Guide to Identify Common Weeds in Chicago with Pictures

Weeds are opportunistic that take advantage of empty spaces in the landscapes. They usually pop up in disturbed soil, improperly mowed landscapes, and lawns where animals or birds have spread the seeds.

Their nature is vigorous and can rob nutrients, light, and water from desirable plants.

Eventually, these unwanted plants choke out their surrounding desirable plants by robbing resources.

So it’s necessary to take critical prevention instead of waiting for the invaders to sprout. Identify them and take corrective measures to prevent or control them.

This article jots down the common weeds causing headaches among gardeners in Chicago.

Identify 5 Common Weeds of Chicago Weeds with Chicago

Ready to discover the 5 common weeds of Chicago? Then what are we waiting for? Let’s dive right into it!

1. Buckthorn

SpeciesRhamnus cathartica
Common NamesCommon buckthorn, Hart’s thorn, European buckthorn and European waythorn.

Buckthorn poses a serious threat to backyards and lawns. They are gardener’s nemesis due to their highly adaptable and challenging nature.

Buckthorn can sprout in full sun and also in shady areas. Plus, they thrive in acidic to alkaline soils.

Leafs usually bloom in the early spring and hold in the fall. When the weed matures, they create a dense canopy.

And once they establish, the weed can entirely occupy the landscape, ruining the plant diversity over time. However, buckthorn typically spreads through seed, and most of the credit goes to birds.

Key Characteristics

Common buckthorn can grow up to 25feet tall. They exhibit brown bark to gray stems with light-colored corky projections (lenticels).

Their stripped branches show orange sapwood, and many twigs end with thorns. Fascinatingly, the thorns and terminal buds resemble a hoof.

On the other hand, buckthorn has elliptical, dark glossy, smooth leaves with pointed tips and a small tooth. Flowers bloom as clustered and inconspicuous in the leaves’ axils in May or June.

Moreover, female plants give rise to clusters of ripe black fruits in August and September.

Each fruit bear 3 to 4 seeds that remain active for nearly three years in the soil. Moreover, buckthorn is characterized by an extensive fibrous root system.

You can pull out the small buckthorns by hand. Just wait until the soil is a bit damp, as it will be easier for you to drag out the young plants. But you may have to use tools to deal with bigger ones.

However, rip off the bigger plants close to the ground. And make use of black plastic for covering the stumps, as it will stop regrowth. If you leave them uncovered, the weed will germinate again.

A cut stump treatment using brush herbicide can act as a great defense against the broad buckthorn stems.

Experts recommend applying herbicides having triclopyr or glyphosate for this weed control. However, you won’t have to treat the stump’s center.

In the case of a basal bark treatment, apply the herbicide directly to the bark. It’s effective on plants up to 5 inches in diameter.

2. Bindweed

SpeciesConvolvulus arvensis
Common NamesCreeping jenny, Chardvel, Field bindweed, European bindweed, Lesser bindweed, Small bindweed, Morning glory, Small-flowered morning glory.

Every garden in Chicago is aware of the invasive nature of bindweed – infuriating and frustrating.

This vine-like weed ascends the stems of its surrounding plants and matures, forming a thick mat. They even develop a deep root system that chokes out any farm field or garden bed.

Although bindweed is difficult to control, you can quickly deal with it if you can bestow enough time.

Key Characteristics

Are you sure the weed invading your garden is bindweed? Check out the following things to ensure it –

  • Bindweed appears much like morning glory, hence also referred to as wild morning glory.
  • This weed manifests lean, thread-like vines wrapped securely around upright plants like grapevines, shrubs, or other ascending things.
  • Leaves are shaped like an arrowhead, and later, trumpet-shaped flowers start to bloom. The flowers are either pink or white.
  • Bindweed is characterized by shallow vertical and horizontal lateral roots, reaching depths up to 20 feet.

Bindweed’s robust and extensive root system makes it difficult to eradicate. However, you may have to make several attempts to eliminate its roots and kill the weed entirely.

You can also use non-selective herbicides and boiling water to deal with bindweed.

However, these techniques are applicable on lawns where you have no other plants to save, like empty vegetable beds or driveway cracks.

Apply the herbicide heavily to the weed and carry out the treatment every time it regrows and reaches up to 12 inches in height.

If you are using boiling water, pour it nearly 2 to 3 feet beneath where the weed is germinating.

Another effective method to prevent bindweed growth is repeatedly trimming the vines close to the soil. You can use shears or scissors to rip off the weed at ground level.

Bindweed often takes advantage of poor soil to sprout. So make sure to maintain fertile soil by planting more trees that extend densely and can choke the weed out of bed.

Treat it with fertilizer to allow other plants to sprout more compactly. Dethatch the yard if bindweed is already growing.

3. Crabgrass

SpeciesDigitaria sanguinalis
Common NamesHairy crabgrass, Large crabgrass, Hairy finger-grass, Crab finger-grass, Finger-grass, and Fonio.

Crabgrass also has many stems, like the legs of an ocean crab, growing close to the soil. This weed can successfully invade a lawn because of its reclining growth habit.

This annual weed sprouts in the bare and thin spaces in a lawn. However, after dying in the fall, each plant produces hundreds of seeds that can sprout the following spring. Crabgrass can survive in dry, hot conditions.

This weed dies off automatically during the fall, after the first frost. But you should get rid of crabgrass before they produce seeds.

Otherwise, this pesky plant will become a nemesis again next year. So eliminate the crabgrass as soon as you see them nodding their head.

You can pull out the clumps with a gardening tool with a plunger or claw to penetrate deep into the soil up to the roots.

Although time-taking, this process can effectively control this weed. However, put the clumps in a plastic bag and seal them tightly to prevent the seeds from germinating and spreading.

