Weeds in Landscape Plantings

Weeds in Landscape Plantings

[Originally featured in the Winter 2022 Issue of UC IPM's Green Bulletin Newsletter]

Weeds can be a problem in any landscaped areas including around trees, shrubs, flower beds, or lawns and turf. As we move from cool weather to warmer temperatures, you will see winter weeds grow and become a problem in established landscape plantings. Effective control of weeds include hand-weeding, hoeing, mulching, and herbicide applications. Good management depends on early attention to where weeds are establishing and adjusting the conditions that allow them to thrive.

Managing weeds in landscape plantings

Each type of planting bed will have specific techniques that work best. In general, dense plantings will shade out most weeds. Regardless of the type of landscape bed, it's always best to control perennial weeds before planting. Herbicides are effective in many types of landscape plantings. They are most effective when integrated with cultural practices. Many of the herbicide active ingredients available for weed control in landscape plantings are only for use by pest management professionals. 

Tree and shrub beds

Landscaped areas made up of trees and woody shrubs don't need as much preplant weed control as other types of beds. Control perennial weeds after planting using methods like mulching, hand pulling, and herbicide treatments. Suppress weed growth by laying down landscape fabric, then adding an inch of mulch on top to thoroughly cover the fabric. If needed, use a preemergence herbicide. Supplement with spot treatments of postemergence herbicides and hand-weeding.

Ground cover beds

Since ground cover is expected to fill the entire bed, landscape fabric is not suitable for weed suppression. Perennial weeds should be controlled before planting. If perennial grasses are encroaching, they can be controlled with selective herbicides like fluazifop, clethodim, or sethoxydim. Spot applications of glyphosate or glufosinate can be used on perennial weeds. Mulch the bed to control annual weeds until the ground cover fills the area. Some hand weeding might be needed.

Annual flower beds

As with other landscaped areas, a dense planting will shade out weeds. Annual weeds can be managed with mulches, frequent cultivation, and hand-weeding. Periodic cultivation (every 3 to 4 weeks) will suppress many weeds. Since nonselective herbicides can't be used after planting annual beds, it's easier to manage perennial weeds beforehand. If cultural methods aren't working to control perennial grasses, you can use grass-selective herbicides with clethodim or fluazifop. Check the product label to be sure that it won't harm the annual flowers in the bed.

Herbaceous perennial beds

Manage weeds in herbaceous perennial beds as you would an annual flower bed. Be sure to get rid of perennial weeds before planting since the bed will be growing for more than one season. Use landscape fabric where possible along with mulches. You might need to supplement with hand-pulling followed by preemergence herbicides. Be aware that fewer perennial plants are included as sites on herbicide labels.

Mixed plantings

A planting bed of a mix of woody and herbaceous plants is a more complex situation. Different areas of the bed might need different treatments. Post-plant herbicide choices are limited so site preparation is critical in this type of bed. Plant woody species first and control the perennial weeds. After the first two growing seasons, add the herbaceous plants. Shade the soil with close planting. Group plants within the bed based on their weed management needs.

Cool weather weeds in landscapes

Some of the most troublesome weeds in planting beds during late winter and early spring are common groundsel, oxalis, mallows, and nutsedges. 

Common groundsel

Common groundsel is most prolific in cool weather, germinating from seeds this time of year. This weed produces many seeds and can rapidly infest landscape beds. It is best controlled before it flowers. Mulch is highly effective at controlling common groundsel. Young plants can be hoed out. Diquat or glyphosate-based herbicides will control common groundsel in landscape beds. 


Mallows are annual weeds that begin growing with the first rains so you may already be seeing these sprouting up in landscape beds. This plant develops a long taproot so it should be pulled when it has four or fewer true leaves. At least three inches of mulch is needed to suppress mallow. Young mallow plants might be managed with 2,4-D products, but this herbicide will injure broadleaf plants growing nearby.


Purple and yellow nutsedge are perennial plants that sprout in spring from tubers. Remove these weeds as soon as possible to prevent tuber production. Tubers (sometimes referred to as “nuts” or “nutlets”) are key to nutsedge survival. Once established, nutsedge plants are difficult to control. They don't grow well in shade so dense plantings of ground cover or shrubs will suppress nutsedges. Few herbicides are effective at controlling nutsedge.

Oxalis (creeping woodsorrel and Bermuda buttercup)

While Oxalis (creeping woodsorrel) can bloom almost any time during the year, spring is a time of heavy flowering and seed formation. Buttercup oxalis sprouts in fall and is a major weed in ornamental plantings. Hand pulling can control these weeds but be aware that mowing can spread creeping woodsorrel. Landscape fabric with two to three inches of an organic mulch on top can control oxalis. There are no selective postemergence herbicides for creeping woodsorrel in ornamental plantings.

Herbicide injury

Desired plants could be injured when herbicides are used in established landscape beds. Herbicide damage symptoms vary depending on the herbicide and the plant. Symptoms can include yellowing, bleaching, distorted growth, and death of leaves. Avoid herbicide injury by following the label about the site, plant, and application rate. Granular formulations are less likely to damage plants than sprays. When using a nonselective liquid herbicide, apply on a calm day using low pressure and large droplets. Use a shielded sprayer to avoid contact with nontarget plants. If plants are injured from soil-applied herbicides, the damage is often temporary but can cause growth inhibition. Adding organic amendments and keeping the soil moist will help the herbicides to break down faster.


For more details and for information about weed management before planting a landscape bed, see Pest Notes: Weed Management in Landscapes.