The best time to remove weeds is when they are young and actively growing. Weeds removed at this stage are easier to pull out and less likely to re-grow from any remaining roots. Trying to remove established, mature weeds can be very difficult and time consuming.
When are weeds most actively growing?
Weeds grow most actively in spring and summer when conditions are warm and moist. Growth slows down in hot, dry summer conditions and stops almost completely over winter.
The exact timing of peak weed growth depends on your climate and weather conditions each year. But in general:
- Early spring is a key time when winter annual weeds are growing fast and perennial weeds are starting new growth.
- Early to mid summer is another peak weed growth period in many climates.
- Weed growth slows mid to late summer in hot, dry conditions.
- Weed growth stops over winter.
To time weed removal for when weeds are young and thriving, observe weed growth in your area and be ready to take action in early spring and again in early to mid summer if needed.
Target young annual weeds
Annual weeds live for one growing season, so removing them while young prevents them spreading seeds for future years. Common annual weed types include:
- Spotted spurge
- Annual bluegrass
- Yellow woodsorrel
- Prostrate knotweed
Annual weeds emerge either in spring or fall, so you need to be on the lookout at both times of year. Fast growing spring annuals like crabgrass can form new plants every 10-14 days under optimal conditions.
It’s best to remove spring emerging annual weeds when they are very young seedlings with only a few leaves. At this early stage shallow cultivation or hand pulling easily uproots the whole plant including the roots. If plants get larger and root systems more established, removal gets much tougher.
Fall emerging winter annuals also need removal while small. Spotted spurge, chickweed and annual bluegrass are common winter annual weeds.
Remove young perennial weeds
Perennial weeds regenerate from their root systems year after year. Types like dandelions and bindweed are very hardy and removing larger mature plants often leaves pieces of root behind leading to re-growth.
The key is to remove perennial weeds when they are youngest and most vulnerable.
The ideal time is early in the season when new shoots begin actively growing but roots are still small and shallow. Removal at this stage gives the best chance of getting rid of the whole root system before it gets large and deep.
Common perennial weeds include:
- Creeping Charlie
- Wild violet
- Ground ivy
- Wild garlic
Perennial weeds grow back from any root fragments left behind so you need to remove shoots repeatedly to deplete root nutrient reserves. Consistently removing new shoots as soon as they appear through spring and summer will eventually starve out the plant.
Remove weed flowers and seed heads
As well as removing weeds when they are young, also cut off any flowers or seed heads you spot. Weeds produce huge numbers of seeds from a single plant so stopping them going to seed greatly reduces future weed problems.
Be vigilant and remove flowering weeds and weed seed heads as soon as you see them. Pay particular attention to weeds along fences and edges of gardens, driveways and paths as these often get missed and left to seed.
Late summer and fall weed removal
While spring and early summer are key times for weed removal, you also need to stay on top of weeds in late summer and fall.
Removal in late summer and fall stops weeds setting seed that will cause ongoing issues next year if left in the ground over winter.
Pulling or hoeing large mature weeds at this time of year can be difficult as plants and roots are tough. But try to remove as much of the root as possible to limit re-growth next spring.
Using a string trimmer or mower set high can help cut back fall weeds and stop seed production. But be aware shredded weed parts may re-grow if left on the ground.
Applying a broad spectrum herbicide in fall can give good control of tough perennial weeds going into winter.
Weed removal methods
Various weed control methods are available. You can use:
- Hand pulling – Grab weeds low down and pull steadily to uproot them. Wear gloves to protect your hands.
- Hoeing – Use a hoe to slice weeds off at ground level or under the soil surface. Need to cultivate when weeds are small.
- Cultivating tools – Devices like weed poppers and garden cultivators let you remove weeds in rows and around plants.
- String trimmer – Set trimmer high above ground level and avoid contacting desired plants.
- Mowing – Regular mowing cuts weeds down stopping seed production and growth. Won’t kill perennials.
- Flame weeding – Using a propane torch to heat leaves and stems kills seedlings and annuals.
- Vinegar – High strength (20% acetic acid) vinegar kills exposed weed parts.
- Corn gluten meal – Prevents seeds germinating but doesn’t kill existing plants.
- Landscape fabric – Blocks light suppressing weed growth before using mulch on top.
- Cardboard/newspaper – Sheets laid on ground smother small weeds before mulching.
- Mulch – A 3-4 inch mulch layer prevents weed seeds germinating.
- Solarization – Clear plastic laid on soil heats up killing weed seeds and roots.
- Herbicides – Systemic or non-selective herbicides give effective weed control.
Combine methods like hand pulling, hoeing, mowing and mulching for the best organic weed control. Herbicides are fast and effective but do have environmental impacts.
Weed control calendar
Time weed removal according to the growth habits of common weed species in your region. Here is an approximate calendar covering key times of year for weed control:
|Time of year||Weed growth and removal tips|
|Mid to late spring||
|Mid to late summer||
Adjust timing for your local conditions, paying close attention to monitor weed growth patterns each year.
Benefits of timely weed removal
Staying on top of weeds by removing them when young and actively growing provides many benefits including:
- Easier and faster: Young plants pull out easily compared to large hardy weeds with extensive root systems.
- Prevents re-growth: Getting the roots stops regeneration from root fragments that cause ongoing issues.
- Stops flowering: Removing weeds before they flower and set seed greatly reduces future weed problems.
- Less competition: Eliminating weeds means less competition with desired plants for water, light and nutrients.
- Avoids soil disturbance: Early removal avoids having to dig and disturb soil to get large rooted weeds out.
- Improves control: Tackling weeds early prevents infestations getting out of hand.
- Saves time: It’s much quicker and easier dealing with young weeds compared to large infestations.
Make weed control a regular routine and you’ll reap the benefits of preventing major weed problems from developing.
The key times to target removal of actively growing weeds are early spring, early to mid summer, and fall. Annual weeds should be eliminated while seedlings before they get established. For tough perennials, repeatedly remove any new shoots starting in early spring to eventually starve out the plant.
Taking advantage of the most vulnerable early growth stages of weeds makes removal easier, prevents flowering and seed production, and gives you the upper hand in keeping weed problems to a minimum without major effort.
Just be sure to keep monitoring and tackling any new weed growth in a timely way before plants get large and deep rooted. Consistent vigilance in staying on top of weed removal when plants are small is the secret to effective ongoing control.
- Pannell, Derek. “Preventing Weeds: The Best Defense.” IMP/Rodale Institute, 29 Apr. 2019, rodaleinstitute.org/science/articles/preventing-weeds-best-defense.
- Bradley, Fern Marshall, et al. Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Rodale Books, 2009.
- Flint, Harrison L., and Eric L. Patterson. “Controlling Weeds.” Em9008, May 2013, extension.msstate.edu/publications/information-sheets/controlling-weeds.
- Neal, Joseph C. “Timing Control Options for Lawn Weeds.” North Carolina Cooperative Extension, 2012, content.ces.ncsu.edu/timing-control-actions-for-lawn-weeds.
- LeStrange, Michelle, et al. “Weed Management in Landscapes.” EM089E, Mar. 2015, repository.arizona.edu/handle/10150/642650.