Are You Sure That’s Crabgrass?

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By now, most have heard about the ability of crabgrass to provide high-quality forage during the summer months, both for grazing and hay. Although it is typically regarded as a weed, livestock will preferentially graze crabgrass, and it has been reported to have crude protein levels of up to 21%, and total digestible nutrient levels of up to 64%.

people in a field

A group walking through a pasture of Red River Crabgrass at the NC State E. Carroll Joyner Beef Education Unit in 2019.

On the other hand, there is a grassy weed that livestock avoid. It is much “tougher”, making it harder to graze and sometimes hard to mow. It grows in low fertility soils and thrives in poor management settings. I have seen it mistaken for crabgrass numerous times. Goosegrass has a seed head shaped similarly to that of crabgrass, but one could argue that is where their similarities end. In situations where goosegrass is mistaken for crabgrass, crabgrass often ends up with a bad reputation. Learning the differences between the two can help avoid this case of mistaken identity.

seedheads

Crabgrass on the left, goosegrass on the right. Both the seed head and stem are thinner on crabgrass

As seen above, the stem and seed head of crabgrass is finer than that of goosegrass. Another easy to identify characteristic of crabgrass are its hairy ligules, which are not seen on goosegrass. Goosegrass also has a prostrate growth habit, which is not seen in improved forage varieties of crabgrass.

crabgrass ligule

Ligules of a crabgrass plant. Note the prominent, fine hairs Science Photo Library

Closeup of goosegrass

There are very little to no visible hairs on goosegrass

Questions about crabgrass, or any other forage? Call N.C. Cooperative Extension of Stokes County at 336-593-8179.