No one likes to talk about weeds, but some plants compete with your garden for nutrients, water, and light, as well as harbor diseases and pests. Here are 13 of the most common weeds found in gardens and lawns—with weed identification pictures and tips on how to manage their growth.
What Is a Weed?
There are different types of weeds. Here are definitions from the Weed Science Society of America:
- Weed: “A plant that causes economic losses or ecological damages, creates health problems for humans or animals or is undesirable where is it growing.” Think crabgrass, giant foxtail or common lambsquarters, for example.
- Noxious Weed: “Any plant designated by federal, state or local government officials as injurious to public health, agriculture, recreate, wildlife or property. Once a weed is classified as noxious authorities can implement quarantines and take other actions to contain or destroy the weed and limit its spread.” For example, Field Bindweed is considered a noxious weed. See a list of noxious weeds by state here: http://wssa.net/links/noxious-weed-list/.
- Invasive Weed: “Weeds that establish, persist and spread widely in natural ecosystems outside the plant’s native range. When in a foreign environment, these invaders often lack natural enemies to curtail their growth, which allows them to overrun native plants and ecosystems.” Many invasive weeds are also classified as noxious.
Keep in mind: Of approximately 250,000 species of plants worldwide, only about 3% behave as weeds that we don’t want in cultivated areas. “Weeds” aren’t inherently bad. Many weeds stabilize the soil and add organic matter. Some are edible to humans and provide habitat and food for wildlife, too. See “Eating Weeds: Why Not?”
10 Ways to Prevent Weeds Before They Become a Problem
The best control strategy for weeds is always prevention. Before resorting to herbicides, look first to nonchemical weed control methods. Why? Herbicides may be a quick fix this year but will not keep your weed problem from recurring year after year. Only taking preventitive controls will reduce the weed problem in the future.
Never let ‘em seed! This is the #1 rule with weeds. Some varieties produce tens of thousands of seeds from a single plant, multiplying your weed control problems for years to come. So make certain you remove weeds around your home before they flower and produce seeds.
- Weed early, when the weeds are young. Inspect your garden daily. Just pull them up or cut them off below the soil line. Be careful to keep your digging shallow to you don’t bring new weeds seeds to the surface. Do not leave pulled weeds on the surface; discard! Weeds are easily to remove when the ground is moist, such as the day after a rainfall.
- Clean tools when you move from one area of the garden to another to avoid spreading weed seeds.
- Mow lawn reguarly to keep lawn weeds from producing seed. Mow off these green leaves!
- Be careful when buying materials from garden centers. Ask for weed-free mulch, manure, compost, and soil. Read grass seed labels to make sure they don’t contain other crop seed.
- In the spring or fall when it’s not gardening season, you could break up the top 4 to 8 inches of soil, rake it flat, and cover the soil in plastic sheeting for 6 to 8 weeks before seeding. Then, avoid cultivating the soil to a depth greater than 2 inches.
- But once you’ve seeded, do not till a garden area if it’s filled with perennial weeds; you’ll only break up the underground tubers and spread weeds around.
- Apply a layer of mulch! Weeds seeds have a harder time pushing through mulch, and mulch blocks sunlight
- Water right around your plants; do not sprinkle your entire garden or you’re watering your weeds.
- In lawns, be careful not to over-fertilize or under-fertilize or you’re promoting weed growth.
- Establish a perimeter. Pay special attention to the area adjoining your flower bed, garden, natural area or lawn and establish a weed-free perimeter. Mow or mulch the area or pull or dig up weeds as they emerge. You’ll help to reduce the number of new weed seeds in the area you want to protect. Also, a good trimmer can make it easier to reach weeds along garden beds, posts, and tight spots.
Pay special attention to perennial weeds. Perennial weeds (versus annuals) are more difficult to control. You need dig up any roots, underground tubers and rhizomes without leaving fragments behind. New weeds can grow from any pieces that break off and remain in the soil.
- Cut off the emerged green part of the weed with your hoe or mower—repeating the process quickly each time it regrows. Without leaves needed for photosynthesis, the underground plant parts will become weakened and may eventually die.
- If you dig out the weed, try to remove the taproot or as much as you can. You may be need to repeat several times.
