Understanding drivers of weed density and diversity is essential for the development of weed management strategies. Here, we compared temporal changes in weed density and diversity under no-till (NT) and conventional (CONV) tillage systems in cotton–maize rotations on loam, clay loam and sandy loam soils immediately after transition to NT in Kadoma, Zimbabwe. The effect of tillage system on weed density varied through the growth season and was dependent upon soil type and species composition of the weed community. Although weed responses to tillage system varied amongst species, we identified general trend effects on weed density on specific soils. At 3 weeks after crop emergence (WACE), weed density on loam soils was 76% and 96% higher in NT than in CONV during the 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 seasons, respectively, and on clay loam soils it was 37% and 33% higher in NT than CONV, respectively. Weed densities in NT and CONV were similar across all soil types at 6 WACE during the 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 seasons and at 9 WACE in 2009/2010. Tillage system did not affect weed density during the growth season on sandy loam soils. Weed diversity (Shannon index) was at least 75% higher in NT than CONV on loam and clay loam soils at 3 WACE during both seasons. It is likely these increases in weed densities following conversion to NT will exacerbate already prevalent weed management problems in the smallholder sector. Earlier weeding is recommended to suppress weed emergence and reduce likely associated crop yield losses.