How to Identify Weeds
Want to know how to identify weeds in your home garden? It’s all perspective! Read on for my tips for how to identify weeds and what to do about them. It may not be what you would expect!
I remember picking bouquets of dandelions as a child: grabbing so many in my hand that I couldn’t keep my fingers around the flowers that kept falling out. It took some time to hone my picking skills, and sometimes the head would pop off, but luckily there were plenty for me to practice with in the local park.
I also remember blowing the little parachutes into the wind from a dandelion who had gone fully to seed. Watching them float in the air, touching down where they would grow next. Today, I’m certain that my neighbors will not mind if my son picks their dandelions and I’m just as certain that they would cringe to see him blow the seeds into their yards.
Pssst: this is a free printable for you! Yep, just click these links and the full size image will open up for you. Save it to your computer and print / hang or set it as your mobile wallpaper.
You can even buy dandelion seeds. So are dandelions weeds?
A weed is simply a plant that is growing where it is not wanted. If you have a bunch of rogue tomato or squash plants in your garden they are called “volunteers”; if you have a fairly hardy, native, or invasive plant growing where you didn’t plant it, that’s a weed. The issue is that weeds compete with plants you prefer for garden space, nutrition, and water. Left to their own devices the weeds will probably win. They are stronger, faster growing, and relentless in the garden. They can come back from a tiny thread of root left behind, bury themselves so deep you will lose your shovel before you get them all, or grow sideways out under rocks, pots, or landscape fabric. The seeds can also stay dormant for hundreds of years before the right conditions allow them to germinate. Yikes.
There is a good side to weeds though. They are an important food source for insects, birds, and wildlife. They cover bare soil quickly, holding in water and nutrition. They can also draw water and nutrients from deep in the soil via those long taproots that make them so hard to pull up to begin with. Compost these weeds and those nutrients are now feeding your garden.
Want to know what is a weed in your garden? You can certainly search the web for weed identification and it will bring up plenty of charts. The methods I generally use are don’t require any books or a computer screen. In most cases I will let the plant in question grow and see what happens. If it seems that this little seedling will soon be a monster taking over my beautiful peony, then, yoink! It’s off to the compost bin. If it’s peppering the lawn with flowers like clover does, I’ll probably leave that for the bees to enjoy. The bees have enough problems these days without me taking their food sources away.
In the vegetable garden, I teach children to identify weedlings before they take over the veggie plot. Generally, if a tidy row of similar looking greenery is growing where you planted some seeds, it’s likely what you want it to be. You can certainly check a photo of vegetable seedlings on the internet to confirm, but pattern goes a long way here. Clusters of random looking greens, or sprouts where you didn’t plant seeds, are probably weeds. If you are still in doubt, the wait and see method works every time!
This doesn’t mean let your entire garden grow to maturity before you realize that it’s just all bindweed. It’s simply the technique that I use to start identifying what I want and what I don’t want growing in the garden. There are plenty of plants that aren’t typically characterized as weeds that I rip out of the beds just as quickly as I would some dreaded horsetail. With this you are learning about your garden, the plants that naturalize, and their habits.
If there is a weed that looks beautiful when blooming that you want to keep for a short spell (like those darling forget-me-nots) just be sure to pluck that sucker from the soil before the flowers go to seed. Enjoy it while you can, but be ruthless before you have hundreds to contend with.
Want to read more about how I feel about keeping a perfect garden? Check out this post on garden guilt: Garden Guilt be Damned.
Want to embrace the wildness and eat some of the weeds? Here is some information on foraging,
and edible wildflowers.
and, of course, dandelions.