Controlling Winter Weeds in Warmer Climates | TruGreen

How to Manage and Control Winter Lawn Weeds in Warmer Climates

By TruGreen December 18, 2023
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How To Manage and Control Winter Lawn Weeds in Warmer Climates

Many homeowners consider winter to be the most low-maintenance season where lawn care is concerned. After all, when your grass goes dormant, there’s no need to mow or fertilize — it’s the perfect opportunity to kick up your heels and relax. But sometimes, nature has another plan. Some winter weeds can crop up on dormant lawns during the cooler months. The bad news? These winter annuals can quickly overtake your lawn if you’re not paying attention. The good news, however, is that preventative care can help keep winter lawn weeds at bay. Ahead, learn how to identify common winter annual weeds and discover how TruGreen® can help get them under control.

Where Do Weeds Grow in Winter?

Winter annuals are most noticeable on warm-season lawns (such as Bermudagrass, Centipedegrass, Zoysiagrass and St. Augustinegrass) that go dormant during the winter months. In warmer climates, like South Florida, winter annuals may blend into the turf canopy since lawns stay green throughout the winter months. Depending on the weed type and its preferred environment, these cool-season weeds can appear anywhere on your lawn, from shady corners to the middle of your turf. Some winter lawn weeds, for example, prefer moist, shady areas; others thrive in full sun. The layout and conditions of your lawn play a significant role in determining which weeds you’re most likely to see. That being said, some of the most common winter annual weeds in Southern states — where the temperature is typically warmer throughout the winter — include annual bluegrass, chickweed and henbit.

How Do Weeds Survive Through Winter?

Weeds don’t grow everywhere in the winter: in colder states that see frost and snowfall, weeds won’t grow until your lawn does. It’s a bit different in states with mild winter weather, though. If temperatures don’t drop low enough to kill weeds or induce dormancy, those unwanted plants can take advantage of your lawn’s dormancy. Because they’re more cold-tolerant than your warm-season grass, they have a competitive advantage — and they’ll take it.

Common Types of Winter Weeds

Where weeds are concerned, proper identification is the first step towards effective management. Ahead, we’ll discuss some of the most common winter weeds seen in warmer climates, offer tips on identifying them accurately and explain what you can do to help keep them at bay.

1. Henbit

Henbit is a winter annual broadleaf weed that grows in large clumps. It has a square-shaped stem, off of which slightly hairy egg or teardrop-shaped leaves grow. It’s often mistaken for purple dead nettle — which it looks similar to — but can be identified by its bright, reddish-purple flowers, which bloom in late winter or early spring. 

  • Location: Thinning turf and shady areas with damp or moist soil.
  • Considerations: Left unchecked, henbit can grow fairly tall (up to 16 inches in height). While mowing can prevent it from reaching this height the weed grows horizontally, which makes this an ineffective control technique. Instead, remove individual plants by pulling out the weed by hand from the root or rely on your TruGreen professional to apply post-emergent weed control application.

2. Common Chickweed

Common chickweed is a low-growing broadleaf weed with light green teardrop-shaped leaves. It germinates in the fall and grows in clumps during the winter, sometimes creating large mats on your lawn. It can be identified by small, five-petaled white flowers it produces in late winter.

  • Location: Though it prefers fertile, neutral-pH soils, common chickweed is highly adaptable and can grow in a wide range of environments with sufficient moisture.
  • Considerations: Like henbit, chickweed cannot be effectively controlled by close mowing. Hand-weeding before chickweed flowers is the best control method, as once it flowers, it produces an abundance of seeds that can survive in the soil for several years.

3. Annual Bluegrass

Of the winter lawn weeds, annual bluegrass may be the most notorious. This grassy weed features fine, tapered blades that are light green in color. If left unchecked, it produces fluffy, feather-like seed heads that are off-white in color. You can recognize it by the appearance of grassy light-green bunches on your otherwise dormant lawn.

  • Location: Annual bluegrass favors moist, compacted soil, but can grow nearly anywhere. 
  • Considerations: Post-emergent weed control should be a last resort where annual bluegrass is concerned: while it will kill the weed, it’ll leave behind a bare patch in its wake. Instead, opt for pre-emergent weed control and keep an eye out for signs of the weed — if you spot it early enough, you can dig it out manually.

4. Prickly Lettuce

Don’t be fooled by the name: prickly lettuce is not what you’ll find in your summertime salad. This broadleaf winter annual weed boasts large, spiky leaves with hairy edges. The stem is heavily bristled and releases a sticky, milky sap when cut or injured. At maturity, prickly lettuce can reach heights of up to six feet and will produce small yellow flowers that bloom throughout the spring and summer.

  • Location: Prickly lettuce grows throughout the country, particularly in disturbed soils. 
  • Considerations: While prickly lettuce can grow tall, it has a relatively shallow root system. As such, it can generally be controlled manually by pulling the weed out from the root. Just be sure to do so before it goes to seed, as the seeds can survive up to three years in the soil under the right conditions.

Controlling Winter Weeds

Ideally, you’ll want to address winter annual weeds by stopping them before they germinate. We recommend doing this with a professionally applied pre-emergent weed control treatment. This treatment is typically done in the late summer or early fall and helps prevent germination of winter annual weeds. 

If it's already winter and weeds are popping up in your lawn, they can be treated with a post-emergent application. However, keep in mind that post-emergent treatments will work slowly in cold weather and will take several weeks to show effect.

Ultimately, however, the best defense against weeds is a healthy, dense lawn. And we can help with that. Our science-backed lawn care plans are designed to give your lawn the nutrients it needs to thrive — and our tailored approach to lawn care means that we’ll give your lawn what it needs, when it needs it. When you partner with TruGreen, you’ll love your lawn — guaranteed.◆

Ready to put winter weeds to bed? Compare our plans today.


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