A weed is simply a plant that 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 be, for the bees. The bees have enough problems these days for me to be 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. Its 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.
Courtesy of Stephanie – DYI Garden Projects