News

Ranking Common Garden Weeds from Worst to Least Worst.

Creeping Charlie

My garden is based in Southern Ontario, zone 6B. On my property, and the properties of many home gardeners throughout Ontario there are a handful of ‘weeds’ that try to take over my garden and lawn year after year. I’m going to explore the biggest challenges and even the positives (silver linings are important) of finding Grasses, Creeping CharliePurslaneYarrow, and Lambs Quarters in your vegetable garden. Spoilers – Grasses are the worst.

 

Some of the factors I’ll be considering with each of them are how aggressively they spread, how easy they are to remove, any benefit to insects and animals, edibility, and lastly, appearance.

 

As a quick disclaimer, part of my desire to grow my own vegetables is being able to control how they’re grown. Even though this is a weed removal blog, I’ll not be discussing or reviewing any herbicides or other chemical solutions for weeds. I remove my weeds by hand or with the help of some basic hand tools. 

Jump To Section

Grasses- They're the Worst!

Crabgrass

Before I jump into the more formal criteria that lands grass in the position of being the worst weed (or at least my least favourite) in my garden, let me start by saying it’s still really not so bad. More on that after I’ve shared my findings. 

 

How aggressively it spreads: Grass and crabgrass in particular aren’t overly aggressive with their spreading, at least not in a garden bed where they’re extremely visible. It’s a completely different story when it comes to lawns. 

How easy is it to remove: How easy? Not easy at all. When they’re small the blades of grass are very weak which makes pulling them out with your hands a hard task. More often than not, the grass will break just above surface level and the root system will remain intact. Generally, I’ll wait until the grass is large enough so that I can grab it with my entire fist and rip it out. Holding all of the blades of grass together helps to make them stronger so that you can bring the root out with them. The roots can be mighty deep at this point which can make it even harder to stop them from returning in the exact same spot.

Benefits to insects and animals: I’ll keep this part short and sweet, I don’t see any benefits at all. Minimal at best.

Edibility: Would not recommend it. 

Appearance: Meh, that’s what my lawn’s for. Regular grass looks fine enough, if it pops up on the edge of my bed or along my garden fence so be it. Crabgrass on the other hand is flat and large, with a  diameter easily over a foot. In my garden, that’s valuable real estate that doesn’t deserve to look so messy. 

 

Overall, it’s not an unstoppable force or a super spreader like some of the ones to follow. It ranks worst on the list for me because it’s hard to pull and it really doesn’t provide any benefit to me or the creatures around me. Its uselessness is what ultimately caused its downfall. 

Creeping Charlie - My Arch Nemesis

Straight up, I hate this plant. I’ve been losing my battle with Creeping Charlie on two properties now and the only way I get through this constant feeling of defeat is by finding the positives in Creeping Charlie to convince myself that “maybe it’s not so bad”. It has enough redeeming qualities to stop it from ranking worst on my list, but it’s number one in my heart. 

Creeping Charlie Flower

How aggressively they spread: Creeping Charlie is without a doubt the most aggressive weed on this list, maybe on this planet. It spreads constantly and will take over entire gardens and lawns in a matter of days. When gardeners reach out for advice on how to remove it the most common feedback from the gardening community is to burn down your house and move to another one where the charlie hasn’t already taken ownership. Seriously, if you have it, it’s there to stay. My advice is to lie to yourself about liking it. 

How easy they are to remove: I guess there are two different answers to this question. Individually, Creeping Charlie plants are very easy to remove. Their roots are on the surface and offer very little resistance. Cumulatively, they are impossible to remove. It seems like each plant will create thousands of runners along the surface, spreading in an ever-growing diameter. You can pull out a TON of Creeping Charlie very quickly and with little work, but don’t worry, it’ll be back tomorrow for round two. 

Benefits to insects and animals: Creeping Charlie is amazing for bees and other pollinators, easily the best on this list. It’s the sole reason why Creeping Charlie didn’t rank as the worst of the worst, despite my disdain for it. It’s an early bloomer, usually flowering before any of my veggies are even in the ground. When you combine its extreme spreading with early flowers, it really becomes an amazing and bountiful option for bees earlier in the spring than just about anything else in Southern Ontario. It also leads pollinators into your garden where they will help your tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis and other vegetables that need to be pollinated to produce their fruit.

Edibility: Creeping Charlie, also known as Ground Ivy, is edible. Historically, it’s been used as a well-rounded medicinal plant to help with anything from congestion to inflammation to tinnitus. It was also used in brewing beer as a substitute for hops. Today, I don’t feel that it’s likely to be used intentionally as an edible, but it’s worth a shot. 

Appearance: Another saving grace for Creeping Charlie is its appearance. Small, bountiful purple flowers actually make it fairly nice to look at. If you’re not after a lawn or garden that looks 100% perfect, allowing your Creeping Charlie to flower can be an okay option. The accidental version of a clover lawn.

