Warm temperatures and moist soil are all it takes to help weeds invade your garden, lawn, and landscape. Fighting weeds is a constant battle, but it is much easier while they are young and vulnerable.
Why get rid of weeds?
Getting ride of weeds is work, so why bother? There are many reasons for getting rid of weeds:
So, getting rid of weeds helps your plants stay healthy. Most of the time.
Benefits provided by weeds
Before trying to rip out every weed on your property, you may be surprised (and relieved) to learn, as I was, that some weeds actually provide benefits. Because they grow and go to seed so fast, weeds reduce erosion and the loss of top soil. Weeds can also be used to support soil microorganisms and to add organic material back into the soil. Weeds absorb carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere, increase biodiversity, and provide food and shelter for native insects and animals. In some cases, weeds act as trap crops, luring pests away from favorite plants.
Looking at the sunny dandelion in this new light, we see it has a taproot that grows in even the most compacted soil, provides nectar and pollen for beneficial insects, new greens can be used in a salad, and flowers can be used to make wine! So, not all weeds are bad. But most of them are not what we want in our gardens.
What is a weed?
Before we start learning about some of the more common weeds, let’s be clear about what a weed is and what it isn’t. According to Gallagher, “If you pull it out and it grows back, it’s a weed.” I’ve always said, "A weed is a plant that grows after you try to kill it.” So, how do we get rid of unwanted weeds?
Weeds are some tenacious opponents. They have evolved to go to seed only days after emerging from the soil. Their stems and roots tend to be brittle, so part of them is left behind to continue after you try to pull them out. There are only two ways to get rid of weeds: the Hard Way and the Hard Way.
Which of these weeds cause problems in your garden?
Annual sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus) Like dandelions, sowthistle seeds travel on the wind, so they will always be back. Learn to recognize these weeds while they are young, before they go to seed.
Burning nettle (Urtica urens) and stinging nettle (U. dioica), have tiny hairs along the stem that sting for several minutes and can itch for hours.
Common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) may be edible, but these weeds can also carry beet curly top, potato viruses M, S, and X, tomato ringspot, and several mosaic diseases of alfalfa, barley, beans, beets, cucumber, eggplant, hops, lettuce, squash, and watermelons.
Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) may have pretty flowers, but that root system can down 20 feet or more! Also, bindweed frequently plays host to viruses that impact beans, potatoes and cereals, such as tomato spotted wilt, vaccinium false bottom, and potato X disease. If you discover bindweed in the garden, your best bet is to monitor the area frequently and pull new growth as soon as it is seen. You can also use sheet mulching.
Pigweeds (Amaranthus spp.) provide overwintering sites for disease-ridden green peach aphids and beet armyworms, which negatively impact beans, buckwheat, celery, cilantro, citrus, cole crops, cucurbits, lettuces, parsley, peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes.
Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata) is a common weed that can reach a surprisingly large size. Mature plants can be several feet in diameter!
Of course, poison ivy, poison hemlock, and crabgrasses are commonly referred to as weeds, as are the many invasive plants being installed haphazardly. Kudzu, ice plant, purple nutsedge, and English ivy are wreaking havoc on local environments wherever they occur. Once established, it is very difficult to get rid of them.
If you are unsure about a potential weed in your garden, post pictures in the Comments section and we can work together to identify it.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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