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We all know one thing for sure in life, if you have a garden, you will have to weed it. One thing you may not know, is that weeds can provide you with some clues about the
condition of your soil or what may be out of balance. Identifying weeds, and taking corrective measures, may help you to improve the overall health of your garden. In most cases, it is not necessary to use chemicals on weeds in the vegetable or flower garden, regular weeding will keep weeds manageable.

Listed below are the most common weeds found in North America. Not all of them may be found in your area, but most should be familiar to you - hopefully not too familiar.

Creeping Bellflower:

Creeping bellflower is a perennial that often spreads into the lawn from areas where it was originally intended for use as an ornamental. In moist, shady locations this weed can become very invasive. The basal leaves are heart-shaped while the leaves on the flower stalks are more narrow.

The pretty, bell- shaped flowers range in color from deep blue to purple. This weed often takes over areas of a garden or yard since most home owners are reluctant to destroy such an attractive weed. This however is a mistake as the weed can quickly take over large areas of ground in the right conditions.

They must be dug out to prevent further spread and growth (I prefer this method of weed control over toxic chemicals). If you must use a herbicide, spot kill them using glyphosate. Broadleafed weed-killers cannot be used in a garden, only in the lawn. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that kills or damages any green, living plant tissue it contacts, so it must be used carefully - read all instructions.

Creeping Bentgrass:

Creeping bentgrass is a thin-bladed perennial grass that is usually quite invasive. A more desirable variety of this bentgrass is used on golf greens across North America. Without extensive maintenance, it will quickly take over other grasses.

There are two ways to rid your lawn of creeping bentgrass patches. One approach to controlling them is to spot treat with a herbicide like Glyphosate. The natural option is simply to dig the bentgrass out, roots and all. However, any roots remaining can sprout and cause further problems. Bare areas may then be seeded or sodded.

Black Medic:

Black medic strongly resembles clover. It differs from lawn clovers in that it produces bright yellow flowers rather than white or pink ones. It can also grow as a biennial or even (rarely) as a perennial. Black medic usually is found where some soil compaction has occurred, such as along curbs and sidewalks. Relieving that soil compaction is the best way to control this weed.

For larger areas, use a core aerator to take plugs of soil out of the ground. Some lawn services also can do the work for you. Another method is to keep your grass a little longer (over 2") - healthy turf helps to crowd out and prevent weeds such as black medic.


Clover may be considered an attractive, low-maintenance ground cover that is soft to walk on, mows well and will fill in thin spots in a yard. Or it may be considered a weed which does not readily withstand heavy foot traffic.

Clover can become invasive in thin lawns. Clover will easily stain clothing. Clover is invasive only when conditions exist that are unfavorable for grass growth, such as low soil fertility, compaction and poor soil aeration. Maintaining healthy grass keeps clover from spreading aggressively.


The dandelion is one of the most well known weeds in North America. Few people would not recognize a dandelion. We can all remember blowing the seeds off these weeds as children (and as adults) - much to our parents dismay if the seeds are heading for the garden.. It grows best in sunny, thin lawns, and can tolerate a rather dense, hard soil but will grow almost anywhere.

Dandelions are actually controlled easily with the use of 2,4-D, a common broad-leaf herbicide. However, we need to think about the environment, and hopefully more people will choose non-chemical control. Hand weeding is difficult as the roots can go deep into the soil, but most can be pulled out if you use a weeding tool and loosen the soil around the roots first (easier in the garden, but in lawns this may prove difficult).

While the dandelion is considered a weed by many gardeners, the plant does have several culinary and medicinal uses. The plant can be eaten cooked or raw and is used in soups or salads. Usually the young leaves and unopened buds are eaten raw in salads, while older leaves are cooked. Raw leaves have a slightly bitter taste. Dandelion flowers can be used to make dandelion wine. The leaves are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and iron, containing more iron than spinach. Ground roasted dandelion root can be used as a coffee substitute. It is believed to stimulate digestive functions. Sold in most health food stores for a variety of health benefits.

Goldenrod & Ragweed:

Goldenrod pollen is often blamed for causing hay fever; the true culprit is ragweed. Both plants bloom from late summer to early fall, but goldenrod, produces masses of bright golden flowers on single-stemmed plants. Ragweeds have small green flowers that unleash huge amounts of pollen freely into the winds. Goldenrods produce far less pollen because they are both wind and insect-pollinated.

In gardens, ragweed and goldenrod can be contained by hoeing or hand-weeding young plants. In non-garden areas, a broadleaf herbicide mixture of 2,4-D (2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and MCPP (2,(2-Methyl-4-chlorophenoxy)propionic acid) may be used after the plants are actively growing in spring.While giant ragweed grows well in poor soil conditions, it does even better in cultivated areas. It's a pest of corn, soybeans and other field crops.


Horsetail is difficult to eradicate because it spreads via deep tubers or roots and also via spores. It is one of the oldest forms of plant life and these spores give rise to moss like plants which produce sperm and need damp conditions to swim to fertilise the female. So usually growth of Horsetail is a sign that the area is prone to dampness.

