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How to Identify 25 Common Weeds and Control Them

Got weeds? Learn how to identify plants that are weeds, and get tips on why they’re thriving and how to get them under control.

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Photo: Julie Martens Forney

Beating Common Weeds in Your Lawn and Garden

No one wants weeds, especially if you’re working on growing a gorgeous lawn and garden. One weed is all it takes to smudge the beauty you’re creating. The secret to beating common weeds depends on two things: being able to identify them and knowing how to get rid of them. Learn about 25 of the most common weeds in lawns and gardens, and get tips on removing them from your yard — for good.

When it comes to violets (above), opinions are divided. To some, it’s a weed of the vilest kind; to others, it’s a dainty wildflower. No matter which camp you support, it’s vital to know that while violets have a literary reputation of being shy, in the landscape they are anything but that. This perennial bloomer boasts a prolific personality, spreading easily by underground stems and seeds. In the lawn, it adapts quickly to lowered mower heights, growing shorter as needed to dodge the blade. Violets thrive in moist, shady sites, but mature plants are drought tolerant. The solution to eliminating violets? Vigilant hand-weeding (be sure to remove all the rhizome) and targeted herbicide use.

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Photo: Julie Martens Forney

Weeding Dandelions

The nightmare of dandelions is the deep taproot (up to 15 feet long) and puffball seedhead, which disperses seeds on every breeze. The best defense against dandelions in the lawn is growing thick, healthy turf, which means mowing at the right height and fertilizing correctly. In planting beds and paths, these familiar weeds tend to show up in the worst places, such as rooted in the center of a perennial clump or tucked right in the edge row of paving stones. The best ways to get rid of dandelions? Spray them or dig them. When spraying, kick dandelions a bit first to scuff and wound the leaves — it helps the spray penetrate better. With digging, make sure you get at least 2 inches of taproot, or they’ll return as two plants.

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Photo: Julie Martens Forney

How to Get Rid of Wild Onions and Garlic

These perennial weeds smell like their namesakes, and there’s no mistaking their presence when you mow over them. Wild onion has flat leaves, while garlic is round. They both grow from bulbs and form clusters similar to chives. To remove them, avoid hand-pulling. That only serves to separate the main bulb from the tiny bulblets surrounding it, which remain in the soil and sprout.

To dig wild onion or garlic, excavate about 6 inches deep to get the whole bulb. Otherwise, spray with herbicide — the kind that kills nutsedge works on wild onion and garlic. In late spring, these weeds produce small bulbs atop long stems. Snip these and destroy them. They contain new bulbs — they’re this weed’s way of spreading and covering new ground.

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Photo: Julie Martens Forney

How to Get Rid of Thistle

Canada thistle brings a thorny problem to any landscape where it appears. This prickly beast grows from seed that can blow into your yard, or it can sprout from root pieces, which sneak in with bulk topsoil or mulch loads. Size varies, with many mature plants reaching 5 to 8 feet tall. In a single season, one plant can produce a 20-foot-long root system, and it only takes one piece of root to produce a plant. Control thistle through weeding, but dig carefully and deeply to get the horizontal root. After digging, if another sprout appears, pull it, too. Or use an herbicide. The best time to spray is as soon as leaves break ground. Spray repeatedly through the growing season, and you will eventually kill it.

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