Thursday, August 7, 2008

"How Do You Know That's a Weed, Mom?"

... 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.

Find the weed in this group of zinnia seedlings.

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.

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.

There are three different weeds* among these Cosmos sulphureus.

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).


Anonymous said...

Great post! My son use to ask me that question all the time. I always found it hard to explain. Knowing what's a weed & what is something you planted comes with time. Plus one gardeners weed is another gardeners plant. Anything is a week if it comes up where you don't want it. Oh and that Gazania foliage does look very similar to the Dandelion foliage. :)

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I used to be of the if-in-doubt-pull-it-out school, until I realized that I should have had seedling Actaea racemosas. I'm allowing possible candidates for that to grow a bit, although it is harder to pull out the Maple seedlings when they get bigger.

Unknown said...

Oh, Man! I just realized that I've been pulling cosmos volunteers all year long in the back bed. :( Now I wish that I had erred on the side of caution, like I usually do, and let it grow.... *sigh*

The moral of the story: Babying a dandelion is way better than losing volunteer cosmos.

Barbara said...

I planted some wild flower mix this past when I was in doubt, I'd pull a few and leave a few. I left a few weeds and pulled a few flowers, but in the end I think it worked out. Knowing what is a weed or not is tricky when you have an assistant. I blocked out 'kill zones' for my brother when he was good enough to help. A kill zone, meant 'everything in this area is a weed...go for it'

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

You've articulated the answer better than I ever could. It's like you said... you just have to have spent time with your garden and the main offenders to know the seedling of a weed when you see it. It's really hard to explain it any other way. Great post!

Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

growingagardenindavis said...

I'll admit to nurturing a weed, too, in hopes it was a plant that was supposed to be there but disappeared.

Where fibers meet mud said...

Weeds to some and blessings to others - my personal favorite weed is chickory because it makes the road side so pretty in August.

I have nominated you and tagged you with the meme Brilliante Weblog Award 2008!

Keep up the good capture on the Japanese beetles - they are a pest that has no equal!

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen said...

We've all nurtured a weed or two in our time so don't feel silly. It just shows your good heart. And i let them grow too if I'm not sure wether it's a weed or not. Works a treat!

Jessica said...

oh my gosh, a post after my own heart! I need to print this out and carry it with me:) I tend to be very optimistic when I come across a 'mystery plant' in our yard:)

Wayne Stratz said...

stumbled here and enjoyed this post. Nice confession about the gazania. I hope al your weeding goes well.

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