The Gardener’s Guide to Weeds: When to Pull, Prevention, and More

Sarah Coggan
Written by Sarah Coggan
Updated April 15, 2022
Lush and healthy flower garden
Photo: Photos by R A Kearton / Getty Images


  • Weeds can compete with your plants for space and vital nutrients. 

  • Pulling weeds at the right time can make removal easier.

  • There are alternatives to pulling weeds that may be less strenuous.

  • Routine weeding is the key to keeping an infestation from occurring.

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Tending a garden is a rewarding experience. You have the privilege of seeing your hard work in action as plants and flowers grow. However, with the spoils and rewards come pesky weeds. 

When out of control, weeds can become a dramatic problem with an expensive solution. Knowing the best time to pull weeds can stop an invasive species in its tracks, prolonging your lawn or garden health and saving you money.

What Are Weeds? 

Weeds are typically an invasive species of plant that grows amongst other foliage. They are an unwelcome guest in gardens, as not only are they unsightly, but they can have a dramatic effect on your overall yard health as well.

Weeds compete with nearby plants and flowers, often robbing the plants of vital nutrients like sunlight or water, and space. Some species introduce bacteria and diseases, like pseudomonas, that can infect neighboring plants, causing them to rot prematurely. 

When Is the Best Time to Pull Weeds? 

Whether you are a new gardener or a seasoned pro, weeds can infiltrate your garden. If left alone, they will thrive and compete with your plants. Knowing the best time to pull weeds will help you maintain a flourishing garden. 

When the Soil Is Damp

Pulling weeds after rain will allow for a more effortless experience. Damp or wet soil is loose, so pulling up entire weeds is less challenging than attempting to weed through dry soil. If rain is not on the radar, watering the garden before pulling weeds can suffice just as well.

Dry soil compacts and locks stems into place. Pulling weeds from dry soil will likely cause the stem to break, leaving the roots underneath the dirt. This will result in more work that can become strenuous. Improper removal can also allow weeds to reemerge if roots are left intact. 

Before Planting New Crops or Flowers

New crops and flowers need ample room to lay down roots and adjust to the soil. In order to thrive, a flower bed must be free of weeds prior to planting. Pulling weeds before planting allows your plants ample room to lay down strong and healthy roots. 

Weeding before mulching will also allow for better soil quality that will, in turn, aid in keeping the garden healthy. Mulching can also help prevent weeds from emerging.

Harmful or Poisonous Weeds Have Begun to Grow

At first glance, it might be challenging to assess the danger of a weed. Some weeds can appear charming and noninvasive. However, what goes on beneath the soil could be a serious problem for a garden. Learning about harmful or poisonous weed species can help an inexperienced gardener identify troublesome plants. 

Many common weeds have poisonous or irritative properties that affect humans and animals. Poison oak and poison ivy are notoriously dangerous weeds, and all forms of ragweed can affect allergy sufferers. For pets, milkweed can prove incredibly poisonous, as well as jimson weed and ivy.

When you spot one of these harmful or poisonous weeds, be sure to tend to them quickly and safely. You should always handle poisonous weeds with care and, most importantly, gloves. 

Weeds Have Infested Your Garden

While routine maintenance is essential, life can sometimes get in the way of proper garden care. Should weeds take up residency in a garden, they can germinate and spread rapidly. These quick-growing plants could leave a gardener with an infestation of weeds within a relatively short period of time. Pulling weeds sooner rather than later is always preferable to save time, effort, and money. 

Nevertheless, if things have gotten out of hand, you’ll want to tend to your yard as soon as possible. The more weeds in a garden, the fewer nutrients the garden flowers or crops will receive. 

For a large group of weeds, it may be strenuous to pull one cluster at a time. Consider a gardening hoe for collecting multiple weeds at once. 

Flowers or Crops Aren't Thriving

Weeds compete with nearby plants for soil space and light. They absorb vital nutrients and thrive while neighboring plants decline. Changes in your flowers, like wilted petals, colored spots, or decaying leaves, often indicate a lack of nutrients. Should you notice these signs amongst your flowers or crops, examine the area for any competitive weeds. 

However, vitamin deprivation can occur due to other garden-related problems. If you find that you do not have an abundance of weeds, your issue may be related to soil or access to sun or water. Learning about the plant species in your garden and their specific needs will help you feel empowered as a gardener. 

Weeds Have Appeared in Cracks Between Pavement 

Weeds that grow between cracks in pavement, stone tiles, or walkways can be aesthetically unpleasing, but moreover, they can be a safety hazard. Weeds can cause pressure on an already weak tile, breaking it further. These weeds can create uneven footing that could result in a trip and fall.

Due to their unique location, it may be challenging to pull these weeds from the root, so an alternative weed-killing method may be preferable. 

Alternatives to Pulling Weeds

Picking weeds from garden with gloves
Photo: ElenaMasiutkina / Adobe Stock

Pulling weeds on a routine basis may be easily done by hand. However, it may be more beneficial to use an alternative weed-killing method for larger quantities of weeds or specific species of weed. 

Weed and feed is an excellent solution to preventing weeds and treating grass simultaneously. This herbicide and fertilizer combination comes in pellets to administer over the entire lawn. The best times to distribute weed and feed are right before significant shifts in seasonal weather. For example, late summer, prior to fall. 

If you intend to administer weed and feed to a garden, wait until your crops or flowers have begun to bloom; otherwise, the herbicide will prevent their seeds from germinating.

A weed burner is a tool for the quick elimination of weeds. It consists of a propane tank, a hose, and a nozzle that effectively sprays a flame at the offending weed. Use this method with caution, and for the safety of yourself and your yard, you should only burn green weeds. Burning any dried or brown weeds can result in a fire. 

Getting Rid of Weeds for Good

Weeds can be resilient if given a chance to survive, so you must remove them completely. If you are pulling weeds by hand, pull the weed out gently to thoroughly remove the entire weed. Leaving the roots in the soil will allow for more weeds to thrive. Using a weeding tool would also be beneficial for securing the whole weed without breaking the plant at the stem. 

Chemical weed killers, including DIY weed killers, will also eliminate the entire plant when administered correctly. Use caution when applying certain weed-killing agents, as they can corrupt the soil and harm otherwise healthy plants. 

Future Weed Prevention

Once your lawn is free of weeds, there are methods to keep them from reemerging. Weed and feed is a simple solution for pre-emergent weeds, but it is not the only option. Mulch around plants will suppress seeds by denying them access to vital sunlight.

Landscaping fabric will also prevent weeds from accessing sunlight. You can place it around your flower bed, with strategic holes for flowers and crops. The proper way to prevent weeds from growing is to deny them access to what they need to grow. 

In gardening, routine weed maintenance can save a gardener time, effort, and money. It can stop an infestation in its tracks and protect the health of the flower bed. 

Weeds are versatile plants that can thrive under many circumstances. Should you feel that your weed problem is beyond your capabilities, consider hiring a professional local lawn care specialist. They will take care of your lawn or garden so that you can get back to the rewarding parts of gardening.

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