Consider this your guide to removing even the peskiest of plants.

By Kier Holmes
February 27, 2019
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group of dandelions outside
Credit: Philippe Huguen/Getty

Weeds in a garden are inevitable. While some-like the edible greens of dandelions-offer nutritious benefits, far too many of them quickly overtake your healthy flowers, plants, and vegetables and become an ongoing nightmare to remove. Garden weeds are troublesome not only for their ragged appearance but also because they compete with cultivated plants, stealing sunlight, water, and soil nutrients. Some even prevent plant growth because they release toxic chemicals into the soil. Luckily, dealing with these garden intruders can be achieved in an environmentally friendly way-in other words, without poisoning the soil, local waterways, wildlife, and people.

The best way to tackle pesky garden weeds? Start by learning how your problem plant grows, then embrace diligence, good garden tools, and early intervention. Here are some of the most common weeds, plus our best tips to get rid of them fast.

Bindweed (Convolvulus Arvensis)

This aggressive perennial vine with many given names-including wild morning glory, sheepbine, and hedge bindweed-is not the same as the ornamental annual morning glory, which bears larger and showier flowers. Bindweed is a tenacious weed because it spreads from seeds and has an extensive rootstock (roots can be found a frightening 14 feet deep). Plus, lateral roots turn into secondary vertical roots. The news gets worse: tilling and digging can contribute to bindweed's spreading due to an easily broken stems and the fact that root fragments as short as two inches are able to grow into new plants.

You can prevent garden takeover with early eradication. For a natural approach, dig or pull out seedlings (about three or four weeks after germination) before they become perennial plants and keep pulling to weaken any leftover roots. Bindwind also likes sunlight, so get heavy handed with the mulch.

Lambsquarters (Chenopodium Album)

According to the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA), lambsquarters tops the chart for most common weed in gardens. An annual weed that is notoriously found in rich soiled vegetable gardens, lambsquarters was once revered for its nutritional leaves but lost favor when spinach became popular. A very fast-growing weed that can reach three feet tall, this invader has tiny, light seeds that can be easily carried by the wind (the average lambsquarter produces 72,000 seeds that can germinate 20 years or more after living in the soil.) Under favorable conditions, lambquarters thrive and spread insanely. Plus, it can harbor viral diseases that potentially spread to other plants.

The best solution is to remove the weed before it matures and makes seeds. The tap root is short that hand-pulling or hoeing is not very difficult.

Crabgrass (Digitaria Spp.)

This low-growing, opportunistic annual spreads by seed and from rootings, allowing them to form colonies. Thriving in nearly every U.S. state and southern Canada, this weed rears its unsightly head from spring through summer when the ground is warm. Because it's an annual, crabgrass does die when the first frost appears, but by this time new seeds may have scattered and are waiting to germinate the next year (seeds can remain viable for at least 3 years in soil).

It's important to control crabgrass when it's young and before it sets seed. If it has crept into the lawn, mow regularly to prevent flowering and producing seeds. In gardens, try mulching, digging, and hand-pulling to keep it under control. You can even try pouring boiling water on the plant or spray it with five percent acetic vinegar. But be careful, as these two methods will burn anything else around it and the method may need to be repeated periodically.

Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)

With their edible leaves and bright yellow heads in the springtime, there's actually much to like about dandelions-unless, of course, they monopolizes your lawn or garden beds. Unfortunately, these weeds have windborne seeds and can pollinate themselves, which means it only takes one flower to reproduce itself. Also, they can have a foot long taproot, so unless you dig down deep and cut the root out, you can almost bet it will reappear.

Truthfully, hand-pulling or hoeing is often fruitless unless repeated regularly due to its deep tap root system. If, however, you can wiggle young dandelions at the base and dislodge their taproot from the soil then you may have luck. Alternatively, use a hand trowel to dig out any young ones. For a garden bed, a thick three inch layer of mulch can be effective, also remove the flowers before they set seed and float randomly through your garden. For a natural weed killer try: one tablespoon biodegradable liquid dish soap mixed with 1/4 cup lemon juice and one quart of vinegar. Add to a spray bottle and spray to thoroughly coat the leaves. If the dandelion isn't shriveled within a few hours, spray again.

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