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What is Crabgrass and Why is it Bad for My Lawn?

Crabgrass is a lawn weed commonly found in our area (Southeastern Pennsylvania). A patch of crabgrass, in an otherwise nice lawn, sticks out like a sore thumb! In order to minimize the impact of this super-abundant weed, it is helpful to understand some things about the plant.

Crabgrass, as the name implies, is a grass. However, it is not a ‘turf-type’ grass. That is, it is not a grass used to create lawns.

The primary difference between Crabgrass and desirable lawn grasses is that Crabgrass is an “annual grass”.  The grasses used for lawns  are “perennial” grasses.


Perennial Grass

Perennial plants, including grasses, live year-after-year for decades. We have customers with lawns that date back to the early 1900s and still have some of the old grass types mixed in. Although lawns turn brown and don’t grow in the winter, they are still alive. The grass may appear dead in winter (and sometimes in the hot, dry summer) but, it’s just dormant and it will come out of dormancy when the conditions improve.

On the other hand, annual plants, including crabgrass, do not survive from year to year.

The life-cycle of an annual plant is completed in one year.


The Life-Cycle of Crabgrass:

In our area, there are thousands of crabgrass seeds in the soil at any given time. So, in the spring, when the soil temperatures get above 55 degrees, some of these seeds in your lawn will start to germinate (grow), which is why an early spring crabgrass preventer application is so important. The crabgrass seeds crack open and the plant’s life begins. The crabgrass will grow and spread during the spring, summer and into the fall. Throughout this period of time, the plants will produce seeds.

When it gets cold in the fall (usually after the first frost), the crabgrass plants will die. And that’s it for those crabgrass plants – they are dead and they will not come back to life – ever.  Unfortunately, each plant has just dropped thousands of new seeds on your lawn! (Penn State did a study that determined one crabgrass plant can produce up to 10,000 seeds!)  You can be sure these seeds will do their best to continue the cycle into the next spring!


What is Wrong with Crabgrass in a lawn? Why should I get rid of it?

The quick answer is, it’s “U-G-L-Y. It Ain’t got no Alibi, it’s Ugly!” Not to sound mean but, yes, crabgrass is ugly.  As mentioned above, crabgrass is not a ‘turf-type’ grass. As it grows throughout the season, it can dominate your lawn. This is especially true in the summer.

The grass types used for lawns in our area have their most vigorous growth in the spring and fall. During the summer, these grasses slow down and sometimes go into a dormant (or semi-dormant) state. However, the crabgrass thrives in the summer conditions and this is when it can very quickly establish itself in your lawn. Crabgrass is primarily an ‘opportunistic’ plant and will usually grow in thin or bare areas of your lawn, but it can also crowd-out good grasses that are weakened – sometimes by scalping the lawn (mowing too short), insect and disease activity or other problems.

Then, on top of all of this, once we get a hard frost, the crabgrass dies, turns brown and looks even uglier!


For information on how to get rid of crabgrass, click here:  How Do I Keep Crabgrass Out of My Lawn? 



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