Key Characteristics

If you see a light green and coarse clump of grass in your lawn, it’s probably crabgrass. Check whether they show sprawling stems that look like a crab’s legs.

However, don’t confuse it with fescue grass. You can identify fescue grass by seeing its darker green color. This is because they are primarily thick and propagate rapidly.

Young crabgrass features blades that are nearly a pencil’s thickness. Moreover, the stems are heavy and exhibit a star-like pattern in the center.

Chemical treatment is an effective way to control crabgrass. You can apply a post-emergent herbicide designed for this weed. Note that every weed herbicide isn’t designed with the same composition. Some can even kill regular grasses and other plants.

Crabgrass herbicides come in a liquid state and are designed for spot treatment. So while choosing a herbicide, make sure to check the label. Then, apply it following the directions on the label and maintaining safety protocols.

Other effective ways include adjusting the mowing height. You should leave the grass about 3 inches in height, which will help to shade the soil.

Also, feed your garden regularly to minimize the risks of getting consumed by weeds. And apply fertilizer during the germinating season every five to six weeks.

Finally, make sure to water your lawn adequately. It should get one inch of water every week from watering or rain.

The water should soak up to six to seven inches in depth. It will stimulate a garden to attain deep and thicker roots to choke out the weeds.

4. Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard
SpeciesAlliaria petiolata
Common NamesHedge garlic, Jack-by-the-hedge, Jack-in-the-bush, Poor man’s mustard, Mustard root, Garlicwort, and Garlic root.

Just one garlic mustard weed plant can fall heavy on gardeners! This weed can spread aggressively by seed, making colonies that strangle native plants in shady lawns. 

Besides, they affect other plants, making garlic mustard more challenging to control. 

Large patches of garlic mustard invade native plants that are desirable in the lawn over time. This biennial weed can even germinate in disturbed soils. 

However, garlic mustard is a wild yet edible cousin of propagated mustards recognized today as invasive in North America.

Key Characteristics

This biennial weed develops into a rosette during the first year, extending up to 6 inches in height. However, it further expands to nearly 4feet tall in the following years. The stems are single and weak by nature. 

Garlic mustard exhibits dark green, round leaves with scalloped edges. Well, you will see green leaves blooming throughout the winter. 

However, one of the key characteristics is that the stems and leaves smell like garlic or onion, primarily if crushed. 

The plant gets covered with numerous white flowers in the second year. Flowers show four separate petals. 

You will also find slender capsules bearing cylindrical black seeds that start maturing from July till August. But they stay active for nearly five years. 

Moreover, they are characterized by white, lean S-shaped roots. So you need to eradicate the weed from its root. 

Hand-pulling will get the work done in case of small infestations. But you have to drag out the plants before flowering. 

And make sure to remove it from the roots when the soil is wet. Then, tamp the soil after extraction to prevent this weed from re-germinating. 

If pulling is too difficult, rip them closer to the ground before the seeds germinate. However, manual control of this weed is time-consuming and labor-intensive. 

Control treatment should be more aggressive in case of large infestations. You can try to burn these weed patches during the fall or spring. But this process can be extended to control this weed growth fully. 

Chemical treatment can be effective in controlling severe infestations. For example, you can apply a glyphosate solution in early spring. But be cautious, as this solution can kill even other plants in the path.

Also Read: Weeds in Missouri: Identify 5 Different Common Weeds with Pictures

5. Nightshade

SpeciesSolanum nigrum
Common NamesBlackberry nightshade, Black nightshade, Blackberry nightshade, Blackberry, Common nightshade, Garden nightshade, Deadly nightshade, Garden huckleberry, Harsh, Inkberry, Poisonberry, Wild currents, and potato bush.

Nightshade can easily cheat you into being decorative in a garden. With wavy-edged leaves, they climb and camouflage. 

It isn’t easy to spot until the flowers appear, spreading their unique clusters of blackberries. Unfortunately, they are highly poisonous and numerous in numbers. 

However, this weed can pop up in disturbed soils, so it’s essential to maintain a healthy garden bed. You can control bitter nightshade’s small infestations by pulling in wet soils. 

First, remove the entire root system by digging deep enough underneath the soil. But if this weed is germinating along with other vegetation, you can cut the vines and dig out the root.

Key Characteristics

Nightshade is a herbaceous, bushy weed that extends up to 1.25m tall. Their stems exhibit a rough texture and are sparsely hairy or hairless. 

Young nightshade is purplish-green or green. Moreover, their oval or elongated leaf blades taper at the tip. They are bluntly toothed or a little lobed with hairs on both surfaces. 

Nightshade blooms star-like, small flowers in clusters close to the branches’ tips. Their central stalk grows up to 1 to 2 cm long. 

However, the flowers come with five purplish-tinged or white petals with five sepals. Note that flowers appear throughout the year. 

You can differentiate nightshade from other similar species by considering their smooth, glossy stems and leaves. 

They are green at their mature stages and turn black once they ripen. Fruits usually germinate, pointing downward, and their sepals point outwards. 

Note that thorough and frequent cultivation is essential to prevent the regrowth of this plant. On the other hand, you can use a non-selective herbicide to kill nightshade. 

But it can even kill desirable plants on your lawn. You may have to repeat herbicide treatment to eliminate this weed.

Also Read: Weeds in Houston: Identify 7 Common Weeds with Pictures


So these were some of the most common weeds haunting gardeners in Chicago. As soon as you see any of them nodding their head in your yard, get rid of them immediately.

However, try to go for organic approaches as they are environment-friendly and safer.

About Jennifer Igra

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York City known for it’s green gardens. Jennifer, a 30 year old gardener and green living fanatic started Igra World to share her gardening journey and increase gardening awareness among masses. Follow Igra World to improve your gardening skills.

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