 

Purslane - Equal Parts Good and Bad

Purslane Side and Top View

Purslane truly ranks middle of the pack on the annoyance scale when it comes to weeds in the garden. It offers some incredible pros and some frustrating cons that create a greater love-hate dynamic than anything else on this list. 

 

How aggressively they spread: Purslane is absolutely a spreader, second only to Creeping Charlie in my books. You’ll almost always find it in bunches. The plant tends to be low ground cover that seems to double in size every day. 

How easy they are to remove: When small, Purslane can be challenging to remove due to its fragile stems and strong roots. This tends to cause the plant to snap off just above ground level leaving you scraping the earth with your thumbs and shaking your fist in the air. My advice would be to wait until the plant is at least 4″ in diameter or greater prior to pulling it out. This will allow you to get a better grip on the plant and increase your odds of taking the roots with you.  

Benefits to insects and animals: Unfortunately this category creates another significant con for Purslane. Purslane contains soluble calcium oxalates which are toxic to both cats and dogs. If you enjoy having your best buddy out in the garden with you, I’d recommend keeping Purslane at bay as best as possible.

Edibility: Edibility is without a doubt the category that makes Purslane a middle-of-the-pack weed on this list. Though others are technically edible, Purslane actually tastes good! With crunchy, thick, juicy leaves and a mild taste, they’re an awesome way to bulk up your leafy greens. If you’re taking my advice above and pulling them out once they’re 4 inches or larger, throw them in a bowl for lunch rather than in a yard waste bag. 

Appearance: Personally I’m not a fan, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with how Purslane looks, but it doesn’t really have anything going for it other than whimsy. I guess I like the way it looks more than grass. 

Yarrow - Pain Disguised as Beauty

In my opinion, Yarrow offers more good than it does evil. It’s the best-looking ‘weed’ on this list for sure. So much so that my wife is growing a bunch of it intentionally for her cut flower garden as a filler flower. 

 

How aggressively they spread: Yarrow is fairly active with its spreading. It started out in my lawn on the other side of my garden fence last year, while this year there are roughly 50 plants in just a few of my garden beds. I’ve been choosing to keep them at bay on the edge of my beds rather than eradicating them. That said, they are interfering with the growth of some of my smaller crops such as my beets and radish. 

How easy they are to remove: The roots on Yarrow are very long and strong. To pull them out properly you’re likely to find a root that’s 12″ or more running just under the surface of the soil. This can make Yarrow quite challenging to remove, especially if you have root systems nearby that you don’t want to disturb. 

Benefits to insects and animals: To me, anything that flowers is a plant that I won’t fully remove from my property. Flowers are great for bees and other pollinators, which are a critical part of our ecosystem. Additionally, anything that brings pollinators into my garden creates a benefit for me and my crops. 

Edibility: This is one that I personally haven’t eaten. That being said, the leaves and flowers can be eaten both fresh or dried. The dried plants have been used as a spice, while fresh leaves and flowers as a garnish or to bulk up your leafy vegetables. Maybe this summer is the summer I put it on the menu.

Appearance: These beauties are the prettiest ‘weed’ in the garden hands down. The flowers have an endless range of colours, and are being bred and sold to flower farmers as a perennial filler flowers. Yarrow stems can easily reach 18″-24″, with blooms starting in early June in Southern Ontario zone 6B. I’ve made the choice to leave any Yarrow that shows up on the edges of my vegetable garden so that they add a new element to my beds.

Lambs Quarters - They're Not so Baaaaad.

I’ve placed Lambs Quarters in the “least worst” section of this list mainly because they’re really not much of a nuisance and they aren’t hard to deal with. That said, they also don’t exactly provide any benefit to the garden so I’d rather not have them. Unlike some others on this list, they’re not one that I choose to let live when I see it.

How aggressively they spread: Lambs Quarters are not a super spreader. Generally, when I find them they’re all on their own. Of all the plants listed on this blog they’re the ones that take up the smallest amount of real estate in my garden beds. 

How easy they are to remove: The answer to this criteria is the number one reason why Lambs Quarters are the easiest weed to deal with in the garden. Whether you catch the plant when it’s large or small, the root system remains roughly an inch or two deep and offers no resistance. 

Benefits to insects and animals: Just like my notes on Grass above, I don’t see any notable benefits for wildlife with Lambs Quarters.  

Appearance: There’s not much that’s special about the appearance of Lambs Quarters. No pretty colours or flowers to speak of. I’d compare their appearance to the seedlings of leafy greens or brassicas, the leaves could even have similarities to mint. Bottom line, you won’t miss seeing them in the garden.

More Posts