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9 common weeds and how to control them

Weeds can overtake your garden at rapid speed if ignored. Here are some common ones to look out for, and how to get rid of them if they end up on your turf!
By Sarah Nixon
a leather work glove hand holds onto a freshly pulled thistle weed in a horizontal orientation a leather work glove hand holds onto a freshly pulled thistle weed in a horizontal orientation

In the spring and early summer, I have a lot of weeding to do. It can be a gratifying endeavour — the satisfaction of pulling a whole root system out of the ground, getting intimate with what's going on at soil level, tidying up a messy bed — and it's an important task. If the weeds are left to grow, they will compete for water and nutrients. Plus, they could go to seed, potentially creating thousands of new plants and overtaking your flowers and veggies in no time.

Before you plant, it's important to get rid of all the weeds that you can see but don't be surprised if more appear after you plant your seeds or seedlings. The easiest time to get them is in "the hair stage," when their little roots are not much bigger than a hair, by lightly pulling a hoe through the ground. If you do this every 10 days throughout early and late spring, you'll be so on top of it, the weeds won't stand a chance. Unless, of course, you've got some of the serious contenders lurking in the ground; perennial weeds, which come back year after year, can take a longer time to eradicate.

Weeding after a good rain or watering before you start will help immensely in your ability to remove the roots, which is what you want to destroy. If the plant is large enough, or the soil is compacted enough to require digging tools, use a fork rather than a trowel or shovel to avoid breaking up the roots. Some plants are so tenacious that a stray piece of root will create a whole new plant.

Here are some common weeds to help you recognize and control them:

Common weeds and how to control them

Goutweed

This is a perennial that spreads by its long white roots and must be eradicated completely. Even a small piece left in the soil can start a new colony. It can take a few years of diligent removal to be rid of this stubborn creeper. The variegated version is often sold in nurseries as "Snow on the Mountain." All I can say is beware!

9 common weeds and how to control themPhoto, Instagram/@mallorylodonnell.

Creeping bellflower

At first you may think these are a pretty purple flower but leave them alone and they will spread and seed into every corner of the garden —even the lawn! Digging the whole root out, not letting them flower and generally keeping on top of their growth should keep them in hand.

9 common weeds and how to control themPhoto, Instagram/@crystallofoliamn.
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Common goldenrod

Although pretty, in the fall, these weeds spread rapidly. In the garden, mowing them in spring and fall can help greatly over a couple of years. Dig out individuals before they dominate your beds. There are some cultivars that are not invasive but if they just show up in the garden, you can be sure they are not in that category.

9 common weeds and how to control themPhoto, Instagram/@adri_enne_l.

Lamb's quarters

If this one is left to go to seed, it can produce over 70,000 seeds from one plant. The seeds can lay dormant in the soil for up to 20 years waiting for the right conditions. Luckily, Lamb's Quarters is easy to pull out by hand and won't spread through its root system.

9 common weeds and how to control themPhoto, Instagram/@littlelichen.

Purslane

This creeper will overtake your garden because it can spread by seed or root, can re-root if a small piece of the plant is left in the garden and can set seed even after being pulled. When you pull them, be sure to clear them right out of the garden as they can shoot seeds a long distance. Plus, seeds can stay dormant for years before they're determined.

9 common weeds and how to control themPhoto, Instagram/@naturally_yu.
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Dandelions

I love these for the time they flower in the spring, but they will quickly become enormous and spread. It's helpful to use a trowel to dig down into the soil before pulling as you want to get the whole taproot (the most dominant root) which can be long.

9 common weeds and how to control themPhoto, Instagram/@ikar.yova.

Japanese knotweed

This is one of the most aggressive and invasive weeds. It looks like bamboo and can be very tricky to get rid of. The best course of action can be to dig up the roots, but even a small piece left behind will start a new plant. After digging, cover the ground with tarps. For container gardens or raised beds, use mulch. This is one of the only occasions when I suggest using a herbicide to help control it. It may take years for it to be killed off. It is a tough plant and has been known to break through concrete!  

9 common weeds and how to control themPhoto, Instagram/lmnopimaize.

Field bindweed

This perennial vine does what its name implies: It climbs through other plants. It is in the Morning Glory family and may trick you into thinking it's pretty, but it wants to overtake as much land as possible and spreads through both seeds and roots. One way of dealing with a small infestation is to repeatedly cut back growth to ground level whenever it appears.

9 common weeds and how to control themPhoto, Instagram/@artisandesignsuk
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Common ragweed

When mature, ragweed can produce up to 60,000 seeds so it's important to get rid of these as early as possible. These are easy to eliminate as they can be pulled by hand. 

9 common weeds and how to control themPhoto, Instagram/@wonderweedsbk.

More:
The 4 gardening basics that every beginner should know
5 smart ways to organize your kitchen waste for ease and minimal stink
10 plants and flowers that are super easy to start from seed

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