Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis) is an annual plant that grows in moist soil. It spreads quickly and can grow up to around two feet tall¹. It’s not an actual grass but instead belongs to the family Chenopodiaceae². It often gets confused with a cool-season perennial called quackgrass.
It grows best in warm weather- and can cause problems when it invades your lawn, but if you remove it early enough, it won’t spread.
You can use various techniques to get rid of crabgrass, including digging or pulling it out by hand, using herbicides, or using other natural remedies. This article covers these methods and will help you determine your best choice.
To Start With: What is Crabgrass?
Crabgrass is a type of grass that grows in many places worldwide. It is often considered a lawn weed in the United States and other parts of the world, while in other regions.
This plant spreads quickly and easily through seeds and rhizomes³. It often grows along roadsides, lawns, and other disturbed areas.
Crabgrass is not native to North America but was introduced in 1849 by the U.S. Patent office⁴ for use as a potential forage crop. It is considered a severe invasive plant in many parts of the country.
Although in other parts of the world, such as Africa, they grow crabgrass (fonio) as a grain crop. They are foraging up to 17 tons an acre!⁶
Crabgrass is an annual herbaceous plant that grows in moist soil. It has long, narrow leaves that grow in pairs along the stem. Its flowers are small and yellowish green and will produce thousands of seeds (up to 150,000 seeds per plant) to continue to spread.
Many gardeners may know crabgrass as a grassy, spindly plant that grows in bare or sparse patches on a lawn and outcompetes other neater and more attractive grass species.
It looks lush and green during the summer months, but it can die back or become scraggly in the colder months, and it may create spaces where other weeds can grow.
These plants are very hardy and can withstand drought conditions. It can grow in many different types of soil, including clay soils.
Here is a quick video that shows an example of crabgrass:
Do You Need Get Rid of Crabgrass
Crabgrass is not dangerous to humans or pets, but it can cause problems if you don’t get rid of it. It likes to grow near other plants, competing with them for nutrients.
Crabgrass doesn’t just thrive on lawns because it crowds out other plants. It produces its natural pesticides, which kill nearby plants.
Allelochemical compounds⁵ produced by crabgrass can have a direct toxic effect on other plants. Crabgrass toxins can also have an indirect poisonous impact on other plants through the microbes in the soil.
In other words, crabgrass doesn’t play well with others.
Allelopathy is an interaction between two organisms where one species releases chemicals that inhibit the growth of another species. Allelopathy is not always bad, however. For example, some allelopathic plants help keep soil healthy by inhibiting the growth of weeds.
It is also very hardy and will grow even if you try to kill it. Crabgrass is not native to North America, but it is a severe problem because it takes over fields and prevents other plants from growing.
Crabgrass is often treated with herbicides and pesticides, but these chemicals can harm the environment and cause health problems for people.
Perfect Lawns: Good or Bad
When it comes to deciding whether to get rid of crabgrass from your garden or not, one of the first things to think about is whether or not you need a perfectly manicured lawn.
Most gardeners believe their top priority is creating a perfectly flat, unblemished lawn.
But, lawns are an unnatural environment. They are not natural at all. Lawns are usually made out of grass, a plant that doesn’t grow naturally in many places (read about how clover lawns were a symbol of a high-quality lawn).
The grass is also very thirsty and requires lots of water to grow and fertilizer. It takes a lot of resources to keep a lawn green. If you think about it, there is nothing natural about a grass-only lawn. It is just a bunch of grass forced into growing in a specific place.
Native “Weeds” May Be the Solution, or No Lawn at All
One of the positive aspects of crabgrass, when it dies back in winter, is that a range of other native wildflowers can more efficiently colonize the spaces it has left.
If you don’t want to have a lawn, you could try growing a forest garden, creeping herbaceous perennial plants, or some other type of ground cover. Or you could plant flowers and vegetables in pots or planters. But, of course, you don’t need a lawn at all.
The Postive Side of Crabgrass
Crabgrass seeds are beneficial food to many different types of birds. Songbirds like the Northern Bobwhite, Mourning Dove, and White-throated Sparrow feed on them.
Wild turkeys also enjoy eating the seeds and leaves. Deer will browse the plants but not eat them.
Attracting birds to your garden will help you get rid of pests. Birds eat insects, including those that cause damage to plants. They also eat slugs and snails, which can destroy your plants if left unchecked.
