In an uncultivated area they may pose no issue, but when these plants begin competing with vegetables, flowers, and other garden plants gardeners need to step in and halt the competition. All garden plants pull water and nutrients from the soil and soak up the sun's rays. A weed threatens the water, nutrient, and sun absorption of plants we are trying to grow. Left unchecked the dominant one overwhelms the weaker and too often the dominant plant is a weed.
A weed-free garden will produce stronger fruit, vegetables, and flowers than one that is overrun. I suggest that the amount of time and effort devoted to weeding is proportional to the quality and quantity of a garden's harvest.
Effective weeding begins by identifying which plants are the preferred ones. You have to know what plants you want to keep and what plants are interfering.
My vegetable and flower beds are as ordered as I can make them. My Daylilies are grouped together so when another plant moves in it's a weed, regardless of what type of plant it is. My tomatoes, beans, spinach, and squash all have specific plots; anything else growing in those plots is a weed. By specifying what grows where, weed identification becomes easy.
Use mulch at every opportunity. Mulch reduces weeds by limiting the soil's exposure to the sun, an important component for weed seed germination. The plants that do grow through the mulch are easy to spot and often have a weaker root structure while young; the roots are growing in the mulch and not firmly in the soil.
Learn about the important weeds in your area and which methods can control them. In the U.S., the federal and most state governments have identified invasive and noxious weeds that should be removed when recognized in the landscape. In my area one of them, Myrtle Spurge, has been identified as a noxious weed and is outlawed, but I still see many gardens in town that grow the ornamental plant.
Know what your garden plants should look like at different life stages. Remember what your most common weeds look like when they're young. It doesn't help you when you pull out a small vegetable plant thinking that it's a weed.
Be aware of the difference between annual and perennial weeds. Typically annual weeds will die at the end of the season and will only propagate by seed. Prostrate spurge, crabgrass, and common purslane are annual weeds. Perennial weeds have extensive root systems with deep taproots or rhizomes that send up new shoots each year. Dandelion, quackgrass, and white clover are perennials that aren't easily controlled.
Generally, you can control many annual weeds by just pulling them as I've already mentioned or by tilling or using a hoe. Perennial weeds need to have most or all of the root system dug up to eliminate future plants and can also sprout from seeds, a double threat. Simply pulling the stem and shallow roots of an annual weed should kill it, but doing the same with a perennial may have little effect.
There are weed seeds everywhere. Unless you begin with sterile soil in a covered greenhouse, your soil is likely to have weed seeds in it. Even if it doesn't now, it will as soon as the wind blows. You may have removed every dandelion from your lawn but a single plant in your neighbor's yard will create problems for you when you're downwind. Weeding will always be a part of gardening.
Know that you can create your own weeds. If you allow your flowers to set seed and self-sow, you may have to deal with the plants that result. I enjoy letting my plants fill in bare areas, in beds that they're allowed, but at some point flowers need to be deadheaded to avoid overwhelming nearby plants.
Keep your garden healthy. Proper watering, fertilization, pruning, and soil amendment will help make your plants strong. Robust plants can easily be the dominant ones when weeds try to move in. Filling a bed with healthy plants won't allow weeds the opportunity to establish.
Get in the habit of dealing with weeds one on one. Don't walk by a new weed in your garden without pulling it. Lots of little gestures like that can prevent major activity later.
I'll discuss processes of weeding en masse in another article. I have my favorite methods, as do many dedicated gardeners. This year I'm staying on top of my weeding and have very few problems in my flower and vegetable beds, but that hasn't always been the case. I'll share my weeding dilemmas soon.