Are you tired of the weeds that grow in your garden or lawn?
The first rule is to know your enemy. So, today, you are going to learn how weeds grow, even in the toughest environments. Additionally, I’m going to share with you several methods on how to get rid of weeds.
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Why Are Weeds Bad?
We typically call “weeds” any plants that grow unexpectedly in places we don’t want them to grow, and which practically bring us no benefits. For instance, a few usual places where we don’t want weeds to grow are in the garden, among the grass of our lawns, in farm fields, between pavers, and so on.
Even though most of the plants we call weeds do not produce any edible fruits, there are some such as blackberries, raspberries, or wild strawberries, which many people regard as invasive weeds.
Most of the time, we call a plant “weed,” depending on the context. For example, if we are gardeners and grow mugwort intentionally for its therapeutic benefits, we will see it as a useful plant. However, if mugwort appears somehow by itself in our garden, we will likely consider it just another weed that competes with our vegetables, and we’ll most likely want to get rid of it.
Not all weeds are bad, but it depends on the context. We mostly perceive weeds as bad plants because they compete for resources with the plants we cultivate in our gardens. Both of them need nutrients, water, sunlight, and space to grow.
Many weeds can have a utility in one or more fields. Countless of them are used as natural remedies for various diseases. At the same time, some are harvested for a particular substance and used in various industries or research, grown as a source of fibers for the textile industry, as food for cattle, for the preparation of teas, etc.
Now that we can make a distinction between the plants we call weeds and the ones we need, let’s get back to our main topic.
How Do Weeds Grow?
- How do weeds grow in our patio, lawns, and gardens that effortlessly?
- How can weeds survive even in soils and conditions that not many plants would manage to live on?
Weeds are still plants, regardless of how we call them. Over time, some of them have become very adaptable and have developed exceptional abilities to survive herbicides and other weed control activities.
To learn how to fight them, I believe it is essential first to understand how weeds grow, their life cycle, and propagation.
Weeds Type Based on Their Life Cycle
From the point of view of the life cycle of plants, they are usually divided into 3 categories:
Annuals are the plants that complete their entire life cycle in a single year and die in the winter season.
Biennials are the plants that need two seasons to complete their biological life cycle. These plants typically will develop leaves, stems, and roots during the first cycle. In the second year, the plant will produce flowers, fruits, and seeds and then perish.
Perennials are plants with a life cycle for longer than two years (sometimes for many years). Unlike biennials, these plants can produce flowers, fruits, and seeds within their first year. Perennials typically go in a dormant state during winter and then return in the spring.
Why it’s this important when it comes to the weeds’ growth?
Because the weeds also fall in one of these categories. The annual weeds are easier to handle since they need to grow from new seeds every year, while the perennials are harder to control because they remain dormant in the soil and regrow year after year.
For more aspects about the weeds life cycles, see this PDF from UMass Extension.
How Weeds Spread?
What also makes most weeds hard to eradicate is the way they spread.
Weeds use the same propagation methods as many of the plants we cultivate. Yet, to ensure their survival, many of these species of plants that we generally call weeds have perfected their ability to multiply.
The first and probably most common way weeds reproduce themselves is by seeds.
Many of the invasive plants produce large amounts of seeds that are dispersed by the wind, water, or with the help of animals, birds, and insects.
An example of a plant that excels at wind multiplication is dandelion. The seeds of this plant are lightweight and are attached to light bristles (scientifically known as a pappus). This enables the seeds to be transported great distances by the wind, hence, ensuring the propagation of the plant even in areas where there are no dandelions.
Another propagation method of weeds is through rhizomes.
Rhizomes are modified subterranean stems that produce roots and shoots from the nodes.
It is usually very difficult to get rid entirely of the weeds that fall into this category because they develop sophisticated root systems that spread very deep in the ground. Even if you try to pull out the plant from the soil, parts of the rhizomes will remain buried and give birth to new shoots in the future.
An example of plants that multiply through rhizomes is bermuda grass. It is a real pain to get rid of this grass once it has installed in your garden or lawn.
Besides the fact that it spreads quickly, bermuda grass is also perennial. This means that it is a weed that will grow back year after year. Additionally, it is very resistant to drought and can thrive in almost any type of soil.
Why do weeds grow so fast?
Have you ever planted some seeds in your garden and noticed that the weeds had covered the area even before the plants began to rise?
