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Quackgrass vs Crabgrass: The Difference Explained

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When different grassy weeds invade your lawn, it can be difficult to tell one from another. Most lawn owners have always come across both quackgrass and crabgrass invading their lawn, but they are two different grass weeds that require different weed removal methods. You must eliminate crabgrass and quackgrass to prevent further invasion.

So, how do you tell one from the other to know how best to deal with these stubborn grasses? This article outlines the differences between two of the most common intrusive grasses.

What Is Quackgrass?

The best way to determine what type of grass weed you are dealing with, whether quackgrass or crabgrass, is to dig up a small section of your lawn and examine its root system. Quackgrass has long horizontal roots that creep along with the ground and form patches.

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Quackgrass (Elytrigia repens) is one of the most common grassy weeds in North America. It's also known as couch grass, twitch grass and dog grass. This tough invasive species can re-grow from its roots and form dense thickets. Quackgrass is a warm season annual or winter annual grass, which means it grows in the cool temperatures found in spring and fall and goes to seed when the hot summer months roll around. It's also categorized as a perennial weed.

Quackgrass can form large patches that push up through asphalt or concrete, making them difficult to eradicate. The weedy grass is naturally difficult to eradicate, but you can do it by rounding it up. If your garden is intensively invaded, eradicating quackgrass can be more difficult. 

It has been argued that the only reason people call quackgrass a weed is its name. However, this lawn grass can be as bad as crabgrass if left unchecked. Even though it might not turn brown during wintertime, don't be fooled by its lush green color all year round.

Quackgrass creates a denser turf than other desirable lawn grasses, making it difficult for other plants and trees to grow. It grows tall and upright, even taller than crabgrass or dandelions. Because of this, quackgrass chokes out other vegetation in the process, such as shrubs and flowers. Quackgrass can also choke young trees. This is why it's advisable to get rid of it as soon as you can.

Quackgrass Characteristics

  • Hairless stem sheaths
  • Long awns on awned seeds
  • Flowering heads with several nodes along the rachis
  • Spikelets in pairs, disarticulating above the glumes
  • Quackgrass is a perennial grass that grows during all seasons.
  • It spreads by spores, but it also can lay dormant for many years before germinating.
  • Quackgrass weeds are prevalent in lawns, golf courses, parks, roadsides, and open areas like tall fescue.
  • If climates allow it, the grass may stay green all year round
  • Quackgrass is not native since it was introduced from Europe.
  • It's very similar to Crabgrass, but its tillers are hairless while Crabgrass has hairy ones.
  • Quackgrass is edible by humans and livestock, which explains why it tends to invade grasslands used for grazing.
  • The lawn grass reproduces from rhizomes and seeds

Killing Quackgrass

When it comes to killing quackgrass, you have two options. You can apply herbicide or dig it out by hand. Although this is an effective way to control quackgrass, it will usually take weeks or months to eliminate the problem completely.

Using Chemicals

If you choose to eradicate quackgrass through chemical treatment, make sure not to spray herbicides on your garden plants because the chemicals will likely damage them. Bensulide, a chemical that controls weeds but doesn't harm turfgrass or other grasses, is one good way to kill quackgrass without harming your garden plants.

Quackgrass Control With Digging

Digging out quackgrass is an effective way to manage it because it forces the plant to expend energy to regenerate and can reduce the number of new quackgrass sprouts. This method is most effective if combined with other methods such as chemical herbicides or over-seeding your lawn.

What Is Crabgrass?

Crabgrass is an annual weed that grows mostly under warm weather conditions. It grows during the summer months and flowers in late summer or early fall. The grass grows from seed. While it has a shallow root system, which allows it to be easily plucked out of the ground along with its roots, it can still re-root itself if left in bits on the lawn. Most crabgrass is native, even though a number have also been introduced through crabgrass seeds.

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This grass weed is opportunistic and will take over any spot it finds bare. Whenever it invades a space, it won't let other plants survive. With such a dominant nature, it can easily be recognized. Crabgrass plant is light green, but its color will turn brown as the weather turns cold. As such, crabgrass is one of the first signs that winter is just around the corner.

What's worse is that crabgrass prevents other species from growing, and thus you'll soon find your lawn bare with nothing productive.

Characteristics of Crabgrass

You can easily identify the following characteristics:

  • Crabgrass roots grow long in the ground. This makes it difficult to destroy them as you have to dig up a part of your yard if they are deeply rooted.
  • The crabgrass roots form from underground because they remain even after the winter season has started. So, you have to be vigilant throughout the year and not just during wintertime.
  • The grass weed looks like the legs of a crab hence the name crabgrass
  • They grow like a weed, and they're one tough grass to kill off.
  • They spread fast and can be found everywhere in your yard, even if you have already killed them.
  • The Grass crops during the warm seasons and die in winter since they're not cool-season grasses

Killing Crabgrass

There are several ways to kill this weed grass before it completely takes over your lawn. Below are some of the ways to control crabgrass.

Choking the Weed

Choking is one of the methods to use when learning how to kill crabgrass. You can kill this grass by choking it. Choking the weed basically means cutting it close to the ground. This will leave no room for new growth, which ultimately leads to the death of these weeds. You can also do this by adequately fertilizing your lawn and ensuring proper lawn care.

Spraying Herbicide

Another effective way of killing this grass is by spraying post emergent herbicides on them. You have to be careful when doing this because some herbicides can kill your lawn if overused or applied on the wrong grasses. You can also do this by spraying Roundup crabgrass killers onto them.

Use Core Aeration as Lawn Maintenance

One of the best ways to kill crabgrass is to maintain your lawn properly. Crabgrass will not grow in healthy, thick green grass because it does not have any food supply beneficial to its growth. Using Core aeration involves taking out cores from the grass to put nutrients back into it. This will give your lawn a nice, thick surface that crabgrass cannot penetrate. The method also helps kill other weeds.

Uproot the Grass

Uprooting is another way of controlling crabgrass. Simply take a dice and slice it in half from top to bottom with a sharp knife or blade to remove crabgrass. Then, poke out all of the individual roots with a fork. Do not pluck them out because they will regrow if you do this.

FAQs About Quackgrass vs Crabgrass

How do you tell the difference between quackgrass and crabgrass?

Both quackgrass and crabgrass are weeds that grow in lawns. Although the two look similar, quackgrass is larger than crabgrass. Quackgrass is perennial, while crabgrass is annual.

Can you feed crabgrass to livestock?

Even though crabgrass is considered a weed, it's high-quality foliage in some areas where it's not a problem. Some farmers feed it to livestock because it contains the proper balance of nutrients for an animal diet.

Can you feed quackgrass to livestock?

In areas where livestock farming is widespread, quackgrass may not be considered a weed but a feed for the animals. However, it's still important that it doesn't invade the cropland or lawns and destroy other plants.

Final Thoughts About Quackgrass vs Crabgrass

Both quackgrass and crabgrass are dangerous grass weeds that can harm your lawn if you don't control them on time. The invasive weeds are not easy to control once they grow in your lawn, but you can use several methods to get rid of them.

For quackgrass, it's best to use chemical weed killers, while for crabgrass, you can opt for using pre-emergent herbicide or by sowing new grass seed on the affected area. The chemical treatments should be done carefully and only after proper research to don't damage your lawn. Remember, keeping your lawn healthy maintenance is vital to prevent these grasses from invading.


Kristina Perrin

Kristina Perrin

Kristina is an expert DIY home remodeler and mom to three. When she's not cooking or experimenting with new recipes, you can find her working on new home improvement projects or writing about her favorite kitchen appliances or DIY projects on Kitchen Infinity blog.

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