Why get rid of weeds?

Choking weeds

In the other posts in this weed control series, I’ve written about what weeds are and made the point that, fundamentally, weeds are like any other plant in the garden. So why get rid of weeds?

If weeds are just plants growing in the wrong place, why should we care? Why should we bother with weeding? Is there any reason that the presence of weeds should matter to us other than that we don’t like the look of them where they are?

Of course it will depend upon what you are trying to achieve in your garden, but the presence of weeds is likely to be undesirable for a number of reasons.

Reason to get rid of weeds 1: competition

Probably the biggest problem with weeds in the garden environment is that they compete with the plants that you are trying to grow. Just take a look at the picture at the top of this post to see what effect that can have.

Unfortunately, when it comes to a fight, there is usually only one winner. Your garden species of plants – ornamentals or edibles – have probably been bred to favour certain genetic characteristics, such as flower colour or taste.

Whilst they would not have survived as garden worthy plants without an ability to fend for themselves in your beds and borders, their survival kit is no match for that of many of the weeds they may have to compete with.

As we will see in the next post, weeds have usually invested all their evolutionary capital in ensuring their survival, whether as individual plants or as a species.

Their consequent adaptions include vigorous root systems that easily overpower those of cultivated plants when it comes to taking in available nutrients and water and an ability to grow quickly upwards and outwards so as to crowd out their neighbours and to take all the available light.

This leaves your cherished plants weakened, so that they will die off or be more susceptible to attack from pests and diseases.

Get rid of weeds in garden bed
Weeds can be plain ugly – here they have ruined this feature garden bed

Reason to get rid of weeds 2: pests and diseases

Not content with weakening your plants and opening them up to attack from pests and diseases, weeds can also be the source of those pests and diseases.

Uncleared weeds can often provide a place for pests to overwinter, whilst the lush weed canopy provides sheltered conditions to suit many pests, such as slugs and snails.

What’s more, since many weeds are adapted to germinate and/or to begin growing early in the season, thus gaining an advantage over the plants around them, their new growth can provide sustenance for sap sucking insects, like aphids. This enables colonies of sap-suckers to build up ready to attack your plants in force when they tentatively unfurl their soft spring foliage.

Weeds in the same family as cultivated plants can also harbour diseases that are specific to that family. So, for example, Shepherd’s Purse, from the brassica family may be host to clubroot disease which can decimate your cabbage family crops.

Reason to get rid of weeds 3: harvesting

This is obviously an issue with edible crops, but clearly the job of harvesting low growing leafy crops is made more difficult if weeds are mixed in and whilst some, like chickweed are edible, not all are.

So, harvesting weeds and leaves can mean you have to spend a lot of time afterwards sorting the good from the bad.

Reason to get rid of weeds 4: ugly

Finally, and this may be the main reason why most gardeners want to rid themselves of their weeds, plants in the wrong place can look plain ugly, especially in a formal or highly designed garden setting.

Weed control resources

You’ll find more weed control resources here:

The Gardening Step by Step weed control series

Weed identification

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