Each week, we pick a question that we get through our Master Gardeners hotline and write an article for the popular, online magazine Rural Intelligence. Below is this weeks article.
How can I recognize weeds in my garden?
If you’re anything like me, you are really behind in your gardening this year. The rain has been unforgiving in its persistence and has set me back weeks in terms of what I would normally like to have done at this point. When we are lucky enough to get a few hours of sunshine, I find myself having to make tough decisions; Do I mow? Do I prune? Do I work on one of the two-dozen projects I’ve started but not had time to finish?
Last night (post cloud burst) I decided to do some much needed weeding. Let me tell you, no matter how many times I tackle this chore in the garden, I have to take a step back from time to time and contemplate what is a weed and what isn’t. There are some things like Glechoma hederacea (above left), Chenopodium album (at right), Rumex acetosella (my personal nemesis, below left), and Eleusine indica (at bottom) that I can spot a mile a way. Like anything else, spotting weeds gets easier the more you practice. I rip some stuff out by the handful without a second thought or remorse because I have been fighting those battles for a long time.
But weeds are tricky. Every now and then something new pops up that I don’t recognize and I have to ask myself a series of questions before I play God and pluck it from the garden forever. Here are some tips to help you decide what is and what is not a weed.
Do you see similar looking plants around it? A lot of times your perennials will self-seed and spread. If you have like species around it, maybe its not a weed—or—maybe you have a lot of the same weed.
Tug on it – My grandma used this rule to identify weeds, “if it’s hard to get out, it probably shouldn’t be there.” A lot of “weeds” have taproots deep in the ground and are hard to pull out, breaking off at the base. Conversely, a lot of your perennials have shallow root systems and can be uprooted fairly easily. This is not a universal rule, but hey—you try arguing with my grandma.
Do you want it there?
This is the most important thing to consider. A weed is any plant that is growing where it shouldn’t be. My Black-Eyed Susan spreads like crazy in my garden. I pull it up as if it were a weed because if I let it have its way, it would take over. I’m constantly pulling or moving perennials that have become unruly and you shouldn’t be afraid to either – even if it isn’t what you would normally classify as a weed.
Look it up
A good weed book is a great thing to have. Get one with a lot of pictures that show plants in both their infancy and maturity. For annual weeds, it helps to pull them up before they have a chance to seed so being able to recognize them when they are young is very beneficial. Personally, I like Weeds of the Northeast by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal, and Joseph DiTomaso.
Do you like it?
What one person may consider a weed another person may not. If you like it, then it is not a weed, no matter what the books tell you. You know what they say, “one person’s trash is another’s treasure.” It is your garden — grow what appeals to you.