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Death, taxes and weeds

The old adage is true: some things in life are certain, like weeds in a garden. Stephen L. Meyers,  assistant professor in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture with a specialty in weed science, says. 

“The thing about being a weed scientist is that we know weeds are going to be there,” Meyers said. “Sometimes insects don’t show up, but weeds always will.”

In honor of National Weed Your Garden Day on June 13, Meyers shares some practical tips on prevention, identification and removal of weeds to keep your garden in tip-top shape this season.

Stephen Meyers headshot Stephen L. Meyers, assistant professor in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture with a specialty in crops weed science.
Defining a weed

“The most obvious definition we use for a weed is: a plant that is out of place,” Meyers said, “Therefore, any plant growing where you don’t want it to grow is considered a weed.”

This could be something that grows in the crack of a sidewalk or a type of flower that you don’t want in your landscaping.

Prevention is key

“Like anything, prevention is the best cure,” Meyers said. He notes that the first step to a weed free garden is to avoid introducing weeds to that patch of ground from the start.

“Introduction can happen through the seeds and plants we buy, and through compost and mulch,” Meyers said. “It is important to ensure the inputs we use are as weed free as possible.”

Here are some of his top weed prevention tips:

  • Don’t grow plants that can become weedy: One example of a weedy plant that spreads is the Japanese barberry. It is also important to note that the state of Indiana provides a list of specific plants that cannot be planted here.
  • Be sure to purchase your plants from reputable sources: If you purchase seed to grow, ensure it comes with a label that says what percentage of weed it has and no noxious weeds.
  • Change plant spacing: Put in more plants to try to close the canopy more quickly. This helps crowd out the weeds.
  • Shade out the weeds: This can be done through the use of carbon-based mulches, grass clippings, hardwood bark mulch or straw mulch.
Proper weeding methods

If weeds are already present in your garden, Meyers notes that the best weeding advice he can give is to address them while they are small.

Other important weeding tips he recommends are:

  • Intervene as soon as possible.
  • Remove the whole weed, roots and all, to keep it from regrowing.
  • Weeds removed before they have flowered can be set down in the garden path somewhere. If it is already producing seed, remove the weed completley from the garden space. .
  • Utilize proper tools for weeding such as garden gloves, small shovels and hoes.
Chemical removal of weeds

“Generally we can do more harm than good by spraying herbicides on a home garden. The one exception would be if you're using a herbicide to prepare a site. In this scenario a broad-spectrum herbicide application in that area in the fall can be really helpful,” Meyers said.

Tips for using herbicides safely include:

  • Be sure to utilize herbicides that are registered for use by homeowners and for the plants in your garden. It is important to follow all safety instructions listed.
  • Pre-emergence herbicides control susceptible germinating weed seeds and should be applied to to weed free soil. Then ensure the garden bed receives some rainfall to move it into the soil where the weeds are germinating.
  • Natural, vinegar-based products work best on small, emerged weeds and are generally not selective. These products are contact herbicides, which means they are effective on any green tissue they touch and can damage flowers and vegetables as well.

Meyers provides one last reminder for gardeners who are overwhelmed by the weeds in their garden, “Remember you are not alone in this plight. Don’t give up! If you feel bad about the weeds in your garden, you should come look at mine. I can educate others, but I can also commiserate with you.”

Weed categories


Stop pesky weeds from crashing your garden party with this simple guide to identifying common weeds.

Annual Weeds

Annual weeds grow quickly. They flower, set seed and die in a single season. (Example shown: Henbit)

Biennial Weeds


Biennials often complete their life cycle in two growing seasons. Season one consists of germination and leaf growth. In their second season, they flower, set seed, and die. (Example shown: Poison Hemlock)

Perennial Weeds


These weeds die back to the ground level in the fall but send up new growth in the spring. These are persistent and live for several years. (Example shown: dandelion)

Annual Weeds


Annual weeds emerge in spring or early summer, they grow during the summer and produce seed in mid to late summer. They are killed by frost in the fall. (Example shown: Common Ragweed) 


Grasses have narrow leaves with parallel veins. Broadleaf weeds are wider and have a major vein running down the center of their leaves with secondary veins branching off.(Example shown: Virginia Creeper) 

Herbaceous/Vining Weeds


These are weeds that climb or vine. (Example shown: Canada thistle)

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