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University of Minnesota Extension

Managing weeds in lawns

Quick facts 

  • Identifying weeds and understanding why they're growing where they are is key to controlling them.
  • Try to tolerate a few weeds as long as your lawn is generally healthy.
  • Some non-chemical cultural practices favor desirable grasses over weeds.
  • If you do use chemicals, different lawn situations may need different types of herbicides.
  • When using herbicides, follow the label directions exactly as printed on the product container.
Canada thistle

A weed is described as "a plant out of place." What may be a hated weed invader for some, might be a tolerable ground cover to someone else.

While sustainable lawns may have some weedy plants in them, having well-adapted grass varieties will help keep weeds to a minimum.

  • A few weeds in a lawn are not a serious threat to lawn health.
  • You can adjust cultural practices to keep plants healthy when controlling weeds with reduced or no use of herbicides.
  • Find out the reasons behind increased weed growth before using an herbicide to kill weeds. Killing weeds without correcting underlying problems only invites continued and often increased weed invasion.
  • Promote plant health to create a vigorous lawn that can prevent any serious weed problems from taking over.
  • Knowing which weeds are invading your lawn is important when deciding whether or not control measures are needed and when they need to be carried out. It is also important in determining the most appropriate herbicide product to use if needed.

A weed control plan will result in the desired level of control while posing minimum human or environmental risks.

These steps are one example of a simple weed control plan:

  • Identify the weed.
  • Determine whether or not control measures are needed.
  • Determine whether or not chemical control measures are needed.
  • Determine the most appropriate herbicide product to use, if needed.
  • Determine when chemical control measures need to be carried out.

Weed identification

You need to correctly identify weeds in your lawn to effectively control them. It is not necessary to identify every potential weedy plant in a yard or garden. Focus on the ones that are the most troublesome or taking over the largest area.

Find out more about common weeds in Minnesota lawns and gardens. For additional help in weed identification contact your local county Extension office.


Cultural control methods

Tools for removing weeds

You can often control lawn weeds by altering your cultural practices to favor the grass plants rather than the weeds.

Cultural controls may include:

  • Raising or lowering mowing height.
  • Changing how often you mow.
  • Lengthening or shortening time between watering.
  • Increasing or decreasing how much and how often you apply fertilizer.
  • Aerating the soil by allowing air, water and nutrients to reach the grass roots.

Hand-weeding or pulling weeds is also an effective way to get rid of weeds from small lawn areas. The best time to pull weeds is after a good rain or thorough watering.

Hand-weeding is low-cost but labor-intensive. It avoids needlessly applying herbicides over the whole lawn for only a few weeds.

Several tools on the market will help when you're hand-pulling weeds.

Even with the best cultural control practices, you may need to use a chemical herbicide to control a certain weed or weed population. A combination of proper cultural practices and careful use of herbicides is a good approach to controlling lawn weeds effectively.

Using herbicides

CAUTION: Mention of a pesticide or use of a pesticide label is for educational purposes only. Always follow the pesticide label directions attached to the pesticide container you are using. Be sure that the area you wish to treat is listed on the label of the pesticide you intend to use. Remember, the label is the law.

Reviewed in 2024

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