Weeds can be one of the biggest challenges to successfully growing vegetables. If they are not controlled, weeds will compete for space in any vegetable garden. They will also steal water, sunlight, and nutrients from your vegetable plants.
But why do weeds grow faster than vegetables A simple explanation is that weed seeds are already in the soil when you plant your vegetables. When the temperature and moisture conditions are right, they germinate and grow. This may even be before you have sown seeds or planted vegetable seedlings. That’s why they’ve been dubbed bullies to other garden plants!
Do weeds grow faster than plants?
Weeds certainly do seem to grow faster than other plants, including home-grown vegetables. They emerge out of nowhere and, if not controlled, will take over, choking other plants that you want to grow.
But what exactly is weed? There are many definitions, but generally, we call them unwanted plants with undesirable qualities.
Weeds are generally dominant plants that emerge in places where they aren’t wanted – and haven’t been planted. An article, Introduction to Weeds: What are Weeds and Why do we Care? by Dwight D. Ligenfelter, published on the PennState Extension website, provides more insight.
Essentially, he says, the weed is a plant that has undesirable qualities that outweigh any good points they may have. One of the not-so-secret reasons for weeds thriving is buried within their seeds.
Most weeds produce an abundance of seeds that successfully remain dormant for a very long time. But they have the ability to reproduce easily on any sites disturbed by human activities, like building or road construction.
Weeds are generally able to spread easily. Think dandelion fluff balls that contain hundreds of seeds that are spread in the wind.
And because they grow so fast, they spread and contaminate the soil and reduce the quality of other plants including crops, vegetables, and ornamentals.
Tim Miller, a researcher from Washington State University has a theory about why weeds grow faster than other plants. They are competitive and they tend to win!
His explanation makes perfect sense. Imagine that there’s a squash seedling and a weed growing side-by-side.
They both need sunlight, space, nutrients, and water to grow and reach maturity. But, the weed seeds were in the soil before the squash seeds, and ultimately, the weed wins the race for survival and dominance.
“The weed is able to grab those resources before the vegetable plant can get them, so they tend to grow a little faster and a little better than the vegetable does,” he says.
Reasons why your weeds grow faster than your vegetables
Genetics is an obvious reason why weeds grow so much faster than most other plants. Typically, they are small, simple plants that have shallow roots.
Weeds are able to absorb the water from the top layers of soil, effectively stealing it from plants that have deeper root systems. Most already have established roots in the soil, and when they flower, they spread seeds.
How can they not grow fast?
Additionally, most weeds are hardy plants, which makes them difficult to get rid of. Even when you think you’ve killed them, their root systems often survive and there they are again within months.
While many weeds don’t live for more than a couple of months at most, they grow from seed to flowering plant within weeks. Often weeds are native to a region, which also makes them stronger than those that are not indigenous.
Another factor is that many weeds don’t need much water. And they thrive without any form of fertilizer.
Vegetables are much more complex, slower-growing plants. That’s why weeds grow faster than any vegetable plant.
Why You Should Care?
The fact that weeds grow faster than vegetables can be a disadvantage for vegetable crops. Quite simply, weeds can outcompete and shade them, reducing their growth and yields.
Whether this matters depends on the specific context and your goals. For example, for a farmer growing crops for commercial sale, weed competition can have a significant impact on their profits. The impact may be less significant for a home gardener growing a small vegetable plot, but the impact
But another factor is that some weeds are beneficial. So there’s a certain element of selectivity that comes into play.
For example, clover adds nitrogen to the soil. This makes it a good option for a cover crop that will improve soil health. Songbirds also love to eat clover seeds, so it’s environmentally friendly too.
Dandelions, which pop up in just about every garden in the world, are undeniably weeds. But they also have edible green leaves and roots that are rich in vitamins and minerals. Dandelion flowers also attract butterflies and birds.
Nettles also have edible leaves, and these are high in protein, iron, and other nutrients.
An important caveat is that it’s important to identify weeds correctly if you are going to keep them in your garden. More so if you plan to eat them!
How to prevent weeds from growing faster than your vegetables
To mitigate the fact that weeds grow faster than vegetables, gardeners and farmers have to use various methods including mulching, hand weeding, and herbicides to control weed growth. After all, the only way to stop weeds is to control them.
Once they become established it is much more difficult to get rid of them.
Chemical control is one option, but an increasing number of gardeners are opting not to use chemicals. Other options include installing a weed fabric barrier or using mulch.
Both these options can work. The University of Georgia Extension explains how.
What is the relationship between weeds and vegetables?
Weeds and vegetables are typically in competition with each other for resources such as light, water, and nutrients in the soil. Weeds can outcompete and shade vegetables, reducing their growth and yields.
This can be a disadvantage for vegetable crops, as weeds can reduce their productivity and quality. On the other hand, some weeds can have a beneficial relationship with vegetables by providing soil structure and helping to retain moisture.
For example, some farmers practice companion planting, where they plant beneficial weeds alongside their crops to help improve soil health and suppress harmful weed growth. However, in most cases, weeds are considered pests for vegetable crops, and they make concerted efforts to control the growth of weeds so other plants grow faster.
Weeds are stronger than most vegetable plants and they have a simpler structure. This explains their faster growth.
Once you come to terms with this, you can take steps to control the weeds in your vegetable garden. This should also help to ensure that your veggies grow at least a little faster than the weeds that have seeds that have been harboring in the soil.
Weed control can be a difficult task, but when you’re motivated to grow at least some of your food, it’s definitely worth it.