If you see what you might think is a weed coming up in a patch of flower seedlings, compare it to most of what surrounds it. Some flower seedlings have slight variations in appearance when they're young, but if the leaf shape and placement on the stem is different, it's probably a weed. Examine and compare the color and texture, too.
... asked Kara. We were walking in the garden and I reached down to pluck a weed from some annual seedlings. Kara is a novice gardener at this point and I'm mentoring her. When she asked me this question, I was forced to think of a good and properly informative answer. Something better than, "I just know."
When Romie and I were raising the girls, it was important to me that I try to explain things to them if at all possible, even when it came to the rules we set for them. I didn't want to be one of those parents that said, "Because I told you so." (Although I had to resort to that once in a great while.) Sometimes rules are easier to follow if you know the reasoning behind them. But back to the weedy question...
This caused me to really think about just how I do know if something is a weed or not. Sometimes I don't know. When in doubt, I leave it for awhile until it gets larger and it becomes more apparent that it's a weed. But some of them, I recognize for the evil green thugs they are, even as baby thugs.
It could be a seedling of a totally different but desirable plant, like the flowers growing five feet away. But if you don't want it there, it joins the weedy class. Northern Sea Oats () were like that for me this year. While I like them growing in the spot where I planted them, I resent their wayward reseeding and out they come.
On the other hand, the volunteer petunias came up in the vegetable garden between the corn and the carrots and I let them stay there. They add a nice touch of color in an unexpected spot.
The longer you garden, the easier it is to recognize a weed for what it is. You'll see one kind appear all over the garden and you know you didn't plant anything everywhere. Once you've got even one gardening season under your belt, you'll be more familiar with your plants in all stages of growth and you'll know those aren't weeds. By the same token, most gardens sport the same weeds season after season, and you'll get to know those as well.
Sometimes, you just won't know until they get large enough to bloom or take on an ugly appearance. No one knows absolutely every time which is a weed and which isn't. That's why last spring, I babied an annual plant that seemingly lived through the winter in a pot that I'd had on the back deck all winter. It had held gazanias the year before.
I marveled at that gazania and told several people of its amazing survival story. When it started growing again once spring's warmer temperatures arrived, I began watering it regularly and soon it was looking vibrant and began putting up a flower stalk. It was then that my bubble was burst and I felt a tad bit silly. My gazania was, in actuality, a dandelion.
In my defense, the leaves of a gazania look somewhat similar to those of a dandelion:
At the end of the day, you will eventually get better at discerning the weeds from the plants you want to keep. But you will also pull your share of flower seedlings. And you just might end up cultivating a weed.
*Clover, grass, and a seedling of Cypress Vine (Ipomoea quamoclit).