Curly dock (Rumex crispus) is a hardy perennial weed found in most American gardens that is anchored by a branched taproot. New green leaves that emerge in spring often are tinged with red. The young leaves are edible but become bitter when warm weather arrives. A tall seed stalk appears in summer. If left alone, a healthy dock plant can shed 40,000 seeds, which remain viable for years. Dig out mature plants with a digging fork. If you cannot dig them right away, lop off the seed stalk to reduce reseeding, and spray the crown with an organic herbicide containing clove oil.
Digging. Weeds that regrow from persistent roots must be dug. Use a spade or digging fork to dig spreading perennials, such as bindweed, Canada thistle, and quackgrass. Start digging a foot away from the plant's center to loosen the soil. Then lift the weed from beneath, which reduces how many root pieces are likely to break off and regrow. Dandelion, dock, and other weeds that grow from persistent taproots can be dug the same way, or you can use a special fork-like tool called a dandelion weeder to pry them up. Dig very large taproots that are difficult to pry loose. In lawns and other places where digging dandelions is not practical, use a sharp knife to slice off the leaves and the top inch or two of taproot at a diagonal angle. Some weeds that are easily pulled when the soil is moist must be dug from dry soil.
Reducing reseeding. Most weeds reproduce primarily from seeds, and the seeds of some weeds can remain viable when buried in the soil for decades. So it's essential to keep weeds from shedding seeds in the garden. Garden weeds that are neglected until they reach seed-bearing age can be lopped off near the soil line with pruning shears, a stout knife, or a string trimmer with a blade attachment. Cutting back perennial weeds again and again not only reduces reseeding, it also forces the plants to use up food reserves stored in their roots. In a garden that has gone hopelessly weedy, mowing it down promptly, raking out the seed-bearing debris, and starting over next year is a big step in the right direction. Mowing regularly helps keep weeds under control in lawns. When mowing lawns where seed-bearing weeds are present, collect the clippings in a bagger and dispose of them in a shady place.
Organic herbicides. There are several herbicides made from natural ingredients. Those that contain clove oil (eugenol) give the best control of young broadleaf weeds. Products containing acetic acid, often in combination with citric acid, do a good job on young grasses. Some products contain both clove oil and acetic acid, so they are useful for a broad variety of weeds. Soap-based herbicides dehydrate leaves by cutting through their protective layer of cutin. All of these types of organic herbicides work best on young weeds and pose only a temporary setback to well-rooted perennial weeds. To minimize damage to neighboring plants, spray only in dry, still weather. To maximize effectiveness, spray young weeds when temperatures are above 70 degrees F and the sun is shining brightly. Be aware that repeated applications of a product containing acetic acid (which is very strong vinegar) can lower the soil's pH, making it more acidic.Image courtesy Jenna Antonino DiMare, National Gardening Association