Are you tired of dealing with those pesky weeds that seem to always find their way into your perfectly manicured lawn or lush home garden? With over 250,000 plant species in the world, it’s no surprise that nearly 8,000 of them are considered weeds. But the question remains, are these weeds truly detrimental to your beloved garden?
Weeds are bad for grass and lawns as they can 1) steal soil space, nutrients, water, and sunlight from surrounding plants, 2) attract pests, 3) harbor diseases, 4) reduce yield, 5) induce allergies, and 6) ruin curb appeal. Hence, it is recommended to remove weeds through hand-pulling. However, some weeds such as clover and dandelions can actually be beneficial as long as they are controlled.
Most of us have been told that letting weeds grow can only bring trouble for almost all of our lives. So I can understand how surprising it can be to learn that they can, in reality, be pretty helpful. Learn how to make the most of weeds in your property as you scroll on!
1. Steals Essential Resources
When growing near grass and plants, weeds tend to take away essential resources such as sunlight, water, space, and nutrients. They can often outgrow desired plants given their vigorous ability to develop.
For the most part, weeds have a really bad reputation for homeowners. However, many still seem to be confused about what they are.
This is quite understandable considering the fact that they have many general and more specific definitions. But there is one main definition used to explain the term.
In the simplest sense of the word, weed refers to any vigorous-growing plant that emerges out of place as it was not originally sown or desired.
So in other words, weeds are generally just undesired plants. They can be particularly displeasing once they start negatively affecting the growth of grasses and plants, like fruit-bearing ones, that you have intentionally started growing.
You see, weeds grow rapidly and wildly. Compared to most other plants, weeds such as pigweeds also germinate a lot faster. As a result, they can easily steal the resources you provide for your lawn or garden if you let them grow unchecked.
2. Attract Pests
Due to their aggressive growth even in normally unfavorable conditions, weeds attract pests that can feed on other plants and find shelter under them.
It’s not that hard to find weedy lawns and gardens with major problems due to pest infestations. They pretty much go hand-in-hand with each other.
Weeds attract pesky and unwanted insects for two main reasons. First, they are a good food source for many herbivorous—and even omnivorous—pests. This is especially true at the start of the rowing season when there are no other plants they can readily feast on.
Other than that, weeds serve as a good place for refuge for many insects—both beneficial and harmful ones. Hiding under their broad light green leaves helps them escape predators and very harsh low temperatures in the winter.
The common chickweed, for instance, often provides shelter for thrips and lygus bugs. Both unwelcome guests can potentially hinder the growth of numerous foliage plants and also negatively affect fruiting and crop plants. (More on that later.)
Spotted some pesky insects? Learn about the 6 organic solutions for thrips infestations!
3. Harbor Diseases
Tall weeds, specifically, can reduce air circulation for low-growing grasses and young plants which create a conducive for diseases in lawns and gardens. More broadly, weeds can become hosts for various diseases like tomato spotted wilt virus.
Pests often carry diseases with them. Such diseases not only for affect the weeds themselves but also all other vegetation surrounding them. This can happen after they’ve finished feasting on the weeds.
As I’ve mentioned previously, chickweed is highly appealing to pests like thrips. Even more unfortunately, however, such pests also carry and transmit damaging diseases to weeds and in turn spread them to your beloved surrounding plants.
Common disease-carrying pests in lawns and home gardens include aphids, whiteflies, and leafhoppers. Their mouthparts allow them to pierce and suck on plants to feed on them. While doing so, they could also secrete infectious bacteria and viruses.
Such diseases include the cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) and the tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV), both of which can be transmitted by the common chickweed.
Now if you’re planning to grow fruits and vegetables at home as your primary source, you can see how problematic weeds can be.
For such cases, it is essential for homeowners to effectively get rid of or control disease-harboring weeds. Otherwise, they’ll have to face costly consequences including reduced harvest—which we’ll talk about in more detail next.