- When pulling out these weeds, wait until the soil is moist, and grasp low on the stem to avoid breaking it off.
With these techniques, you’ll soon find that you won’t spend much time weeding the following years!
13 Common Lawn and Garden Weeds
Below are the top-ranked lawn and garden weeds. However, we’ve broken out the “noxious weeds.” These are weeds that are prohibited or controlled by law on a federal or state level. Noxious weeds are highly destructive and difficult to control by ordinary cultural practices.
We have divided this list of weeds into two sections: 1) Noxious and 2) Other common weeds that compete with vegetables, fruits, and crops but may have their own beneficial uses.
The noxious weeds (on federal and/or state level) on this list include field bindweed, quackgrass, Canada thistle, yellow nutsedge, and buckhorn plantain. There are other noxious weeds that aren’t on this list that are also problematic, such as Johnsongrass.
1. Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis)
Field bindweed is a hardy perennial vine that has been given many names, including perennial or wild morning-glory, creeping jenny, sheepbine, cornbind, and bellbine.
Bindweed is NOT the same as the ornamental annual morning-glory (in the genus Ipomea) which has a larger (2-inch wide) and more showy flower that can be white to blue or purple; it also has a thicker stem that is sometimes hairy and heart-shaped leaves that are 1 ½ inches wide and 2 inches or more long. The two species are easy to distinguish from each other.
An invasive from Eurasia, field bindweed is one of the most persistent and difficult to control weeds. It spreads from an extensive rootstock and from seed. And its roots are found to depths of 14 feet! Lateral roots becoming a secondary vertical root. A single field bindweed plant can spread radially more than 10 feet in a growing season. This extensive underground network allows for overwintering without foliage, and it can persist for many years in the soil.
Bindweed sprouts in late spring and can be seen throughout the summer. Though the plant’s flowers are attractive, field bindweed can become a big problem in warm weather, when they spread ruthlessly.
How to Control Bindweed
Unfortunately, tilling and cultivation seems to aide bindweed spread. Fragments of vertical roots and rhizomes as short as 2 inches can form new plants! Field bindweed also is very drought tolerant and once established is difficult to control even with herbicides.
The best control is, as with most weeds, is prevention or early intervention. Seedlings of field bindweed must be removed before they become perennial plants. However, this need to be done when they’re young—about 3 to 4 weeks after germination. After that, perennial buds are formed, and successful control is much more difficult.
Bindweed can grow through many mulches so you need to use landscape fabrics such as polypropylene and polyester or mulches such as black plastic or cardboard but also ensure that the edges of the covering overlap so that the bindweed stems can’t find their way into the light. If holes are made in the fabric or plastic for plants, bindweed will grow through these holes. A landscape fabric placed over soil then covered with bark or other plant-derived product (e.g., organic matter) or rock will likely keep field bindweed from emerging. It might take more than 3 years of light exclusion before the bindweed dies. Once landscape fabric or other mulch is removed, new bindweed plants might germinate from seed in the soil; be sure to monitor the site for new seedlings.
Is Bindweed Edible?
No. All parts of the bindweed plant are poisonous. Do not ingest.
2. Quackgrass (Elytrigia repens)
Quackgrass is a creeping, persistent perennial grass that reproduces by seeds. Its long, jointed, straw-colored rhizomes form a heavy mat in soil, from which new shoots may also appear.
How to Control Quackgrass
Try to dig out this fast-growing grass as soon as you see it in your garden, being sure to dig up the entirety of the plant (including the roots). Dispose of in your waste bin rather than the compost pile, as it will likely continue to grow in the latter!
Is Quackgrass Edible?
3. Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)
Canada thistle is an aggressive, creeping perennial weed from Eurasia (despite its name). It infests crops, pastures, and non-crop areas like ditch banks and roadside. Canada thistle reduces forage consumption in pastures and rangeland because cattle typically will not graze near infestations.
This weed reproduces by seed and whitish, creeping rootstocks which send up new shoots every 8 to 12 inches. Plants 2 to 4 feet tall, It is a colony-forming weed, reproducing asexually from rhizomatous roots (any part of the root system may give rise to new plants) or sexually from wind-blown seed. The plant emerges from its roots in mid- to late spring and forms rosettes.
