Getting Rid of Weeds in the Garden

Garden weeds control has never been easier. Learn how to take control of your herb garden by controlling and diminishing unwanted weeds.

| February/March 2003

  • The battle occurring between the roots of this pine tree and this bindweed is evident above ground in the diminishing color of the pine needles.
  • This mallow plant has a strong taproot system able to thrive in areas where other plants may not.

  • Illustration by Susan Chamberlain

Weeds are the bullies of the garden. They rob desirable plants of nutrients, sunlight, and water. With a little creativity and diligence, however, you can successfully control weeds in your garden without using pesticides.

The competitive nature

Weeds grow because resources and space are available. The more space occupied by herbs or other desirable plants, the less likely weeds will invade. When I garden, I try to fill nearly all space between plants with organic mulch or black fabric. I look at any bare soil and picture all the weeds that could find a home there over the summer—it’s best to cover up that bare ground. The extra time spent doing this pays off in the energy I save not having to pull weeds. You may also try planting annuals in more narrow rows. This, too, will limit the area that weeds can invade.

Another strategy is to plant a weed’s adversary; planting pumpkins to control bindweed, for example. Pumpkin fights bindweed in two ways. First, it exudes chemicals from its roots that are unfavorable to bindweed. Secondly, its viney growth pattern crowds bindweed and therefore inhibits its growth. While there are no other plants known to chemically inhibit the growth of another, you can strive to plant desirable plants that grow in a fashion similar to the weed you are trying to control. In other words, give those weeds some healthy competition. Also, in areas of the garden that seem to be particularly weedy, any fast-growing plant will help to crowd out the weeds.

Know a weed’s life cycle

Plants have one of three life cycles: annual, biennial, and perennial. Annuals complete their life cycle in one growing season, biennials in two growing seasons, and perennials in two or more years. Understanding your weeds’ life cycles can determine when pulling is helpful and when you’re just wasting your time.

How do you know what life cycle your weeds have? You can tell by the root system. An annual weed has a shallow root system since it starts out new each season. Biennials have a more substantial root system, many times a taproot, similar to that of common mallow (Malva neglecta). Perennials have the most substantial root systems; for example, dandelions have a thick taproot. Many perennials, such as bindweed, have “creeping” root systems that form an underground network, usually many feet deep.


An annual reproduces exclusively by seeds. Therefore, the secret to controlling annuals is to prevent seed production. It is, in fact, more important to prevent seed production for annuals than for other types of plants, because these plants tend to produce vastly greater amounts of seeds.



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