4. Reduce Yield
The presence of weeds in the garden can result in reduced yield from fruiting and crop plants because of limited resources, pests, and diseases.
All three of the reasons I’ve mentioned so far contribute to this negative effect of weeds in home gardens.
Weeds sprouting all over your garden can quickly use up the water and nutrients you provide for your plants resulting in stunted growth. They’ll also attract disease-carrying pests that can contaminate plants and destroy your harvest completely.
Simply put, the presence of wildly growing and dense weeds can be extremely wasteful for home gardeners. There are even times when they get little to no harvest at all due to weeds.
I know many people who gave up on establishing their very own vegetable gardens at home because of this.
5. Induce Allergies
Numerous weeds can induce allergic rhinitis and contact dermatitis at varying levels of severity. As such, they can be a threat to humans and animals when they grow in lawns and gardens.
Besides posing a threat to other precious plants in the area, it’s possible for troublesome weeds to also negatively affect the other non-vegetative living beings around it—like us.
Honestly, I only found out about this after my friend got a pretty bad case of hay fever—also known as allergic rhinitis—after trying to get rid of the ragweed in her parent’s garden.
After going to the doctor and doing a bit of research, she found out that the weed produces a large amount of pollen. So it makes sense that her allergy was triggered since she wasn’t wearing a face mask while pulling it all out.
You will also need to wear gloves for certain weeds as they can cause serious contact dermatitis when touched.
Jimsonweed, wild parsnip, and giant hogweed (be extremely careful with this one), for example, can result in dermatitis in as little as 1–2 days after your skin touches their sap. You can get really bad rashes that last for 1–3 days. At times, these red hot rashes can even become seriously painful blisters.
You should try to familiarize yourself with the common weeds in your area that can induce such negative reactions in your body.
6. Ruin Curb Appeal
Oftentimes, weeds are not wanted in lawns and gardens because they ruin a home’s curb appeal. Depending on local bylaws, leaving such weeds uncontrolled can result in fines.
More often than not, the negative effect of weeds on aesthetics is the most common reason why it’s very much disliked. But this very reason is also the most superficial.
Nevertheless, unwanted weeds with vigorous growth can negatively affect homeowners when they make yards look unkempt. They can also drive down property value as they make houses look unmaintained despite having large yards.
Primarily, this is because of the uneven growth of weeds like yellow nutsedge which make them stick out like a sore thumb in an otherwise perfectly manicured and uniform lawn.
As you probably know, Homeowners Associations or HOAs have an infamous reputation for being quite strict when it comes to maintaining appearances in terms of landscaping. Weeds can be a big nuisance in such cases.
So be sure to check your contract for such rules. Otherwise, you may just receive a notice warning you of an HOA violation which you’ll have to pay for unless you’re able to promptly address your weed problem.
Want a low-maintenance turf to save yourself from HOA troubles? Look into slow-growing grasses!
Is Pulling Weeds Effective?
Hand-pulling is an effective way to remove weeds from small areas like lawns and gardens. Double-check to make sure that no residual roots are left in the soil. Some weeds can grow from leftover roots.
Whenever necessary, weeds can easily be pulled out from your garden as long as you do so carefully. You can make sure that all your turfgrasses and plants flourish by doing so.
Pulling by hand is the oldest and most cost-efficient way to deal with unwanted weeds growing in the ground. This can effectively control weeds by about 90%! It’s also the most eco-friendly method since no special chemicals or tools are necessary.
[Quote] Weeds can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds per plant which survive for several decades, making them especially troublesome. Case in point, common mullein can survive for over 70 years underground and lambsquarters can have up to about 500,000 seeds per plant.
Ideally, you want to hand-pull weeds after and while they are still young so they don’t get the chance to flower and disperse their seeds. Weeds are easier to pull without breakage when the soil is moist so it’s best to do this after it rains or after you water your lawn or garden.
