The 10 Worst Garden Weeds

The votes from more than 2,000 gardeners are in! From crab grass to bindweed to thistle, here are the best control strategies for North America’s worst garden weeds.


| August/September 2011



Crab Grass

A super-fast-growing annual, crab grass is the worst weed plaguing home veggie gardens according to our recent survey.


ILLUSTRATION: USDA/REGINA O. HUGHES/NATE SKOW

Weeds are an inevitable thorn in every gardener’s side. While some weeds offer benefits, such as the edible greens of young dandelions and the nutritious roots of burdock, many quickly become a frustrating, ongoing struggle if you don’t spot them early. Garden weeds can steal water, sunlight and soil nutrients from food crops, and some even release toxic chemicals into the soil that inhibit the growth of other plants.

To find out which garden weeds pose the biggest problems in gardens throughout the United States and Canada, MOTHER EARTH NEWS surveyed more than 2,000 gardeners. We asked respondents to rate which weeds were the worst in their gardens, and to tell us about their best organic weed control methods. They also rated the effectiveness of specific mulch types, organic herbicides and tools used to cope with garden weeds.

Two thousand gardeners can’t be wrong — the best tools for keeping ahead of weeds include several types of hoes (see Hard-Working Garden Hoes), a good garden fork, a garden knife, a dandelion puller (some use an old screwdriver or butcher knife instead), and a high-quality pair of gloves.

Grasses took the cake among the top 10 worst weeds in home gardens with four representatives: crab grass, Bermuda grass, quack grass and Johnson grass. Dishonorable mentions included docks, lamb’s-quarters, knotweed and poison ivy. Hand weeding and mulching heavily with organic matter were far and away the control measures that received the most praise, and nothing beats frequent monitoring and early intervention for protection against serious infestations.

The illustrations in the Image Gallery will help you with early identification of the 10 worst weeds. Plus, download a free poster to help you ID the 22 worst weeds (including 12 not discussed here).

1. Crab Grass

Aliases: crowfoot grass, finger grass, pigeon grass, polish millet 

ann belonger
1/1/2012 1:10:59 AM

I agree Mary, great food great medicine! Embrace them don't kill them.


james reynolds
10/7/2011 11:51:35 PM

I could not agree more!!! Chicory makes a great coffee substitute...


james reynolds
10/7/2011 11:50:26 PM

MEN is, & always has been, a great source of information for those of us that either live off grid, want to live off grid, or raise our own food in one capacity or another. I can not say enough how much I enjoy MEN Magazine & how much I rely on it on a daily basis...I am always referring back to the magazine for some sort of info on gardening, or building this or that...TY MEN for being there when I need you. About Thistle plants: I grow them in a pot on my porch to feed the Gold Finches that frequent my yard daily...any "strays" that I find in my yard, are quickly dispatched by the free range chickens & guinea birds I have. TY again for being so wonderful & for being there when needed. :-)


mary reynolds
10/7/2011 8:00:58 PM

Dandelion, chicory, burdock are great food and medicinal sources!!!! don't kill them off ...eat them!


steve clayton
9/1/2011 12:30:59 PM

Adding Dodder (Cuscuta spp.) to the list. In my opinion, this is THE #1 worst thing to have in your garden or field. It begins as a ground-rooted weedy vine which invades host plants as a parasite, drawing food from the host and weakening it. Worse, it injects reproductive cells into the host plant; you can physically remove Dodder from the plant, but it will burst forth from inside the host plant itself under the right conditions. This stuff is a *horror* - it is a true "vegetable vampire"! I lost many prized specimens to an outbreak last year and I am still fighting it. More information from http://www.btny.purdue.edu/weedscience/2005/Dodder05.pdf .


beth clemensen
8/28/2011 12:41:06 PM

You might want to see "Managing your farm to increase weed seed predation" from the Michigan State University agriculture department. That is, identifying and encouraging insects that eat weed seeds! I'd never thought of this before! http://www.msuweeds.com/assets/ExtensionPubs/E2749.pdf


sabine
8/27/2011 5:17:20 PM

I actually have saved the seeds of chickweed! It makes a great nutty tasting salad addition for humans. (sold even on the Union Square Farmers Market in NYC). Minced small and mixed under the wet food it is an excellent food addition for cats. I also add fresh catnip leaves. I let some plants sprout in the planters that I take inside for winter, I never have to buy wheatgrass/catgrass.


alison green
8/5/2011 9:39:59 PM

Your 10 worst list seems to be mostly east coast or southern weeds. I would like to add a west coast weed to the Worst list: Foxtails. Not the East coast foxtail - these are a type of European rye grass (sorry, don't have the Latin name in front of me) with awns the stick and burrow with a vengeance. They can be easy enough to pull if there are a few but the awns stick to socks, dog fur, clothes, and everything. The awns can burrow down into dogs ears, eyes and skin. Terrible weeds!!!


auntie m
7/25/2011 2:50:07 PM

Leafing through my new issue of Mother, I spotted what first looked like an article about healing plants. Looking further, it was all about killing some of my favorites. Granted, crab grass, Bermuda grass, Canadian thistle and bindweed can be garden horrors. But dandelion, chickweed and burdock are both food and medicine. Couchgrass roots can be used as a painkiller. Seems to me a good way to deal with such difficult plants is to put them to good use! I look forward to the appearance of fresh, tender leaves of dandelion and chickweed in the spring. Burdock root is a wonderful vegetable, tasty and so good for you. I could go on for pages about the virtues of these plants, including significant good they have done for my own body. Suffice it to say, I will use those healing friends, each in their season. That's how I "control" those particular weeds.






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