You can attract birds using a bird feeder or attract songbirds by planting native plants. These plants provide food and shelter for many species of birds.
The Solution: Eat the Weeds!
Weeds are plants that grow in places we don’t want them to. Weeds grow in our gardens, parks, roadsides, and even on sidewalks. Some weeds are edible, while others are poisonous.
Crabgrass is an example of a weed that can be used to create food. You can:
- Roast the seeds
- Grind them into flour
- Brew beer
- Use in porridge/cereal
Crabgrass husking machines will separate the seeds for harvesting significant amounts.
Prevention is Key
If you want to prevent crabgrass from growing in your garden or lawn, you should try to keep the grass healthy. Removing weeds may also be helpful. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy lawn:
- Keep the blades on the lawnmower as high as possible, so they cut grass at its highest point.
- If you want to keep the grass growing well, spread some of the grass clippings back onto the lawn.
- Clover is an excellent source of nitrogen for plants.
- Allowing dandelions and other deep-rooted weeds to grow in your lawn will help improve drainage and make for a healthier soil ecosystem.
- Suppose you want to create shade for sun-damaging/arid areas and plant trees. A fruit tree or two can add beauty to any garden.
- Rainwater collection is an effective way to keep your lawn well-watered when there isn’t enough rainfall.
You can keep your lawn lush, thick, and looking great by keeping it healthy. Which reduces the likelihood that crabgrass will develop.
Stopping The Spread
Crabgrass is an annual grass and if you don’t remove it before it goes to seed, it will continue to grow and spread.
You can try to pull it out by hand, but it is a bit labor intensive. To keep crabgrass under control, you should mow the area before seeds form. This will help stop the crabgrass from growing and spreading. No chemicals are required.
It can be invasive and can cause problems for farmers and homeowners. Some people will resort to using:
- By hand, remove the crabgrass
- Using organic weedkillers to kill crabgrass
- Killing plants and seeds by solarizing the soil
Let’s go through each of those solutions one by one.
Removing Crabgrass By Hand (Best Solution)
You need to remove the crabgrass by hand because it is not sustainable to use chemicals to kill it. Using pesticides is also not a good idea because they harm the environment and our health.
So if we’re going to garden ethically, sustainably, and organically and still don’t want the crabgrass in our gardens, then this is the best option.
Natural / Organic Weed Killers
There are many different types of organic weed killers available. Some are made from natural ingredients like vinegar, while others contain chemicals like glyphosate.
Glyphosate⁷ is a broad-spectrum herbicide that kills plants by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down amino acids. Unfortunately, it is also toxic to mammals and other living organisms.
There are many different ways to use organic weed killers. You can spray them directly onto the weeds, mix them with water and apply them to the soil around them, or even put them in a spray bottle and mist them.
However, we believe it is best to first use natural methods, like mulching, composting, and planting cover crops. If you still need to use herbicides, we recommend using them sparingly and only on the worst offenders.
Blast Them With Solarization
The second natural method to get rid of crabgrass is solarization. Solarization doesn’t require chemicals or harmful substances. You cover the crabgrass with a transparent plastic sheet and let the heat from the sun bake the plants to a crispy state.
Any seeds in the soil below will become non-viable. This method works best when you have a sunny area.
Once the plastic has been removed from the soil, you can plant whatever you like. You can even replant the area with something else if you wish.
Caution: May Be Harmful
Baking the soil with intensified solar radiation will not only kill plants, seeds, and microorganisms but can also kill the delicate soil biota in the upper layers of your soil.
Therefore, as much as possible, an organic garden and lawn should be left undisturbed.
It is interesting to learn that another beneficial plant brought to the U.S. is now demonized. Along with the promotion of chemical products to treat them. Hopefully, after reading about the history and benefits of crabgrass, you’ll no longer have the urge to wage WWII on it.
Just simply keep up with mowing to prevent it from going to seed. Then, if you find some still growing, you can easily get rid of crabgrass by hand. If you’re feeling adventurous, let an area grow and try some of the edible recipes like making crabgrass muffins!
1.) Two feet tall – Link
2.) Chenopodiaceae – PDF
3.) How crabgrass spreads – Link
4.) When crabgrass was introduced -Link
5.) Allelochemicals – Link
6.) Africa grain crop harvests and edible uses – Link
7.) Glyphosate – FDA – Link
This article was originally published by natureofhome.com.
Last Updated on July 26, 2022 by Davin