How Weeds Grow: The Ultimate Care and Prevention Guide

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Weeds can be a real nuisance in the garden and the front lawn. Learn everything you need to know about weeds. Everything from how weeds grow to how to identify them and how to control them when they are growing like crazy!

Dandelion weed seeds blowing off the bud.


If there’s one weed that brings me running out to the yard to pull it as soon as I see it, it is a dandelion. I know they’re edible and nutritious, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to eat my own dandelion farm yet!

I’d rather enjoy my pumpkins than the dandelions.

Identifying Weeds and Why They’re a Problem

So, what is a weed?

My mom told me many years ago that gardeners typically define weeds simply as plants that are growing where they aren’t wanted. Sure, there are common types of weeds (I’m lookin’ at you dandelions, bindweed, and crabgrass), but even plants you really like can become weeds if they start taking over and growing in areas where you don’t want them to grow.

Taking a deeper look at weeds and their purpose might help arm us with some knowledge for controlling weeds more effectively. That way you aren’t stalking every little dandelion plant to rip it out of the ground like I’ve been known to do. 😉

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How do Weeds Grow?

When we look at weeds from Mother Nature’s point of view, they’re simply a means of filling in an area where other plants aren’t growing. Yes, some are unsightly; but some are actually kind of pretty. 

This is where Mother Nature and gardeners sometimes find themselves in disharmony. If weeds only took up a little space, gardeners might not spend so much time and energy keeping them out of their gardens.

Unfortunately, weeds are slightly more menacing than looking ugly or taking up just a little space.

They’re usually plants that reproduce and spread quickly, often taking over our gardens or lawns seemingly faster than we can take of them. Even worse, they compete with desirable plants for water and nutrients which can starve out and kill the plants we really do want to grow.

Pulled weeds grasped in a gardening glove.

Methods for Controlling Weed Growth

There are three main ways to control weed growth:

  1. Chemical control
  2. Pulling them
  3. Weed prevention

Since I usually avoid chemical control methods for several reasons, I focus my time and energy on the other two methods. 

Pulling weeds alone as a method of control is time-consuming and labor-intensive. Prevention methods help but don’t eliminate the problem. So, I have found the most success by combining these two methods in my own yard!

A weed pulled out by its roots.

How Weeds Grow: Tips for Prevention

If you want to keep your garden and your lawn healthy, it’s time to get a handle on your weeds. I have some tips to help you effectively control weeds and reduce the amount of time and labor you spend pulling them so you can get back to enjoying your garden.

Minimize Soil Disturbances

Weed seeds are actually sitting throughout the soil in your entire yard and garden right now. However, only the seeds that reach the top couple of inches of dirt get enough light to germinate. 

Unfortunately, they can remain dormant for a very long time until you disturb the dirt and give them the light they need.

To minimize this in your garden, only dig when and where you need to. 

A weed being pulled from the garden, showing a long root.

Weed When Wet

My mom showed me this trick years ago!

If you pull weeds when the soil is damp (not soggy), they come up easily. On the other hand, if you try to pull them up when the ground is very dry, they stick like glue.

In order to get them up at that point, you have to dig them out which disturbs the soil more.

Instead, pull weeds when the ground is wet: after a rainstorm, after the sprinklers run, or wet the ground with your water hose. They’ll come up with less work and (you guessed it) minimize soil disturbances.

A weed freshly pulled from the garden.

Remove the Tops

I would recommend approaching lawn weeds differently. A cool trick I learned to use for your lawn is to slice through the roots of lawn weeds with lawn shears (or other garden tools such as a hoe) rather than pulling them out and giving the new weed seeds access to light. 

Slicing through the roots cuts off the source of food and nutrients so they die. I had been tackling my dandelion problem the wrong way for years!

When it comes to tougher weeds that have deep roots like bindweed, this method won’t kill the weed. However, it will keep them from taking over and reduce or delay their ability to seed, effectively keeping them at bay. And eventually, they may give up (or at least that’s what I tell myself).

A weed being pulled from the garden.

Fill in Bare Spots

Remember what I said about the purpose of weeds from nature’s perspective? They fill in bare spots. Instead of letting weeds do this job, take control and fill in bare spots in your garden or your lawn with the plants that you want growing there.

With more competition for space and resources, weeds won’t grow well!

A raised bed full of vegetables growing without weeds.

Invest in Mulch

Using mulch has many advantages, both in preventing weeds as well as in benefiting desirable plants.

Here are just a few benefits of adding mulch to your garden:

  • Deprives weeds of necessary light
  • Can host garden-friendly bugs which will eat many kinds of weeds
  • Keeps the soil moist and cool, nourishing the plants you want to grow
  • Covers up bare spots which would be a prime growing area for weeds

Pro Tip: Mulch alone can let patches of light through, allowing weeds to grow even though you have mulch there. Landscaping fabric prevents this and acts as a one-two punch with your mulch to effectively keep many weeds at bay!

Only Water Your Desirable Plants

Weeds can only grow if they have both light and water. If you deprive them of one or both of these things, they aren’t able to grow. 

Using landscape fabric is one way to help prevent light from reaching them. In addition, selectively watering only the plants you want to grow further reduces weeds from being able to germinate. This prevention method is especially effective in drier climates where plants often depend on human watering methods.

A young tomato plant being watered.

Final Thoughts on How Weeds Grow

Interestingly enough, I’ve never had much of a problem with weeds growing in my containers. I’ve heard a theory that when the soil is really good soil, then weeds aren’t as prolific. I’m not quite sure I see the logic in it, but I have noticed the difference in my own gardening.

Knowing how to identify, but more importantly, how to control your weeds is important for the health of your garden. I hope these tips help you keep your weeds under wraps with less time and effort!

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A cross section of soil showing how weeds grow deep into the ground.

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