There comes a point in every gardener’s life when he or she is faced with one of life’s toughest questions: “Is that a weed or something I planted and forgot about?”
If you’re like me, that question comes up more times than you care to admit.
Spring is a tough season for plant identification because there are a lot of tiny plants growing and you usually only have a few seed leaves to base your ID on. But today, we’re going to attempt to sort out what’s a weed and what’s a seed.
The Importance of Weedling vs. Seedling Identification
I’ve heard it said that a weed is just a plant out of place. Before you bust out the Round-Up on what you think might be a weed, think about what role that weed might be performing for you in your home landscape.
Weeds can be beautiful, functional, and do many of the things that purposely sown plants do. For instance, they can attract pollinators with their blooms, mine nutrients trapped in deeper levels of the soil (tap roots of dandelions), and sometimes even be eaten!
Henbit – A beautiful, flowering weed! (Source: Wikipedia)
Weeds only become problematic when they are invasive, out-compete the things we intend to grow, or have a noxious or negative attribute (poisonous, attract pests, ugly).
Giant Hogweed – phototoxic (its sap prevents skin from being able to protect itself from sunlight, resulting in scarring and skin inflammation). Ironically, a member of the same family of plants as Carrots and Queen Anne’s Lace (Source: NY Times)
If a plant’s negative attributes outweigh the positive, I’m all for getting rid of it! In fact, if a plant is harmful to children or pets or can be easily confused with an edible plant, it’s best to get it out of there as early as possible so the weed doesn’t bear seed and breed a whole new generation of weeds. That’s where weedling vs. seedling identification comes in.
Questions to Ask
Here are a few things you can ask as you’re trying to determine if something is a weedling or seedling:
- LOCATION: Do you remember or have a record (planting diagram) of planting something in this space? Is it coming up in a uniform pattern (i.e. you spaced them 2 inches apart, etc) or is it random? Unless you scattered your seeds or a heavy rain washed the seeds away, random patterns usually indicate a weed.
- TIMING: When did you plant your seeds? How long is the germination period for those seeds? Germination typically takes a few days to a few weeks for things we intentionally plant. If it’s outside of that window, it could be a weed.
- SPREAD: How contained is this plant? Does it seem to be spreading? Choking out other plants? Those are usually signs that a plant is a weed.
- IDENTIFIABLE PLANT PARTS: Are there any true leaves on the plant? Is it flowering? Producing seeds? The larger a plant grows, the easier it is to identify.
Resources for Weedling vs. Seedling IDs
These days, it’s pretty easy to hop online and figure out what’s a weed and what’s a seed.
My go-to resource is our State Extension’s website. One of the best pages I’ve found in their plethora of weed-related content is this one on turf weeds, since a lot of the weeds I encounter are probably blowing in from our lawn or other lawns in our neighborhood. Just like intentional plantings, weeds vary by location, so if you’re outside of North Carolina, check your own state’s extension website for what’s endemic to your area.
There are also plant ID apps available. A friend just recommended LeafSnap to me, but I haven’t given it a good test run yet. I’ll report back in a future post once I’ve had time to review it.
Your neighbors who garden are also a great resource, since they’re likely dealing with the same things you are. Everyone has that one neighbor who loves to complain about their crabgrass!
Another resource, though less convenient and accessible, are reference gardening books from your local library.
Let’s look at some weedling and seedling pictures from my garden to get a feel for what’s what!
Have you been able to identify weeds and seeds in your garden this year? What are some of your favorite tips/tricks/apps for weedling vs. seedling IDs? I’d love to hear what has worked best for you – share in the comments below!
Sunday: 2021 Goal Check-In
Next Wednesday: Garden Update – The Bolt & The Beautiful