Then, it will send up shoots every 8 to 12 inches. The plants will grow 2 to 4 feet tall. You may spots its purple flowers are produced in July and August.
How to Control Canada Thistle
Canada thistle is difficult to control because its extensive and deep root system allows it to recover from control attempts. Horizontal roots may extend 15 feet or more and vertical roots may grow 6 to 15 feet deep! Seeds may retain viability 4+ years in the soil.
The first plants need to be destroyed by pulling or hoeing before they become securely rooted. Look for Canada thistle above ground in early spring.
If Canada thistle becomes rooted, the best control is to stress the plant and force it to use stored root nutrients. It’s at its weakest during the flowering stage in summertime; this is a good time to begin cultivation and destroy the roots and rootstock. One season of cultivation followed by a season of growing competitive crops such as winter rye, will go a long way toward eradication.
An approved herbicide, applied for two years in an established in a thistle-infested area, is an effective control. Usually, a combination of techniques is needed. Consult with your cooperative extension office for an approved herbicide and suggested program.
Is Canada Thistle Edible?
Believe it or not, Canada thistle is in fact edible—with some preparation required, of course. After the spines are meticulously removed, the leaves can be prepared like spinach. The stems are the most prized part, though their bristled outsides must be peeled first. Be sure to wear gloves!
4. Nutsedge (Cyperus spp.)
Nutsedges are perennial weeds that superficially resemble grasses, but they are thicker and stiffer and V-shaped. Their leaves are arranged in sets of three from their base instead of sets of two as you would find in grass leaves. They are among the most problematic weeds for vegetable crops and can greatly reduce harvest yields. Yellow nutsedge has light brown flowers and seeds, while purple nutsedge flowers have a reddish tinge and the seeds are dark brown or black.
How to Control Nutsedge
If you have nutsedge, it’s often an indicated that your soil drainage is poor or waterlogged. However, once nutsedge is established, it’s very difficult to control.
The best approach is to prevent establishment of the weed in the first place.
Remove small plants before they develop tubers. Tubers are key to nutsedge survival. If you can limit production of tubers, you’ll eventually control the nutsedge itself. Most herbicides aren’t effective against tubers.
Also, eliminate the wet conditions that favor nutsedge growth. Use mulches in landscape beds. Landscape fabrics are the best mulch because the sharp leaves of nutsedge can pierce other mulches.
Is Nutsedge Edible?
Dating back to ancient Egypt, yellow nutsedge has historically been harvested for its tubers, which have a sweet, nutty flavor. Purple nutsedge tubers are also edible, but have a less pleasant, bitter taste.
5. Buckhorn Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
(Also called buck plantain, English plantain, narrow-leaved plantain)
Buckhorn plantain is a common perennial weed more common in pastures, meadows, and lawns. This narrow-leafed weed reproduces and spreads by seeds.
How to Control Buckhorn Plantain
Buckhorn plantain is low-growing which makes it difficult to remove by hand. This plant has a long taproot so it can become drought-tolerant and difficult to control.
So, to remove this weed, be diligent about pulling up young plants and destroying it before the plants go to seed. Learn how to scout and recognize young plants to help prevent early introductions from becoming persistent problems.
The best control is also preventative: grow a lush stand so the surface of the soil is shaded and prevents new seeds from getting established.
As a last resort, several herbicides are effective on buckhorn plantain. The best time to spray is in the fall (late October to early December). Speak to your local cooperative for approved products
Is Buckhorn Plantain Edible?
Yes, this weed is edible, especially when the leaves are young and tender. Enjoy it raw, steamed, boiled, or sauteed.
The following weeds—though not considered noxious—can still present a problem when they show up unwanted in gardens. However, weeds like lambsquarters or dandelions may actually be sought after for their nutritional content or benefit to pollinators, respectively.
6. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane is actually considered noxious in at least one U.S. state. However, this is not a widespread categorization. So, why is purslane, an edible succulent plant, considered so troublesome?
The answer goes back to the definition of weeds: Purslane can produce over 2,000,000 seeds PER PLANT! Purslane also can reproduce vegetatively through its leaves, making it especially tough to eradicate. Many a gardener hoed purslane one day only to see it growing at full strength the next.
