Nothing in this world is certain, except death and taxes, according to Benjamin Franklin. That’s not entirely true. He left out weeds.

Anyone with a yard or garden knows that weeds are a near certainty. Plant it, and they will come; weeds, that is.

Weeds can take the fun out of gardening, if we let them get the upper hand in our vegetable gardens, landscapes and flower beds.

Weeds are a major challenge in lawns, landscapes and gardens. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Weeds are a major challenge in lawns, landscapes and gardens. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

But we can win the war on weeds, and the following tips can help.

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  1. There are no sprays or easy solutions that can single-handedly prevent or remove weeds in our landscapes, perennial flowers and vegetables. Instead, a combination of weed control methods is necessary, plus perseverance.
  2. Attack weeds when they’re young. It’s easy to forgo stooping down to pull a tiny weed, but next week, it might be treelike. Trust me, they won’t remain small and innocent if left in place.
    Hoeing weeds when small is a key to control. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
    Hoeing weeds when small is a key to control. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
  3. Know whether the weeds you’re fighting are annuals or perennials. Perennial weeds have underground structures or roots that survive winter, enabling them to thrive from year to year, like thistles, quack grass and dandelions. Annual weeds live for one growing season and die after autumn frost, after dropping seed for the next growing season, like most little weed seedlings that grow in vegetable gardens.
  4. Be familiar with the terms “broadleaf weed” versus “grassy weed.” Dandelion, thistle and purslane are broadleaves. Quackgrass, crabgrass and pigeon grass (foxtail) are grassy weeds.
  5. Herbicides are products that kill plants. We think of them as weed killers, but if they drift onto or are absorbed by desirable plants, trees or flowers, damage or death are likely.
  6. Herbicides fall into three main groups: some kill only broadleaf plants (like 2,4-D as found in Weed B Gon), some kill only grassy plants (like quinclorac and fluazifop) and some kill nearly any plant (like glyphosate, the ingredient in original Roundup).
  7. Grassy weeds like quack grass can be eliminated from perennial flowers, asparagus and berry patches with selective grass killers like Ortho’s Grass B Gon and Bonide’s Grass Beater.
  8. Weed preventers, such as Preen, are termed pre-emergent herbicides that can be somewhat useful in flower beds and landscapes, killing some annual weed types as they sprout, but not weeds already growing. Other herbicides are termed post-emergent, meaning they’re applied to weeds in active growth.
  9. Perennial weeds growing among perennial flowers are a difficult situation, as products like Preen don’t prevent such weeds from growing from established roots. Control by digging, hoeing, pulling, smothering with mulch or precision spot-applying herbicide.
  10. Quack grass is a perennial, and there are currently no available selective ways to eliminate this wide-bladed weedy grass from lawns. Crabgrass is an annual that can be eliminated with timely early spring crabgrass pre-emergent products, or with post-emergent crabgrass killers applied when crabgrass seedlings are very tiny.
  11. To minimize herbicide use on a lawn, spot-treat individual weeds only, instead of applying chemicals to weed-free lawn sections. If weeds aren’t numerous, digging is often efficient.
  12. Most battles in vegetable gardens are with annual weeds. Hoeing, cultivating, hand-pulling and mulching are the preferred weed controls, easiest when the weeds are just emerging from the soil.
  13. Don’t let weeds go to seed. One weed can spread thousands of seeds capable of remaining viable in the soil for decades.
  14. The most successful month to apply herbicides for controlling perennial-type weeds in lawns and landscapes is September as weeds begin transporting materials downward in preparation for winter. Repeat applications in May and June for hard-to-kill weeds.
  15. Successful alternatives to chemical weed control include smothering with mulch-covered fabric, newspaper or cardboard, or hand-digging, pulling, hoeing and cultivating.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Don Kinzler's Growing Together columns

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at kinzlerd@casscountynd.gov or call 701-241-5707.