Garden & Landscape Tips

Broadleaf plantain has wide leaves and pencil-thick stalks that are lined with seeds.
Broadleaf plantain has wide leaves and pencil-thick stalks that are lined with seeds.
George Weigel
Buckhorn plantain has narrower, lance-shaped leaves.
Buckhorn plantain has narrower, lance-shaped leaves.
George Weigel

One of the most common – and big – lawn weeds after the dandelion is a leafy perennial called plantain. This plantain looks nothing like the banana cousin of the same name, though. It’s more akin to a hosta with its rosette of dark-green leaves with prominent vertical veins. The other distinguishing feature is the seed-lined, pencil-sized spikes that shoot up from the plant throughout summer.

Plantain is a versatile, durable weed that can be found growing in hot, dry fields, in damp roadside ditches, and in heavy clay soil as well as in manicured lawns. It’s not picky about growing conditions and often colonizes compacted soil where less durable plants won’t grow.

You might encounter two different versions of this weed. One is is buckhorn plantain (Plantago lanceolata), which has narrower, lance-shaped leaves and seeds only toward the tips of the stalks. The other is broadleaf plantain (Plantago major), which has smooth, wide, oval leaves and stalks that are lined with seeds. Both are common in lawns throughout the United States.

Because both of these are adept at spreading by seed, able to withstand cold winters, and capable of expanding outward each year, plantain can dominate a lawn if not controlled. Although the plants are shallow-rooted and fairly easy to pull or dig out of a lawn, the catch is that plantain can grow back from root pieces if you don’t get its whole root system. If digging isn’t working or practical, plantain is fairly easy to kill with broadleaf herbicides formulated for use in lawns. These weed-killers kill most broadleaf weeds without harming grass.

Preen Lawn Weed Control is a granular herbicide that can be applied anytime during the growing season when plantain is growing. It’s best applied after a rain or early in the morning when dew is on the lawn so the granules stick better to the weed surface. It’s best to stop plantain before the plant has a chance to mature the seeds on those slender spikes. That will limit future sprouting. A thick lawn is a good defense against all weeds, so fertilize regularly and add new grass seed each year or whenever a lawn is looking thin.

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