Don’t Forget to Pull the Weeds During Your Fall Garden Clean Up!

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The first killing frost has come and gone, leaving gardens in our area in need of clean up. As I was out cutting back plants this week, I noticed a number of winter weed seedlings invading the garden. Often, gardeners spend the fall focusing on clean up tasks, including cutting back plants and dealing with fallen leaves. However, these are not the only tasks that should be on your garden chore list during autumn.

By the time frost comes, winter weeds have already germinated in your yard and garden. These weeds thrive in cooler temperatures, and will keep growing through the fall, winter, and into the springtime. Many gardeners spend less time outside in the garden during winter, and, as a result, winter weeds can start to take over. But, you can prevent this from happening by taking action this fall.

One of the keys to weed control is to keep weeds from flowering in your garden. If you can remove weeds before they flower, you eliminate their ability to spread by producing seeds. In order to do this, you’ll need to learn how to identify weeds when they are still seedlings. Seedlings are smaller and their roots will be less established than larger plants, making them easier to remove from the garden. If you are pulling the weeds by hand, try your best to remove the roots as well as the aboveground foliage. A hand tool, such as a trowel or soil knife, will make this easier to accomplish. In addition, weeding after it rains may soften the ground and make it easier to fully remove the weeds with their roots.

In the Piedmont region of North Carolina, a variety of weeds thrive in the winter. Getting to know the most common winter weeds, and those that you regularly see in your yard, is a helpful start to keeping the weeds under control.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) are closely related weed species that we often see in the wintertime. These weeds look similar, but can be distinguished by their leaves.


The leaves of henbit do not have petioles, but instead attach directly to the stem. Both henbit and purple deadnettle are in the mint family and have square stems.

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is another weed that can quickly become a problem in the garden. Hairy bittercress produces small, white flowers that develop into seed capsules. The capsules eventually burst open and can fling seed several feet away from the parent plant, so it is a good idea to pull this weed out of your garden early.

Hairy bittercress

Hairy bittercress, pictured in the center, grows as a rosette and its leaves have a distinctive shape. Try to catch this weed before it has seed capsules that can burst and spread in the garden.

Hairy bittercress

Hairy bittercress has small white flowers that develop into seed capsules.

Carolina geranium (Geranium carolinianum) is another weed that is becoming prevalent in the fall. Carolina geranium plants develop a taproot, so catching these plants while they are smaller can make it easier to fully remove the taproot.

Carolina geranium

Carolina geranium has dissected leaves and a red color to the stem. Be sure to remove the taproot when pulling out this weed.

If you see any of these weeds, it is a good idea to remove them from areas where you don’t want them to grow. A little bit of work now can save you some time battling these weeds when they are larger in the spring.

For more information on weeds, including identification and control, see the resources below.