Weeds, those deceptive little creatures


In our Symphony of Color, there are always a few off color notes called weeds. Peonies in bloom foreshadow those unwanted plants and left unattended, weeds will begin to show up in droves. In the case of dandelions and creeping Charlie, they are already beginning to appear in the homeowner’s landscape.

Weeds are a bit deceptive. And, because of their deceptive character, they need defining. In my experience, there are two weed definitions.

The first is what I call the gardener’s definition.

Gardener’s weed definition: “A plant you don’t want.”

A gardener has more knowledge of plants than most people, so there can be some subjectivity to a gardener’s choice on what is, and what is not a weed.

The second definition is more like the one found in a biology textbook, but I call it the “government’s” definition.

Government’s weed definition: “A plant out of place.”

The government’s definition is not based so much on plant identification, but on whether the plant appears in places it is not supposed to grow.

The confusion with either definition is that what appears to be a perfectly viable plant can be a weed and what may appear, at first, to be a weed, is not.

Just as deceptive as you'd ever want it to be.

For instance, when I plant pumpkins, I put five seeds to a hill. When the seedlings appear, I thin out the plants to one, choosing the strongest looking one to grow. Was there anything wrong with the other four? No, they were perfectly viable plants. I was simply hedging my bets in case something went wrong: i.e. bad seeds or insect damage, etc.

Now, of course, there are actual weeds, i.e., plants you don’t want growing in your landscape. They are mysterious, strange plants that seem to come from nowhere. Some are in-your-face knowable varieties such as dandelions, thistles and crab grass. While other weeds are a little more subtle in finding out that they are weeds. There are even “weeds” that were purchased and planted. (Author raises his hand, pleads, “Guilty.”) What wasn’t understood when you planted them was just how well they were going to adapt to the landscape’s growing conditions.

As the axiom goes, “Everything is a weed somewhere.”  This may include a homeowner’s landscape.
So, the characteristics of a weed are plants that are invasive or just plain ugly. Of course, sometimes invasive is what I’m after, and plenty of people like plants that I think are ugly. So, even the best definition of a weed is somewhat subjective.

Those deceptive little devils.

The other axiom is: “May all your weeds be wildflowers.”

That is why I favor the gardener’s definition of a weed. Those plants that turned out to be weeds that I bought were all in perfect placement to begin with.  They grew into weeds. Experience is the best teacher and what once started out as a viable plant in the landscape turned into something the homeowner may find in places that were not originally intended.

How you define a weed is, of course, not as important as how you control them.

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