Some of those “weeds” you see popping up in the summer landscape might not be undesirables but native wildflowers trying to gain a foothold.
Like weeds, some native plants spread on their own by seed, offering free plants that can benefit the birds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators that so many gardeners are trying to attract to their yards these days.
The trick is knowing which is which.
Especially when plants are young, desired native wildflowers are easy to mistake for unwanted weeds.
How to tell the difference?
Weeds and desirable plants are often confused because their flowers – at first glance – look similar. However, a closer look at the leaves, growth habit, and even the flowers themselves almost always unveil a few key traits that set them apart.
A weed flower, for example, may have a slightly different shape than a look-alike wildflower, or it may have a different number of petals, or the flowers may be arranged differently on the stems.
The plant’s leaves are often even more distinctive. One plant may have larger, wider leaves while the other may have narrower or even needle-like foliage. Or one plant might have leaves coming out opposite one another on the stems while the other has leaves alternating up the stems.
Other determining clues include the plant’s growth habit, where the plant is growing, and distinctive coloring on the stems or leaves.
Numerous phone apps are available to help identify snapshots of plants in question (Seek by iNaturalist, PlantSnap, NatureID, LeafSnap, and PictureThis, to name a few).
Several online weed-identification websites also give pictures and descriptions of common weeds, such as Preen’s weed-identification pages and sites run by Cornell and Rutgers universities.
Numerous books and weed field guides can help sort out ways to identify weeds by key features, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Invasive Species Information Center website lists many other weed-identification and native-plant resources.
Weeds and look-alikes
Here are five of the most common summer weeds and how to tell them apart from similar native plants: