Gardening Basics: Identifying Weeds in Your Garden

Not sure how to tell the good from the bad when identifying weeds in your garden? We'll help you figure out whether you should pull it up or let it grow.

“Is this a weed or a flower?”

I’ve been in the gardening and horticulture business for more than three decades, and it’s still one of the most common questions I get year after year. In fact, gardeners probably bring me a few hundred “gifts” each spring in the form of mystery leaves, flowers and plants.

The truth is, we’ve all faced the dilemma of identifying weeds in your garden at some point. When plants start sprouting in spring, all those tiny leaves seem to look the same. I don’t know any gardener (myself included) who hasn’t grown a few weeds or accidentally weeded out a few desirable plants.

So I’m here to help. Hopefully I can at least point you in the right direction when it comes to recognizing common backyard weeds. That will let you focus on your treasured garden plants instead.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common weeds in North America. If you can learn to recognize these, you’ll be well on your way toward eliminating most of the unwelcome visitors in your yard.


Creeping Charlie (ground ivy)

Creeping Charlie (ground ivy) is another one I get questions about. It’s easy to identify by its round, scalloped leaves, which are fragrant when crushed. This shade-tolerant plant with purple spring flowers can quickly take over a lawn or garden bed. To get rid of it in the lawn, try a chelated iron-based weedkiller. In the garden, pull it out and mulch or use a total vegetation killer.

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  1. T travis says

    My mom was a avid gardener who could grow anything…..and she told me that you can distinguish a weed by the red at the bottom of the tiny stem when it shows the first leaves. Works for me here in Oklahoma. She also said to plant flower seed in bunches instead of rows….makes it easier to spot when the first come up…..makes transplanting a cinch too.

  2. akj says

    For the plants, as opposed to the grasses, it would have been more helpful to include photos of the seedlings, when they are easier to eliminate. Does anyone know of a website that does this?

  3. says

    The article on the weeds is informative but it would be nice if you would show the entire plant in a natural setting (bigger picture) and also how it would look before it blooms. Thank you for the information.

  4. says

    The pictures are of lovely mature plants. Usually you have to “catch” them in the garden while they are small, before they get to this stage. Pictures of those would be helpful.

  5. Gwen Duecker says

    You never mentioned “Smilac” which I have been fighting for 3 years. It has a heart shaped leaf and a spiny stalk, that if left long enough get black thorns, I wear two pair of leather gloves to pull it. Then I found out it has rhizomes that spread under ground. This fall I am trying florists vials, the ones for single flowers, filled with round-up and will put the cut stem in and florist tape it in place. Hopefully this will kill it and contain the round-up with the vial stuck in the soil.

  6. says

    now that you mentioned the weeds what is the best way to get rid of them once you i.d. them. like whatweed killer is best for killing one or all of them. I live on a 9 acre farm but we have about 4 acres to take care of as it is mostly grass(?) and I live in Wisconsin

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