15 Weeds That Look Like Wheat | Grassy Weed Control

Turf grass is just a drop in the bucket of what the grass family, or Poaceae, has to offer. For example, this family also includes key food crops like wheat and barley (and their wild cousins).

It’s super common to only notice grassy weeds when they flower or go to seed. At these stages, you might mistake the stalks for wheat or another cereal crop. Wheat may be one of the most recognizable grasses in the world, but it’s probably not what’s invading your lawn or garden at this moment.

In this article, you’ll learn about the most common weeds that look like wheat and how to manage their presence in your home landscape.

How To Identify Wheat

Wheat is a widely cultivated cereal grain that makes up a significant portion of the world’s food supply. Most of what we grow today is common wheat (Triticum aestivum). This species has been domesticated over thousands of years, though wild varieties also still exist.

common wheat

called ‘ears’. While we often associate this style of seed head with wheat, the reality is that many grass species have similar structures.

15 Grassy Weeds That Resemble Wheat

If I hear someone compare a weed to wheat, my first assumption is always that they’re dealing with a grassy weed versus a broadleaf one. (Examples of broadleaf weeds include things like dandelions and clovers.)

Grassy weeds are tricky because they easily blend into our lawns. Many homeowners only notice these unwanted guests when they put out flowers and seed heads that tower over the rest of the grass.

1) Quackgrass

Quackgrass

Elymus repens

  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Time of Seed Formation: Late summer

Quackgrass is a perennial weed that may be mistaken for wheat due to the similar seed heads. The easiest way to tell the two apart is by size. Quackgrass is much smaller than true wheat and has a spreading growth habit.

Quackgrass spreads through underground rhizomes and can form dense patches in lawns and gardens. According to Purdue University, quackgrass has allelopathic properties that prevent other plants from growing in the same soil.

The best way to control quackgrass is by physically removing the plants, including their rhizomes, from the area. A non-selective herbicide like glyphosate or imazapyr can be used for serious infestations.

2) Ryegrass

Ryegrass

Lolium multiflorum

  • Life Cycle: Annual or perennial
  • Time of Seed Formation: Late spring to fall

Annual ryegrass is frequently used for overseeding other types of turf grass. It is a short-lived grass that fills in seasonal gaps in both warm- and cool-season lawns. The seed heads of annual ryegrass feature many compact spikes that resemble small wheat ears.

This grass is sometimes classified as a weed because it has a tendency to grow where it doesn’t belong. Annual ryegrass is a particular problem in cereal crop fields. It can also invade lawns and gardens if left unchecked.

Annual ryegrass can be managed by mowing frequently to prevent seed production. If the ryegrass persists after a full year, try applying a pre-emergent herbicide like pendimethalin to stop new seeds from germinating.

3) Yellow Foxtail

Yellow Foxtail

Setaria pumila

  • Life Cycle: Annual
  • Time of Seed Formation: Summer

Yellow foxtail is an annual grass that resembles common wheat in size and overall growth habit. Once the seed heads emerge — cylindrical spikes covered in hairy bristles — the two are relatively easy to tell apart. 

This weed is frequently found in lawns, gardens, agricultural fields, and pastures. It likes recently disturbed, rich soils.

I recommend a combination of hand-pulling, routine mowing, and pre-emergent herbicide treatments to control yellow foxtail in the landscape.

4) Dallisgrass

Dallisgrass

Paspalum dilatatum

  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Time of Seed Formation: Early summer to fall

Dallisgrass somewhat resembles wheat but, when you take a closer look, has a much different growth habit and seed head structure. 

Dallisgrass uses rhizomes to spread aggressively, forming coarse patches that choke out all other plant life. It’s a common pest of grassy areas (e.g., lawns, parks, sports fields, and golf greens) in warmer climates, particularly in the American South.

Maintaining a thick, healthy lawn is one of the best ways to prevent dallisgrass issues. If this weed has already invaded your property, remove it by hand-pulling or applying a herbicide containing mesotrione.

5) Barnyard Grass

Barnyard Grass

Echinochloa crus-galli

  • Life Cycle: Annual
  • Time of Seed Formation: Late summer

Barnyard grass is a purple flowering annual weed that may be confused with wheat. If you’re ever unsure which plant is growing in your yard, just remember that barnyard grass seed heads tend to be born in clusters. Wheat has singular seed heads.

Barnyard grass is a highly competitive weed, infesting agricultural crops and residential landscapes alike. It likes damp areas, and is commonly found in flooded fields or poorly drained soils, but will tolerate a wide range of growing conditions. 

An article from Pennsylvania State University recommends the use of pro diamine, pendimethalin, or dithiopyr for pre-emergent control, and fenoxaprop-p-ethyl, quinclorac, or topramezone for selective post-emergent control.

6) Feather Reed Grass

Feather Reed Grass

Calamagrostis × acutiflora

  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Time of Seed Formation: Late summer to fall

Feather reed grass is an ornamental, clump-forming grass that may be confused with wheat due to its height and grain-like seed heads. Feather reed grass is commonly used in landscaping but can become a nuisance if not properly maintained. 

Fortunately, feather reed grass seeds are naturally sterile, meaning they won’t produce new plants. This makes it very easy to get back under control even if it does grow a bit wild!

The best way to manage unwanted feather reed grass is to simply dig out the entire root ball. Overgrown plants can also be controlled by cutting through the root ball and replanting the individual segments.

7) Wall Barley

Wall Barley

Hordeum murinum

  • Life Cycle: Annual
  • Time of Seed Formation: Spring to early summer

Wall barley is a wild version of the barley we grow for food. The seed heads slightly resemble those of wheat, but are much smaller and have a distinctive feather-like appearance.