Purslane is an annual, succulent-like weed that reproduces by tiny black seeds and stem fragments. This weed appears in late spring or early summer and likes warm weather, fertile soil and moist garden beds.
How to Control Purslane
The primary method of management for common purslane is prevention. In home landscapes and gardens, this weed is generally managed by hand-weeding. Pull out this weed as soon as you see it and destroy the plant; this weed can live in your soil for years!
Mulching is also helpful, especially in garden beds. To be effective, organic mulches should be at least 3 inches thick. Synthetic mulches (plastic or fabric mulch) which screen out light and provide a physical barrier to seedling development, also work well. Fabric mulches, which are porous and allow flow of water and air to roots, are preferred over plastics. Combinations of synthetic mulches with organic or rock mulches on top are commonly used in ornamental plantings.
Is Purslane Edible?
Young purslane is edible! It’s a nutritional powerhouse and a great addition to a salad or stir-fry. See purslane’s health benefits and find a recipe here.
7. Crabgrass (Digitaria spp.)
Crabgrass is a low-growing, summer annual that spreads by seed and from rootings of nodes that lie on the soil. Unmowed, it can grow to 2 feet tall.
This weed appears from mid-spring through summer when the ground is warm. It grows well under dry, hot conditions.
As an annual, crabgrass dies at the end of each growing season, usually at the first frost in the fall, and it must produce new seeds every year.
How to Control Crabgrass
Fortunately, crabgrass is fairly easy to manage. Controlling crabgrass before it sets seed is important, because the seeds can remain viable for at least 3 years in soil.
In the lawn, mowing regularly is often all you need to prevent them from flowering and producing seed. Most experts recommend that you mow your lawn to a height of 2 to 4 inches and that you mow frequently enough to keep it within that range.
Also, if you keep a lawn, be sure to select grass adapted to your location so it’s a healthy, thick lawn. Because seedling crabgrass isn’t very competitive, a vigorously growing turf will crowd out new seedlings. Perennial ryegrass is the best competition for crabgrass. It also provides some insect control, as it emits a natural poison that gives some small, damaging bugs the “flu.” Fertilizing is key and must be done in the spring and in the fall. Crabgrass thrives in compacted lawns, so aeration can help. A mixture of 1 pint of hydrogen peroxide, diluted to 3 percent, per 100 square feet of lawn can help eradicate the pesky plant.
In gardens, you easily can control crabgrass by mulching, hoeing, and hand pulling when the plants are young and before they set seed. You also can control this weed with solarization. Several chemical herbicides are available but often aren’t necessary. Mulching with wood products (e.g. wood chips or nuggets), composted yard waste, or synthetic landscape fabrics covered with mulch will reduce crabgrass in shrub beds and bedding plants and around trees by blocking sunlight needed for its germination, establishment, and growth.
Organic mulches that have been on the soil for a while decomposing can provide an adequate growth medium for weeds to germinate and grow in. If crabgrass is germinating in the mulch, move it about with a rake to reduce seedling establishment. Hand pull escaped crabgrass plants before they set seed
If you’re using herbicides, apply pre-emergent herbicides before crabgrass germinates or post-emergent herbicides after it germinates. Avoid using chemical herbicides in vegetable gardens because of the variety of crops grown and planted there.
Is Crabgrass Edible?
Sure, but grasses are generally not the tastiest weeds out there! That said, crabgrass can be used as a forage crop for livestock and its seeds have historically been harvested as an edible grain.
8. Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)
According to the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA), lambsquarters ranks as one of the most common weeds in North American gardens.
Common lambsquarters is a summer annual broadleaf weed that is widely distributed across the northern half of the United States and southern Canada. Thanks to its widespread distribution, it’s no surprise that lambsquarters is often a problem in gardens with sugar beets, vegetable crops, and pulse crops such as dry edible beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
Lambsquarters is a very fast-growing annual with seeds that are small and light enough to be blown by the wind over short distances and can sometimes survive for decades in the soil. Under favorable conditions, these weeds can establish themselves quickly and spread profusely.
How to Control Lambsquarters
This summertime weed rapidly removes moisture from soil, so remove it from unwanted areas as soon as possible!