Many species of weeds have a short life cycle than the plants that produce fruits. Some of them already produce seeds before the harvesting time of your crop and even between the weed control activities, therefore, ensuring their next year’s reproduction.
Sometimes, weeds grow faster than the human-grown plants because they have already active seeds or roots established in the ground, waiting to give birth to new plants at the time you plant your seeds.
Another advantage of many weeds is that they are very adaptable. These unwanted plants quickly adapt to almost any environmental conditions and can grow even in the toughest places. For example, certain herbs can grow through cracks in the asphalt, through gravel, between pavers, in sandy or heavy clay soils, and so on.
Climate conditions will influence the evolution of weeds and the time they need to reach their seeding time.
Lack of rain won’t stop these plants in many cases. Some weeds are more resistant to drought than most of the cultivated plants.
You can expect to see a weed growth burst after heavy periods of rains. That’s when some weeds will practically grow inches overnight.
Do Weeds Photosynthesize?
Yes! Just as the majority of plants, weeds also require photosynthesis to obtain foods from carbon dioxide and water. As a result of this process, they deliver oxygen.
Consequently, even though we may not be receiving direct benefits from some weeds (like fruits or edible parts), these plants can still have some useful perspectives.
How To Prevent Weeds From Growing
When it comes to weed control, prevention is the most efficient strategy.
While there are different strategies and techniques in combating weeds, one of the most popular and most effective is mulching.
Mulching consists of applying a layer of material on the surface of the soil. The mulch has the primary role in stopping the weeds from emerging.
Additionally, mulch keeps the moisture in the ground for an extended period, reduces the risk of fungal diseases on plants, and can even improve the fertility of the soil when it decomposes if you use an organic, degradable mulch.
There are many types of mulches you can use. However, some are better than others for use in horticulture. See my list of best mulches for vegetable gardens.
Organic mulch is preferable but can get pretty expensive if you need a lot. For larger areas, I would recommend using a weed barrier landscape fabric.
This fabric acts on the same principles as any mulch, but at the same time, it is better than the plastic sheet that’s also frequently used at mulching. Unlike the plastic coating, this fabric allows water to infiltrate and does not heat the soil too much because it allows air to circulate through it. At the same time, it inhibits the weeds’ growth and is very effective.
How To Get Rid Of Weeds
Once the weeds have already overtaken your garden, it’s pretty challenging to get rid of them entirely, especially in the areas where you grow other plants (like in your garden).
If you don’t mind killing any nearby plants once with the weeds, then you can use a general herbicide (click to order from Amazon).
A herbicide can be useful to kill all the weeds that grow between pavers, on driveways, sidewalks, and so on. Be careful not to spray it near the plants you want to keep.
If you want to use a more environmentally friendly product, you can prepare a homemade weed killer using the following recipe:
- 1 gallon of white vinegar
- 1 cup of table salt
- 1 tablespoon of dish soap
Combine the vinegar with the salt and stir until the salt dissolves.
Lastly, add the dish soap. This will make the solution stick to the weeds while allowing the vinegar and salt to do their work.
Use a garden sprayer (get one on Amazon) to apply the homemade herbicide on the weeds you want to get rid of.
In general, it takes several days before the weeds start wilting. You may have to reapply the weed killer if the rain washes away the solution in the meantime.
Note that this mix will only kill the existing weeds and will not prevent others from growing in the future.
Pull Out The Weeds
If you don’t want to affect the plants nearby the weeds you want to get rid of, applying a herbicide is not suitable. Hence, pulling the weeds out might still be the best approach.
I know this sounds like a time consuming and hard work, and I have to admit I’m not a fan of it either.
Fortunately, in recent years all kinds of new tools have appeared that can make this work easier for you. For instance, if you are dealing with a dandelion invasion, you can use a dandelion puller (see my list of my favorite dandelion pullers) to pull these plants along with their root systems from the ground.
For the weeds with shorter roots that grow close together, there are also these very useful scuffle tools (link to Amazon) to get the weeds out of the ground.
Depending on what plants you want to exterminate, there are all sorts of weeding tools available.
Manual weeding is not fun, but it is sometimes the most efficient.
Weeds are plants that compete with our cultures for resources and space. That, along with their enhanced propagation methods, their invasive nature and high adaptability to harsh environmental conditions, make weeds undesirable plants.
While there are ways to keep the weeds away temporarily, these plants will never disappear completely.
Now that you know more about how weeds grow and how they multiply, you should be able to control them more efficiently the next time they appear.