Eliminating this weed is not easy and will take much persistence, continual removal will work - eventually! Regular close mowing will exhaust the rhizomes, but the patch must be isolated as growth will re-emerge from an adjoining area. Check early in the year for the cone-bearing shoots to stop the production of spores and remove any of the branched shoots later. In the garden, sowing turnips in the area has been shown to inhibit the growth of shoots, probably due to an inhibiting substance produced by the turnip; this would need to be done for a few seasons to exhaust the rhizomes.

It is resistant to most weedkillers, but Glyphosate may have some success after repeated treatment.


Knapweed is an aggressive weed that quickly invades pasture, rangeland and causes a serious decline in forage and crop production. The weed is a prolific seed producer with 1000 or more seeds per plant. Seed remains viable in the soil five years or more. Knapweed has few natural enemies and is consumed by livestock only when other vegetation is unavailable. The plant releases a toxin that reduces growth of forage species. Areas heavily infested with knapweed must often be destroyed and new crops reseeded.

Knapweed confined to small areas should be treated as soon as detected to avoid spread of the weed. First, all visible knapweed plants should be removed and destroyed. Then the area should be treated with a herbicide to prevent reinfestation from seedlings.

Lamb's Quarters (Pigweed):

Lamb's Quarters, sometimes called smooth pigweed is one of our most enduring annual weeds producing a tremendous amount of seeds that are able to survive dormant in the soil for decades.

Many parts of Lamb's Quarters are edible, including the leaves and seeds. Most people consider this plant to be a weed, since it grows in gardens and crowds out other plants. Because Lamb's Quarters does not have beautiful flowers, it is not wanted by most gardeners. Some gardeners suggest allowing this weed to grow in the garden as a benificial companion to other plants. This may not be a good idea as white-tailed deer like eat this plant - leaving them in the garden is an open invitation to dinner.

To remove, pull out by hand and watch for early growth each spring to prevent new plants from producing more seeds.


Quackgrass is one the most troublesome perennial grassy weeds in our lawns. Also called couchgrass, this perennial dies back to "rhizomes" for the winter, only to appear again early the following spring. Rhizomes are underground stems capable of producing new plants. Because quackgrass is very aggressive and produces many rhizomes, it can quickly dominate a lawn. When cut, it is a hard grass and not pleasant to walk barefoot on - take steps early to eradicate this grass.

If most of the lawn has been affected by quackgrass, spray the entire lawn with glyphosate (Erase, Roundup, Sidekick or other commercial products) according to the manufacturer's instructions. Spray when the lawn is growing actively, preferably in the spring. The application will kill the lawngrass as well as the quackgrass. In about two weeks, when all the grass is dead, rototill thoroughly and remove as much dead sod as possible. Then prepare the soil for seeding or sodding. If a small area of the lawn is affected, spray only the affected area with glyphosate; in this case, it is not necessary to spray the entire lawn.

Chemical free solution - If only a small area of the lawn is affected, it may be worth trying to dig out the quackgrass; but all the rhizomes must be removed because rhizomes as small as 1-2 cm (about 1/2 in.)) can produce new growth if left in the soil.


Plantain is a perennial weed whose presence indicates compacted, infertile soil. All common plantain species can be found in lawns, pastures and roadsides.

In rain-softened or sandy soils, pull or hoe the plants out before they set seed. In thick stands or where pulling is not feasible, frequent mowing will keep the population in check but not eliminate the problem.The best control of plantain is a healthy, vigorously-growing lawn. To reduce compaction, use an aerator in early autumn followed by an application of fertilizer. Late October, make a second application of fertilizer. If a second application is not done in the fall, a spring application can be made in early June. Throughout the growing season, water the lawn any week there is less than 1 inch of rainfall.


Purslane is an annual weed that reproduces by seed. Its leaves and stems are fleshy and succulent, often tinged slightly red. The stems grow prostrate over the soil surface, and root easily if the main root system has been disturbed. Purslane is usually more of a problem in flower and vegetable gardens, or other areas where the ground has been disturbed, than it is in lawns.

Covering bare soil with mulch is a way to keep purslane from sprouting. In an unmulched garden, you can slice off purslane with a sharp hoe. Deep hoeing is unnecessary. Slice the weeds off frequently; their roots will run out of stored energy and give up. Don't leave cut purslane lying around if the ground is moist - plants can re-root if conditions are right.

Purslane is rarely a problem in a well-maintained lawn. Regular watering, fertilizing, and mowing usually keeps turf thick enough that purslane can't compete. The best way to control purslane in the lawn is to keep improving the lawn itself.


Thistles are often troublesome weeds in gardens and lawns. The first step to proper thistle control is their identification. Biennial thistles can be controlled by digging and cultivation; this is more difficult with perennial thistles because they spread by creeping underground stems (rhizomes). The most effective way to remove perennial thistles is through the use of herbicides.

To determine the thistle you are dealing with, view this PDF file for more information

Click here for a detailed technical report from the Alberta Government in Canada on common weeds, herbicides and their effectiveness on these weeds. More for commercial producers, but the information is good to have available.


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