Cultivate lambsquarters out of your garden using a sharp hoe.
Is Lambsquarters Edible?
Yes, you can eat lambsquarters (assuming you’re not using chemicals in your garden). In fact, their leaves are quite high in beneficial nutrients! The young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw in any vegetable dish, or sauteed or steamed like spinach. See our natural health blogger’s post on Anytime Salad.
9. Pigweed (Amaranthus spp.)
Pigweed wins the title of most “problematic” annual weed. It has evolved traits that makes it a tough competitor, especially in broadleaf crops like soybeans and cotton.
Image: Pigweed. Credit: United Soybean Board.
An annual weed that reproduces by seeds, pigweed is characterized by its fleshly, red taproot. This weed appears in late spring or early summer and likes warm weather.
How to Control Pigweed
Try to pull out this weed before it flowers!
Some weed seeds require light for germination and pigweed is one of those. To prevent pigweed in the future, cover your garden plot with a winter mulch.
Also, till very shallowly in the spring; only turn up a small amount of soil to keep those seeds buried. When you till you may bring up some pigweed seed so it’s best to mulch again. Cover the soil with five layers of wet newspaper and cover that with 3-6 inches of mulch.
Is Pigweed Edible?
Pigweed is also edible—though usually only when young and tender, and when taken from a pesticide-free area. In June, the young leaves of Amaranthus blitum or amaranth are abundant and should be eaten because of their high nutritional content. Vitamin-wise, these greens are packed like carrots and beets and can be delicious in a tossed salad. You can also cook them as you would spinach. Native Americans used the black seeds of this plant as a ground meal for baking.
10. Chickweed (Stellaria sp. & Cerastium spp.)
Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is a winter annual that grows in well-watered areas. It’s a reservoir for insect pests and plant viruses.
When growing without competition from other plants, common chickweed can produce approximately 800 seeds and it takes 7 to 8 years to eradicate. Chickseed thrives in moist, cool areas so it often gets started before spring crops can become competitive and can limit vegetable harvest.
Common chickweed is often forms a dense mats and rarely grows higher than 2 inches. The flowers are small with five white petals. Common chickweed will grow in a wide range of soils but does particularly well in neutral pH soils with high nitrogen and poorly in low pH or acid soils.
How to Control Chickweed
Fortunately, annual chickweed is easier to control as long as you pull the weed when the plant is small and before it flowers. The challenge can be locating it during the short period between germination and flower production, so be sure to monitor closely and completely remove the weed so it doesn’t reroot.
Remember this is a “winter annual.” So, monitor the soil surface for chickweed seedlings throughout late fall and winter and then remove them by shallow cultivation or by hand pulling.
Using an organic mulch such as wood chips, at least two inches deep, will reduce the amount of weed seeds germinating by limiting light and serving as a physical barrier. Synthetic mulches such as landscape fabrics may also be used. In landscaped areas, they should be covered with an additional layer of mulch (rock or bark). Vegetable gardens also can utilize black plastic, both as mulch into which seeds or transplants are placed and also between rows.
By spring time, we would not recommend chemical controls for this witner annual in the garden. In late fall, consider preemergent herbicides as a last resort.
Is Chickweed Edible?
Chickweed is edible. When young, the leaves, stems, and flowers can all be eaten either raw or cooked. It adds a delicate spinach-like taste to any dish.
11. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Ah, we love much about dandelions with their bright yellow heads in the springtime. They provide an important source of food for bees early in the year, too.
If you don’t mind giving your lawn over to dandelions, that’s fine. However, you may wish to consider investing in a lawn. In time, dandelions will also take over any habitat from your garden to your ornamentals to your grasses. They have the most weedy characteristics of all the weeds. Not only do dandelions have wind-borne seed but also reproduce vegetatively thanks to large tap roots. So unless you cut the root deep into the soil, you can rest assured the plant will reemerge.
How to Control Dandelions
Removing dandelions by hand-pulling or hoeing is often futile, unless done repeatedly over a long period of time, because of the deep tap root system of established plants. But if you have a small area, pull young dandelions by grasping them firmly by their base and wiggling gently, as you must dislodge their deep taproot from the soil. Alternatively, use a hand trowel to dig them out. Try to remove the whole dandelion root at once, as any piece left in the ground will probably grow back.
