What do dandelions, burdock and plantain all have in common? They reside in this container garden and often in my own. I’m not a huge fan of weeds. In fact, weeding is my least favorite garden task. If I hired a task out, it would be weeding! Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen in my garden so I try to remove the weeds as best as I can.
However, this year I direct-sowed many new flower and veggie seeds. When it came time to weed I found I had several mystery plants that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep or remove. What to do? It’s hard to look up a plant if you don’t know the name!
Lucky for me I found a garden of common weeds at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. It’s a goldmine of information, a learning-lab of garden weeds, each clearly labeled for easy identification. It helped me identify my mystery plants. It also provided me with the common and Latin names I needed to find effective ways to remove them.
If you have a few mystery plants of your own, here are 12 weeds, their names, and reasons why you don’t want them in your garden.
12 Garden Weeds To Know
Broad Leaf Plantain
Plaintain, Plantago major L. is a common weed and most likely growing in your own backyard. It’s a plant that has mixed reviews, which is why it’s first on my list. As a budding herbalist I know that plantain is said to have many beneficial properties such as a liver and blood cleanser. It can also be used as a poultice for insect bites and stings. Some even use plantain to draw out deep slivers! Now that’s a plant that really works.
But plantain is also invasive. Let a little go and soon you will have a yard full of it. (I may or may not know that from experience!) The down side of plantain is that it is a host for viral diseases such as aster yellows, beet curly top, beet yellows, tobacco mosaic and streak, and tomato spotted wilt virus. When I realized that it can damage my tomato crop, I began to look at plantain a little differently.
Common mallow, Malva rotundifolia L., is a weed I want to so badly to be a flower. I love those frilly heart shaped leaves. But this beauty of weed has its dark side. It also is a host for viral diseases such as tomato spotted wilt, aster yellows, beet curly top, hollyhock mosaic, and tobacco streak. When I see common mallow, I pull it out.
Yellow Nutsedge, Cyperus esculentus L., is such a cool name. I actually like this yellow grass. That’s the problem with some weeds. You just really want to like them, but get a grip on yourself. If you like them too much, it will go poorly for the other plants in your garden that you really like. This yellow fellow is a serious villain of corn, beans and potatoes. Tubers of this plant can grow inside your potato tubers…yucko. Also, if you live in a cotton growing area, nutsedge is host to 2 species of nematodes that attack cotton. Don’t let this one endear you….get rid of it.
Field Sow Thistle
Field Sow Thistle or Canad Thistle, Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop., is also called Curse Thistle! I don’t’ think I have to explain why. Several types of thistle are also used in home medicinal herbal recipes. (I actually have a packet of thistle seeds that I didn’t plant.) But, aside from the fact that it’s nasty to step on in your lawn, it can also harbor bean aphids as well as stalk borers of corn and tomatoes. Thistle is also a host for raspberry Scottish leaf curl….which is a new disease to me!
Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare (Savi) Ten., often grows along fences and larger open areas such as pastures. I include it in case you have open areas near you and see it. It is aggressive and is a threat to forests and wetlands.
Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia (L.) S. F. Gray, grows in my yard every season. There are a number of puns I could make about this weed, but I won’t. It has a host of other names such as willow-weed, knotweed, curly top, lady’s thumb, dock leaf, and nodding smartweed. It competes for moisture and nutrients in your garden, but thankfully it isn’t a menace to your tomatoes! If you have it, things could be worse. (I do like the pink flowers….)
Burdock, Arctium minus (Hill) Bernh., is best known for it’s love-hate relationship among growers. Natural gardeners and herbalists love burdock. Its seeds and roots are often used in poultices and salves to clear up skin irritations such as eczema, psoriasis, acne, and boils. It’s known to calm hormonal imbalances and to be rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.
But burdock also a host for cucumber mosaic and tobacco streak viruses. It’s seeds easily spread and can quickly choke out wanted vegetation if not controlled.
Common Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare L. , is also known as golden buttons, garden tansy, bitter buttons, hindhead, and parsley fern. It competes for moisture and nutrients and quickly spreads throughout the garden.
Leafy Spurge, Euphorbia esula L., is also known as wolf’s milk and Hungarian spurge. It’s milky juice can cause severe skin rashes. It is also poisonous to most livestock…except sheep! As it decomposes it may have an allelopathic response to your tomatoes. These are the kinds of weeds that remind me to wear my garden gloves!
Common Buckthorn, Rhamnaceae cathartica L., an incredible invader of natural ecosystems. In my area, this is one of the toughest weeds to remove. If you see young plants growing pull them quickly! Don’t eat the berries as they may cause abdominal pain.
Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria L., spreads very quickly replacing natural vegetation. It’s also a host for cucumber mosaic virus. It’s most often found near natural water sources like canals and rivers.
Bitter Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara L., is another beautiful plant with a very dark side. While the leaves look tender and the berries delicious be aware they contain toxic alkaloids and are poisonous. This weed is especially deadly to children. It’s also a host of viral diseases affecting potatoes, tomatoes, and tobacco.
Bonus – Redroot Pigweed
There are so many weeds to know about that I couldn’t stop at just 12. If you’ve made it all the way to the end, your reward is a few photos of Redroot Pigweed. This large, incredibly fast-growing week causes a host of damage to many crops including corn, tomatoes, and fruit.
Identifying weeds is just the beginning. If small, most weeds can simply be removed with a sharp tool. However, if any of these weeds have gotten out of control, I encourage you to contact your local county extension office for further information of safe removal.
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Spicing Up Your Garden Life!
Weeds of North America by Richard Dickinson and France Royer