Pro Tip: Use a handheld spade or small-balded knife to ensure that no root is left in the soil. The entire root system of weeds must be removed completely to prevent them from growing back. Persistently hand-pulling can cause weeds, even perennials, to eventually die off.
For proper disposal, weeds that have set flowers need to be contained in plastic bags, tied, and trashed. Weeds should also never be left to wither on top of the soil even if you want to compost them. Types like common purslane can re-root and grow again in such cases.
Having said that, it’s also important to keep in mind that weeds are simply inevitable sometimes since their seeds can easily be spread by the wind, animals, and even humans.
Furthermore, weeds aren’t necessarily a sign of bad soil quality. Rather, weeds can grow at low rates in a perfectly healthy lawn or garden. It’s commonly noxious weeds that cause problems. By contrast, native and naturalized weed species can even be very beneficial!
7 Times Weeds Can Be Good for Grass and Plants
Weeds can be beneficial for grass and plants because they can 1) help understand soil quality and problems, 2) attract helpful insects, 3) distract harmful insects, 4) encourage biodiversity, 5) prevent soil erosion, 6) loosen compacted soil, and 7) supply nutrients.
Sure, weeds can definitely be unsightly and troublesome to deal with. However, the truth of the matter is you don’t always have to get rid of them completely. Instead, try to see how you can take advantage of their presence in the garden!
1. Indicate Soil Quality/Health
The presence of weeds in your yard can actually help you tell whether or not there are issues or deficiencies you need to address with soil amendments.
Certain weeds can also help you determine which plants may be more appropriate to grow in the region or zone you are in. So if you have very acidic soil as evidenced by the presence of red sorrel, then consider growing blueberries at home!
Refer to the table below to learn about the common weeds you’ll find in America and what growing conditions they commonly thrive in.
|Growing Conditions||Common Thriving Weeds|
|Slightly Acid Soil||Dandelion|
|Alkaline Soil||Buckhorn plantain|
|Dry Soil||Black medic|
|Compacted Soil||Annual lespedeza|
|Other Nutrient Imbalances||Burdock|
|Mowing Height Too Low||Bluegrass|
However, try to avoid making sweeping assumptions about the presence of a single type of weed. Remember, they are quite tolerant of conditions that most plants will find intolerable.
Pro Tip: Get your soil analyzed properly by reaching out to your local Cooperative Extension. This will help you confirm the actual state of your garden soil.
2. Attract Helpful Insects
What people fail to realize about numerous native weeds is that they can help attract a wide range of pollinators to your garden, including bees, butterflies, birds, and smaller animals.
Most, if not all, weeds are flowering plants. They produce pollen and nectar that entices many beneficial insects to visit and stay in the yard.
Ultimately, weeds can help you cultivate lush and vibrant flower beds and fruiting plants because of this.
Of course, the exception to this is noxious or invasive weeds that will instead be problematic—at times, parasitic—bugs.
Then again, having naturalized weeds can also increase the population of predatory insects like ladybugs and predatory wasps in your garden and lawn.
3. Distract Harmful Insects
In home gardens, weeds can serve as a distraction for pests. Their presence will cause pests like grasshoppers to attack them instead of more valuable plants in the vicinity.
This happens because of the color and smell of weeds—both of which are essential factors that help pesky and harmful insects spot good host plants to eat and take shelter in. More specifically, light-green-colored weeds seem to be appealing to pests.
Hairy nightshade (Solanum sarrachoides Sendtner), for example, seems to have a buffering effect for potatoes. This weed attracts aphids that may carry the potato leafroll virus (PLRV). Without this nightshade weed, disease-carrying aphids can readily infect potatoes.
4. Encourage Biodiversity
As I’ve mentioned earlier, having weeds in your lawn and garden can actually promote biodiversity. Weeds can help bees and other pollinators populate too!
They can serve as a food source and refuge site for various local fauna that may be threatened or endangered due to habitat loss—as a result of needlessly neat lawns.