If you keep a lawn, a vigorous (and competitive) lawn will slow down dandelion infestation. Dense turfgrass and ornamentals shade the soil surface, reducing the establishment of new dandelion seedlings. Many broadleaf weeds may be controlled with mowing but this is NOT true of dandelion. Because it grows from a basal rosette that is lower than a mower blade can reach, mowing will have no effect on control.
For a garden bed, mulches of wood chips or bark are effective if they are maintained at a depth of least 3 inches deep (and replaced over time). Mulching with landscape fabrics can be particularly effective for controlling seedlings, reducing the amount of light that is able to reach the soil. Use a polypropylene or polyester fabric or black polyethylene (plastic tarp) to block all plant growth.
Solitary new dandelion plants along fence rows, roadsides, flower beds, and in turfgrass should be grubbed out (removed by digging out the entire plant, taproot and all) before they produce seed. Dandelion knives and similar specialized tools are available for removing individual weeds and their roots while minimizing soil disturbance. Monitor the area for several months to make sure that removal of the taproot was complete.
If you’re using herbicides, consider pre-emergence herbicides such as those containing dithiopyr or isoxaben because they are applied to the soil BEFORE the seeds germinate.
Are Dandelions Edible?
Yes! The jagged leaves of this perennial are edible, especially when young and tender. The flowers, too, can be eaten raw or fried, or used to make dandelion wine. Here are a few dandelion recipes to try: Dandelion Recipes. That being said, keep in mind that dandelions are an important source of food for bees in early spring, so you should only harvest a small amount and leave plenty for the pollinators!
12. Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
Shepherd’s purse is actually a Brassicacae and part of the Mustard family along with cabbage. This flowering annual produces heart-shaped seedpods after flowering. It likes cool weather and its yellowish-brown seeds are long-lived in the ground.
How to Control Shepherd’s Purse
Keep an eye out for its distinct leaves and pull out this annual weed by hand before it seeds. Be sure to remove the entire root.
Is Shepherd’s Purse Edible?
The immature heart-shaped seedpods of shepherd’s purse have a peppery taste and can be used as garnish in moderation. Other parts of the plant, like the leaves and mature seeds, may cause indigestion and should not be consumed.
13. Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)
Creeping Charlie (ground ivy) and also wild violet are common in shady lawns. Native to Europe, it has become an invasive lawn weed in North America. The plant has bright green leaves with scalloped edges on creeping stems that root at the nodes. It tends to form a dense mat over the ground.
The reason Creeping Charlie is so challenging is the way it spreads—by both seeds and by creeping stems (called stolons) that grow along the ground. If you try to dig it out and leave behind a fragment of rhizome (root), even a tiny piece can grow up as a new plant!
How to Control Creeping Charlie
- Improve turf density by seeding grasses in shady areas which will help to limit this weed from spreading.
- Also, make sure to grow the most suitable type of turfgrass for the location (e.g., plant shade tolerant turfgrass varieties under trees).
- Improve soil drainage or water less frequently to dry the soil.
- Mow regularly (to a height of two to three and one-half inches), fertilizing and watering appropriately, and overseeding in the fall.
Alternatively, consider removing grass and growing shade-loving plants such as vinca, English ivy, pachysandra, or hosta that compete well with weeds (though they can also become weeds themselves, so plant at your own risk!). In areas where Creeping Charlie has become established, try removing plants by hand. This is the control method of choice in vegetable or flower gardens. Try to pull the weed without breaking it and over time it may give up.
However, this may not be a viable option in heavily infested areas, as the extensive spreading stems of creeping Charlie can be difficult to completely remove. If you have mats of weed, smother with newspaper or tarp. Once plants are pulled, make sure to dispose of the plants in such a way that they cannot re-root. Common herbicides do not work. Consult your local garden center or cooperative extension for herbicides with triclopyr as a last resort.
Is Creeping Charlie Edible?
Prior to the mass cultivation of hops, Creeping Charlie was historically used in the brewing process of beer. As a member of the mint family, it has a slightly minty flavor and is often used by medical herbalists.