which appear from June to September. It grows well in clay soils, and where there’s not too much competition from other plants. But once it’s got comfortable, it can monopolise the space and choke out your grass.
Keeping your lawn thick and healthy with a regular cutting and fertilising regime will help prevent clover taking hold. But if it’s there, tackle it as quickly as possible. Young plants are more tender and will more readily absorb herbicides.
But the bad news is that the only herbicides that work on white clover are non-selective. That means they’ll kill any plant they come into contact with. An alternative is to mix vinegar with washing up liquid, then spray it onto the leaves. Or you could simply pull it out.
Unfortunately, white clover is very successful at reseeding – so you may find this is a regular job.
Ready to tackle your lawn weeds?
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to ten of the most common lawn weeds in the UK. Now you know what to look for, and how to get rid of them!
As with so much in life, prevention is better than cure. Keeping your lawn well fed and watered, and cutting it regularly, will help stop weeds making their home there in the first place.
But if they find their way in, tackle them as quickly as you can. It will save you lots of work in the long run.
Good luck, and here’s wishing you a weed-free lawn!