We may have heard the advice jokingly given by parents to children who are pulling garden weeds for the first time: if it looks healthy and it’s growing vigorously, pull it out. But there is some truth in this; at least a few of us have probably looked over our gardens at some point this summer and thought to ourselves that the weeds were the only thing growing! Because they grow so well, they can so quickly overrun a garden, stealing nutrients from the soil and spreading seeds that will turn into next year’s weeds. Identifying them and distinguishing them from garden plants can be tricky, especially for beginners (and this author will humbly admit that last year as a new gardener she couldn’t tell a parsnip from a pigweed).
Here is a list of some common weeds that I have found in my garden this year, separated by their two basic types, broadleaf and grassy, along with some resources that have helped me to identify weeds with more confidence and can help you as well.
Broadleaf Plantain (also called common plantain): This is one of the most common weeds in the garden. It has broad, bright green, crimpled, oval leaves in a circular pattern very close to the ground. It will eventually flower, so be sure to pull it before this happens and to remove the entire root system.
Buckhorn Plantain (also called English plantain and ribwort plantain): This weed’s bright green leaves are long and narrow, wider in the middle than on the ends, with deep veins. Like its close relative the broadleaf plantain, the leaves grow in a circular pattern. Left alone it will grow flower stalks that spread its seeds, so it is best pulled while it’s still young.
For those who need help to identify weeds common to Saskatchewan, please refer to photos below of every weed in the garden plus a few tree and shrub seedlings (ie manchurian elm and rosehip) that cause as much problems as weeds.
Canadian Thistle: Also very common, this weed has lobed, dark green leaves with spikes along the edges. The leaves are directly attached to the stem and grow in a circular pattern. Left unchecked, it will flower and spread thousands of seeds, so be sure to remove it right away. Cutting it from the stem several times over the summer can keep it from growing too vigorously. If you remove the whole plant, be sure to get as much of the root system as you can as it can spread from its roots. Shading can help prevent its growth.
Common Chickweed: Common chickweed has small, light green, oval leaves and stems with fine hair along one side. It often grows low to the ground, and has white flowers with five lobed petals. Early weeding of chickweed can help control it.
Groundsel: Groundsel bears a close resemblance to the dandelion, with lobed, dark green leaves that grow directly from the stem and bright yellow flowers mostly hidden by a specialized leaf called a bract. These weeds can act as a host for harmful fungus, so they should be removed as soon as you see them.
Prickly Lettuce: This weed is actually closely related to cultivated lettuce. Its leaves bear a close resemblance to the leaves of the Canadian Thistle, with lobed leaves that grow in a circular pattern. One way to tell the difference between the two is to examine the midrib (the main vein of the leaf). Prickly lettuce has very thin, sharp spines along the midrib, while the Canadian thistle doesn’t. Prickly lettuce also has a whitish, milky sap. It is easy to control and doesn’t do too much damage to a vegetable garden.
Purslane: Purslane has distinct red stems and small, thick, oval leaves; it grows very close to the ground, almost lying flat. It can be easily pulled up by hand, and after it is picked, it can be washed and tossed in a salad or cooked in a stir-fry; the leaves, stems, and flower buds are edible.
Barnyard Grass: This grass has several stems that branch out from the base and long, thin leaves and spikes of green flowers; it starts out low to the ground and eventually grows taller. Barnyard grass steals nitrogen from the soil and should be quickly removed.
Quack grass: This pesky weed has long, straight stems that usually grow from one to four feet tall with long, thin leaves and tall spikes of flowers that look similar to wheat heads. Quack grass may inhibit the growth of nearby plants, so it is important to remove it right away. Removing it entirely can take years and requires careful strategy.
Submitted by Jennifer Bobowski
Please remember the use of herbicides is prohibited by Grow Regina and the City of Regina in McLeod Park community garden.
The recommended weed control in our community garden is pulling. Most young weeds can be pulled from the soil. They will slide out most easily if you pull them when the soil is wet. Getting the root up is crucial, so think of the main stem as the root’s handle, and grasp it as close to the soil line as you can. If you find that the weeds are breaking off at the crown as you pull, slip a kitchen fork, dandelion weeder, or similar tool under the weed, and pry and twist as you pull it up. Weeds that have taproots, such as dandelion and plantain, usually must be pried out. A flexible pair of waterproof gloves will keep your hands comfortable as you weed, and it’s good to have a nice sitting pad, too. Let pulled weeds bake in the sun for a day or so before composting them. If pulled weeds are holding mature seeds, compost them separately in a hot, moist pile before using this compost in the garden.
A weed library featuring photos of common garden weeds and tips for removal: http://garden.org/Weed Library
The Regina Public Library also has numerous books on weeds and weed removal; just search the catalogue using the subject keyword “weeds” to get a list of titles and call numbers.