Common weeds with edible plant parts include:
- Wild garlic
- Creeping Charlie
- Garlic mustard
- Wild amaranth
Some people also like to add more ground cover plants to their lawns instead of plain turfgrass to further encourage biodiversity. By doing so, it will be more difficult for pests to pinpoint and damage your precious plants, virtually eliminating pest infestations.
5. Prevent Soil Erosion
Similar to some native perennial grasses, weeds can also prevent soil erosion caused by drought, rain, and wind.
Weeds with fibrous root systems, in particular, grow quickly and easily on open soil which would otherwise stay bare and dry and eventually end up deteriorating.
As a matter of fact, they may be the only plants that can survive in such conditions. So if you can’t grow anything else on your lawn, leave those weeds alone to cover the ground.
6. Loosen Compacted Soil
Deep-rooting weeds such as broadleaf plantain, common pokeweed, curly dock, and dandelion, can develop very deep taproots.
Such roots allow these simple perennial weeds to drill into the ground and break apart compacted soil. Hence, providing pockets for air, water, and worms.
If you do want to avoid having them take over your entire lawn or garden, you can simply hand-pull them from time to time. By doing so, you can reap benefits while avoiding risks.
7. Supply Soil Nutrients
Last but not least, weeds can provide nutrients for the grasses and plants you are growing in your yard. I know this may sound counter-intuitive but it does work!
As explained in the beginning, weeds tend to soak up the nutrients in the soil it grows on. With its deep roots, it can dredge up nutrients lower in the ground that other plants can’t access.
So once they are composted or die, weeds will return even more essential nutrients into the garden soil which will enrich your flowers, fruits, and vegetables. In short, weeds can help maintain balance and even improve soil quality over time.
To illustrate, white clover—now widely recognized as a weed—was initially considered an excellent nitrogen fixer for turfgrasses and other plants. In fact, its seeds were commonly part of lawn seed mixes before the 1950s!
Can weeds kill grass?
Weeds don’t necessarily kill grass. Rather, they suppress the growth of most grasses since they germinate, develop, and spread more easily and readily. To be more specific, weeds can grow twice as fast compared to common lawn turfgrasses. In some cases, weeds can transmit diseases to grass, resulting in the lawn eventually dying off.
Are weeds bad for pets like dogs and cats?
Some weeds are bad for not only pets like dogs and cats, but also humans—especially when they are eaten in large quantities. Weeds found in America that are known to be toxic include poison hemlock, cocklebur, ragweed, jimsonweed, milkweed, and pokeweed. All parts contain toxins for some, while it’s concentrated in specific parts for others.
Summary of Are Weeds Bad for Lawns and Gardens
Weeds are mostly seen as undesirable in lawns and gardens primarily because they compete with desired plants for essential resources like light, water, and nutrients. Other negative effects of weeds include attracting pests, transmitting diseases, reducing yield, triggering allergies, and ruining curb appeal. So, they should be controlled by pulling.
Conversely, weeds can be beneficial for homeowners if properly kept in check. In such cases, weeds can help indicate soil quality, attract helpful insects, distract harmful insects, encourage biodiversity, prevent soil erosion, loosen compacted soil, and supply nutrients for a wide variety of grasses and plants.
- “Relationships between Insect Pests and Weeds: An Evolutionary Perspective” by John L. Capinera in University of Florida
- “6. Weeds” by Kathleen Moore, Joe Neal, and Lucy Bradley in North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook
- “Introduction to Weeds: What are Weeds and Why do we Care?” by Dwight D. Ligenfelter in PennState Extension
- “The role of hand weeding in weed management” by Steven Fennimore in Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
- “Weeds are an indicator of a soil’s health” by Dixie Sandborn in Michigan State University Extension
- “It’s Time to Rethink Our Lawns & Landscapes” by Christa Carignan in University of Maryland Extension