Wall barley is incredibly widespread, normally being found in areas with recently disturbed soil. It competes with desirable plants — i.e., native species, landscape plants, and agricultural crops — for valuable resources. 

Since wall barley is an annual, mowing prior to seed development is a very effective means of control. Non-selective herbicides like glyphosate are also effective.

8) Hare Barley

Hare Barley

Hordeum murinum ssp. leporinum

  • Life Cycle: Annual
  • Time of Seed Formation: Spring to early summer

Hare barley is a subspecies of wall barley, occasionally classified as a separate species. The primary difference between the two is that hare barley seed heads are branched.

However, there’s little need to differentiate between the two for the purpose of this list. Both have similar growth habits and recommended control methods.

9) Feather Fingergrass

Feather Fingergrass

Chloris virgata

  • Life Cycle: Annual
  • Time of Seed Formation: Fall

Feather Fingergrass has tassel-like seed heads that, from a distance, may resemble ears of wheat. It only grows to about half the height of true wheat, though.

Feather Fingergrass is commonly found in lawns, gardens, and other disturbed areas like roadside ditches. It tolerates a range of soil conditions, giving it the upper hand over more beneficial plant species.

Regular mowing before seed production can greatly reduce the presence of this annual grassy weed. Note that feather Fingergrass is sometimes grown as livestock feed.

10) Johnson Grass

Johnson Grass

Sorghum halepense

  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Time of Seed Formation: Early summer

Johnson grass forms large, rough-textured clumps that may resemble wheat at first glance. The key difference is that Johnson grass seed heads consist of many loosely clustered panicles.

Johnson grass is highly competitive, using underground rhizomes to spread, and will dominate both agricultural fields and naturalized areas. While it prefers full sun, it can thrive in nearly all types of soil. 

Regular mowing won’t kill this perennial grass but it will put a big dent in its seed production. If chemical control is necessary, you can use a standard product like RoundUp.

11) Yellow Nutsedge

Yellow Nutsedge

Cyperus esculentus

  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Time of Seed Formation: Late summer to fall

Yellow nutsedge is not a grass but a type of sedge. Sedges are grass-like plants that belong to their own family (Cyperaceae). The easiest way to identify a sedge is to feel for a triangular stem. 

Yellow nutsedge seed heads may look like wheat to the untrained eye, but referencing a field guide or even doing a quick online image search will make it very clear what you’re dealing with!

You’re most likely to encounter yellow nutsedge if you mow your lawn too short or have poor-draining soil. In addition to improving your lawn’s health, hand-pulling is an effective control method as long you remove all of the nutsedge tubers.

12) Purple Nutsedge

Purple Nutsedge

Cyperus rotundus

  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Time of Seed Formation: Spring to summer

Purple nutsedge is a very close relative of yellow nutsedge. As the name implies, purple nutsedge has reddish-purple seed heads instead of yellow ones. 

If yellow nutsedge wasn’t hard enough to manage, purple nutsedge is an even bigger challenge. This grass-like weed produces an extremely large number of tubers which allow it to spread into lawns, gardens, and other environments.

Though some regions contain both nutsedge species, as a general rule purple nutsedge is more fond of warmer climates.

13) Foxtail Barley

Foxtail Barley

Hordeum jubatum

  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Time of Seed Formation: Late spring to summer

Foxtail barley is yet another type of uncultivated barley that may be mixed up with wheat. It stands out from other barley plants (and common wheat) due to the long, feathery hairs produced by its seed heads.

It can severely impact farm crops if not promptly managed. However, foxtail barley tends to be little more than an aesthetic nuisance for home gardeners. 

My recommended control strategy for foxtail barley includes regular mowing and hand-pulling as needed to prevent seed distribution.

14) Indian Goosegrass

Indian Goosegrass

Eleusine indica

  • Life Cycle: Annual
  • Time of Seed Formation: Summer

Indian goosegrass is distributed throughout the southern two-thirds of the world. In tropical and subtropical climates, it has the potential to dominate native habitats and cultivated fields. 

The base of this plant often has a silver hue, earning it the alternative name ‘silver crabgrass’.

Like most other weeds on this list, Indian goosegrass is extremely competitive and can take over lawns, golf courses, and similar areas.

You can limit the spread of Indian goosegrass by mowing or pulling the plants before they go to seed. According to North Carolina State University, this weed is much easier to remove the younger it is, as the root system becomes incredibly strong over time.

15) Orchard Grass

Orchard Grass

Dactylis glomerata

  • Life Cycle: Perennial
  • Time of Seed Formation: Summer

Orchard grass is native to parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa but has been naturalized across much of the world. Though classified as invasive in some regions, it also has some ecological benefits, including offering a good food source for grazing wildlife and erosion control.

If orchard grass invades your lawn or garden, it may compete with existing plant life. It tolerates a wide range of growing environments but particularly loves rich soils like those found in agricultural fields.

Mowing orchard grass before it forms seed heads will prevent new plants from taking root. If you want to completely eradicate this weed, using a non-selective herbicide containing glyphosate is the most effective strategy.

For more articles relating to weeds, here’s a link to Dandelion Growth Stages that you may enjoy.

FAQs Weeds That Look Like Wheat

Why does my turf grass look like wheat?

If regular turf grass isn’t mowed often enough, it will start producing flowers and seed heads. These structures can look a lot like very small wheat stalks. Mowing more frequently will prevent your lawn from going to seed by stopping the flower stalks from forming.

Can you plant a lawn of wheat?

Wheat is a type of grass, so you can technically plant it as a lawn. However, you probably won’t find wheat used this way because it lacks the traits — e.g., a perennial, low-growing habit — that typically make a good turf grass.

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.