Identifying Chickweed

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Have you ever seen a weed in your lawn and wondered what it was? If so, you're not alone. Many homeowners struggle to identify the weeds that grow in their yards. Luckily, chickweed is one type of weed with many identifying characteristics. Let's take a look at the chickweed in your lawn and what you can do about it!

What Is Chickweed?

Chickweed (frequently called "common chickweed") is an annual, broadleaf weed that occasionally behaves like a perennial. Though it is naturally a winter annual, chickweed can survive winters in warmer climates and thrive year-round if conditions are ideal. Some people don't mind having a little chickweed in their lawns because this weed actually develops attractive, delicate flowers as it matures. However, it is important to remember that chickweed is still a harmful weed with shallow roots that will steal nutrients away from your lawn, resulting in thinner and discolored grass.

What Does Chickweed Look Like?

up close chickweed

Stellaria media is the species name of common chickweed, and it's a name that actually tells us a little about this weed's appearance. The genus name, Stellaria, is derived from the Latin word for "star," and refers to the shape of chickweed's flowers. Common chickweed has small (about half an inch or smaller), star-shaped white flowers that have 5 petals arranged in a star pattern. The weed's leaves are oval-shaped with a pointed tip, and they sit just atop a star-shaped leafy sepal. You can identify chickweed by the following characteristics:

  • Star-shaped flower and sepal
  • 5 deeply lobed, white petals (if applicable)
  • Low, prostrate growth
  • Matted and tangled growth
  • Single line of fine hairs on stem
  • Purple or red hue on stem

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People very frequently mistake chickweed flowers for having 10 petals. This is because the 5 petals are actually fused together at their base, making it appear as though there are 10. However, if you look closely, you will see that the petals are actually just deeply lobed. It is also very important to point out that not all chickweed plants will develop flowers, but other common characteristics will still be present.

The stems of common chickweed can also help you positively identify this plant. Chickweed stems are usually described as having a purple or a deep red hue, which stand out among the whites and greens on the rest of the plant. The stems also have a single line of very fine hairs going down either side of the stem. This line of hairs is useful in identifying common chickweed because similar types of plants often have stems with no hairs or they are completely covered in hairs.

Finally, you can identify chickweed by the way it grows. Chickweed is a low-growing plant that typically only reaches heights of about 2-4 inches. When the plant is growing in large patches, it can appear to be a dense mat on the ground. This growth habit is caused by the plant’s stems, which branch out and send down new roots at their nodes (the point where leaves attach to stems). Patches of ugly, clumpy, tangled weeds are often the result of a chickweed infestation in your lawn.

When & Where Does Chickweed Grow?

matted chickweed

Chickweed is a winter annual weed, which means that it will germinate in fall (usually in September or October), enter dormancy in winter, and set seed during the following spring. In colder climates, chickweed will die off in the late spring and summer months when temperatures start to rise. However, in warmer climates, chickweed can grow year-round because of mild winters. Chickweed grows all over the country, so whether this weed behaves as an annual or a perennial depends on the climate in your particular region.

As far as the types of conditions chickweed prefers, cool and moist soil is what this weed wants. Chickweed is often found in areas that are poorly drained and have puddles or standing water. Chickweed is commonly seen in lawns, but it can also grow in gardens, flower beds, and other areas of your landscape. Below is a list of some of the most common conditions that lead to a chickweed infestation:

  • Direct sunlight
  • Moist soil
  • Too much nitrogen
  • Compacted soil
  • Soil at 50-65 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Short grass in lawns

How Does Chickweed Spread?

What does Chickweed Look like

Chickweed is a very adaptable weed, which allows it to spread easily. Seeds are this weed's primary method of expansion, with a single plant being able to produce between 800 and 30,000 seeds. Once mature, these seeds will fall to the ground and lay dormant until they come into contact with ideal growing conditions. Seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to 10 years, which means that chickweed can be a problem in your lawn for many years to come if it is not properly controlled.

  • KEEP IN MIND: While seeds account for the vast majority of new chickweed growth, the shallow and fibrous roots of this weed often intertwine together in the soil. If you attempt to remove this weed and leave even a fraction of the roots intact, a new plant will likely emerge from the residual plant matter.

How To Control Chickweed

aeration image

Luckily, chickweed is one of the easiest weeds to pull out by hand. The roots of chickweed are so shallow that they often pull right out, especially if the plant is weakened or immature. However, if the weed has been ignored and is now flowering and mature, the tangled mat of stems and roots may prove problematic to remove. Get at this weed the second you see it start to emerge in your lawn. It may be tedious, but regularly pulling up immature chickweed plants is by far the best way to prevent an infestation.

Tips For Chickweed Prevention:

  • Monitor nitrogen levels in your lawn. Chickweed is notorious for stealing nitrogen, so ensuring that your lawn does not have excess nitrogen levels is key to prevention.
  • Don't mow over chickweed. This plant grows so low to the ground, and it mats together so easily, that mowing over emerged chickweed rarely has any effect.
  • Aerate your lawn. Chickweed seeks out poorly draining and compacted soils, which are exactly the kind of issues that aeration can help alleviate.
  • Use professional lawn care. A lawn care provider will know exactly which pre-emergent to use on your lawn to prevent the annoying chickweed from emerging! They will also be able to provide more in-depth analysis of the issues facing your lawn so that you can be protected against weeds.