How to Get Rid of Crabgrass

By: Christine Hennessey How to, Natural
Crabgrass weed growing up through the lawn in the summer.

Crabgrass is a seasonal plant that sprouts as soon as the weather begins to warm. For those who take pride in a lush, beautiful lawn, eradicating it is a yearly battle that can be won a few different ways. The earlier the battle begins, the better. Here are two ways—one natural and one chemical—to keep your lawn free of this unsightly weed.

Types of Crabgrass

There are two species of crabgrass commonly found in North America. Large crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinali) has hairy leaves that grow to about three inches long, and branches that are about two to five inches long. Smooth crabgrass (Digitaria ischaemum) can grow up to six inches tall, with pointed leaf blades and shorter branches. Both species have the same adverse effects—stealing nutrients and moisture from the soil and from the plants you are trying to grow.

Crabgrass causes problems from the beginning of its lifecycle right up until the end. A single plant can produce as many as 150,000 seeds, which is why this pesky weed spreads so quickly. In the fall, when crabgrass finally dies back, it leaves behind gaping holes, making your lawn look ragged and unkempt.

No matter how much care you take, crabgrass can still find a way into your yard, especially if your neighbors aren’t taking the same precautions (those 150,000 seeds can travel fast . If you find crabgrass popping up among your Bahia, Bermuda, and Bluegrass, there are a number of ways to treat the problem and reclaim your lawn.

Prevent Crabgrass Early and Often

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you can stop the seeds from sprouting in the first place, you’ll save yourself a lot of work and frustration. Crabgrass seeds germinate in early spring, when the soil temperature reaches 55–60°F. The best time to keep crabgrass at bay is the early spring, before the seedlings have a chance to take hold. This is true whether you’re using an organic/all-natural method or a chemical preventative.

How to Get Rid of Crabgrass Naturally

If you’re trying to prevent or dispose of crabgrass naturally, a healthy lawn and a little elbow grease go a long way.

Materials

  • Lawn mower
  • Watering hose
  • Gardening gloves
  • Crabgrass preventative made from corn gluten meal

Method

1. Mow less

Keeping your grass a little on the tall side is a good way to prevent crabgrass. This allows it to shade the soil, which discourages the sun-loving weed, prevents its seeds from germinating, and causes it to lose its foothold and die back.

2. Water less

When watering your lawn, opt to do it more intensely but less frequently, drenching the soil to a depth of four to six inches in one go. This will keep the roots of your grass strong and healthy, making it harder for crabgrass to stage a takeover.  

3. Weed more

If you have crabgrass growing in your garden, you can get rid of it simply by pulling the weeds. The best time to do this is in the spring, before the weeds have gotten too big, or after a heavy rain, when the soil is softer. If weeding becomes tiresome or time-consuming, a hoe will also get the job done.

4. Go for gluten

If you’re still having crabgrass problems despite your best efforts, an all-natural preventative made from corn gluten meal could be the answer.

This will kill the roots of germinating seeds by releasing a protein that slows root development, without damaging more established plants. The only downside is that corn meal gluten requires an application rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet, which isn’t cheap. If this natural solution isn’t worth the price tag, there are other options.

How to Get Rid of Crabgrass Chemically

If you prefer to use chemicals to deal with you crabgrass problem, following these steps will help you do so safely and effectively.

Materials

  • Crabgrass preemergence herbicide
  • Crabgrass postemergence herbicide
  • Spray bottle

Method

Start early

The best time to get rid of crabgrass is in the spring, ideally after your second mow of the year.

Check the temps

The window for using preemergence herbicide is short—it’s effective only for about a week and a half, when the soil reaches 52°F, before the crabgrass has sprouted seedlings.

Apply the herbicide

Preemergence herbicide, which can be found in most garden stores, is a granular herbicide that creates a chemical barrier at the surface of the soil, which poisons germinating seeds. If possible, apply the herbicide just before it rains, which will help work it into the soil.

Better late than never

If you’ve missed the window for preemergence herbicide and your lawn is blooming with crabgrass, all is not lost. You can still fight this weed with the help of a postemergence herbicide.

Point and spray

A postemergence herbicide (found at your local lawn care store) can be loaded into a hand pump sprayer and applied directly to crabgrass after it has sprouted. Wait for a hot day with low wind, as the herbicide will be less effective in cooler weather.

Reapply as needed

Crabgrass can be stubborn, especially as it ages. If your weeds are older and more established, you may need to reapply the herbicide a few days later for best results.

Watch and water

Keep an eye on the area you treated with the postemergence herbicide. If the weather has been very dry, water your lawn two days after the application—this will help the soil absorb it.

Monitor your lawn

Like a clueless party guest, crabgrass has a habit of returning uninvited. Keep an eye on your lawn throughout the rest of the spring and summer, and pull new plants as soon as they appear.

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