How to identify weeds in your garden
One of the best ways to track down particular weeds is by looking closely at the soil in your garden and surrounding landscape.
By Nikki Phipps
Weeds are an all too common occurrence in both lawns and gardens. Basically, they’re found everywhere. A weed is known simply as ‘a plant in the wrong place.’ Although some weeds can be quite welcome in the garden, others can be very aggressive to the point of literally taking over. These types of weeds not only take away needed space from garden plants but rob them of essential elements for survival like water, light, and nutrients. So how does one identify these bullying intruders? Probably one of the best ways to track down particular weeds is by looking closely at the soil in your garden and surrounding landscape.
Common weed that are found growing in poor soil include yarrow, ragweed, dandelion, thistle, crabgrass, plantain, fennel, and sheep sorrel. Fertile soil is most often home to pigweed, foxtails, and chickweed. If your garden consists of wet, poorly drained soil, it’s highly probable to find weeds such as spotted spurge, knotweed, moss, Joe-pye weed, and sedge. Chicory, pigweed, purslane, and dandelion are commonly found in well-drained, humus soil. Acidic soils spawn hawkweed, cress, dandelion, moss, plantain, and knotweed; while chickweed, spotted spurge, Queen Anne’s lace, and chicory find comfort in more alkaline soils. Finally, if the soil in your garden is hard or heavy, you’re likely to find weeds such as plantain, dandelion, horse nettle, and quack grass growing in the area, while sheep sorrel and some varieties of thistle enjoy sandy soil.
As with most garden plants, weeds may be annual or perennial. Annual weeds are mildly troublesome in comparison to perennial weeds and typically spread only through seeds. Seeds are normally transported via wind, water, or through people and animals. These types of weeds include crabgrass, bluegrass, goosegrass, dodder, chickweed, pigweed, carpetweed, spotted spurge, purslane, and ragweed.
Perennial weeds are considered to be the most aggressive and regrow through extensive root systems. Some of the more common types of perennial weeds include Bermuda grass, nutsedge, clover, poison ivy, mugwort, greenbriar, nettle, and speedwell. Some types of perennial weeds are known as parasitic weeds, meaning they feed off of a host or your garden plant. Dodder is a weed that has twines of root-like feeders that wrap around the stems of garden plants. Ivy and kudzu vine are weeds as well and given the opportunity will overwhelm plants, trees, and even buildings.
Weeds can also be identified by their appearance. While there are far too many to list and describe here, numerous reference books are widely available for identifying weeds and other plants. Some of the more common weeds and their descriptions include the following:
Poison ivy is a very common perennial weed that spreads quickly and causes allergic rashes in many people. This weed can easily be identified by its infamous three leaves which grow together.
Dandelions are probably the best known and most familiar of weeds; however, many people do not realize that it is a weed at all. They have deep roots but spread through seeds. The fuzzy, yellow blooms eventually turn into fluffy, white seedheads and are most often carried by wind to various locations.
Plantain may have broad or narrow leaves. Broad-leaved plantain is compact and stocky and often found growing in shady areas. The narrow-leaved variety has long, lance-shaped leaves with seedheads that grow on wiry stems.
Ragweed, long despised by allergy sufferers, is commonly seen during summer months with its fern-like leaves. Crabgrass is flat to the ground with reddish-colored stems. Thistle has prickly leaves with fuzzy, purple seedheads. Speedwell is a trailing weed that has scalloped leaves on short stalks.
There are actually many types of weeds which look attractive within a garden. Some of these include Joe-pye weed, with its tall stems of vanilla-scented, rose-colored flower clusters; wild chicory, with its brilliant blue flowers; hawkweed, which has daisy-like blooms on fuzzy stems; and Queen Anne’s lace, with lacy white, umbrella-shaped flower heads. To determine which weed goes and which weed stays depends on the individual gardener as well as the type of weed. While most weeds can be invasive, others can become interesting additions. If you’re unsure about a new plant that has popped up in your garden, check through plant guides and other reference sources. The plant in question may justify quick removal in order to keep your garden healthy; on the other hand, don’t be too quick to rid your garden of a possible asset, you may find that the plant is useful and attractive.
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