Weeds in Lawns & Gardens

Every garden has weeds and dealing with these unwanted plants is an ongoing task in any landscape. Control of weeds is important. Weeds are strong competitors for available water, nutrients, and sunlight. Reduced air circulation created by tall weeds encourages the development and spread of foliage diseases and a weedy garden often has more insect problems. While a completely weed-free garden is not attainable, reducing weeds is beneficial. 

trumpet creeper
Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) growing as a weed in a perennial bed.

Keeping ahead of weeds and controlling them when they are small is essential for good weed management. This requires persistence throughout the entire growing season to remove weeds as they emerge.

Weed Classification

Weeds can be divided into several major groups. Some species can be classified in one or more of these groups, and others cannot be classified in any of these groups.  Understanding how the weed is classified will help with control as the management of weeds in each respective group looks similar. 

Annual Weeds

Annual weeds grow rapidly, flower, set seed, and die in a single season. New annual weeds, such as crabgrass, velvetleaf, purslane, knotweed, lambsquarter, and foxtail, germinate from seeds each year. 

Perennial weeds

Perennial weeds die back to ground level in fall but send up new growth in spring. Perennial weeds, such as dandelion, quackgrass, thistle, pokeweed, and plantain, reproduce by seeds or may spread by creeping above or below ground stems or by spreading root systems. 

Pokeweed (Phytolacca decandra)

Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis)

Broadleaf weeds

Broadleaf weeds are those weed species with leaves that are wider and often have a major vein running down the center of the leaf with secondary veins branching off it.  They are typically botanically classified as eudicots (dicots).  Examples of broadleaf weeds include dandelion, thistle, pokeweed, knotweed, lambsquarter, purslane, plantain, violet, and creeping Charlie.

Grassy weeds

Grassy weeds have long thin leaves with parallel veins.  They are often in the Poaceae (grass) family or a closely related family and are botanically classified as monocots.  Examples of grassy weeds include crabgrass, foxtail, and quackgrass. [Video]

Woody weeds

Woody weeds are trees and shrubs that have woody plant tissue.  They are perennial and typically classified as eudicots, although some may belong to other plant groups like gymnosperms (conifers).  Examples of woody weeds include tree of heaven, bush honeysuckle, and poison ivy.

Vining weeds

Vining weeds are those that climb or vine by twining or by utilizing specialized structures like tendrils or aerial roots.  They are often botanically classified as eudicots and can be woody or herbaceous, perennial or annual.  Examples of vining weeds include poison ivy, honeyvine milkweed, bindweed, and trumpet creeper. [Video

Weed Identification

Knowing what species of weed you are dealing with is important to understanding how to best control it. 
Weeds in the same group or classification (such as annuals, broadleaf, etc.) are managed in very similar ways. 

How do I know if a plant is a weed or not?photo asking "is it a weed?"

Information on Common Weeds  This link includes photos and descriptions of weeds commonly found across Iowa.
Direct links to select common weeds in lawns and gardens are below.

Weed Management

Weed management requires persistence throughout the entire growing season removing weeds when they appear and preventing them from getting large, flowering, or setting seed. 
There are many different techniques for weed management and effective control often comes from using a combination of different techniques.

Thistle in Garden Bed

Weed Management Techniques

Managing Specific Types of Weeds

Honeysuckle (Lonicera)

Honeyvine Milkweed (Cynachum laeve)

Management of Select Common Lawn & Garden Weeds

More Information


Last Reviewed: 
January, 2023

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