Most garden books are happy to tell you how to get rid of weeds in your garden. Sometimes, they name the weeds they're talking about, but they don't seem to be very keen to help you to recognise them. They probably assume that everyone knows what a dandelion or a stinging nettle looks like, but they could be wrong, and, if you're growing plants from seed, you might want to know what the weed seedlings look like, so you can remove them from your plant pots, seed trays or nursery bed before they get big enough to cause your precious plants any problems.

There are two types of weeds - annual and perennial. They're both troublesome. Annuals are a nuisance because they're designed to grow as fast as possible and complete their life-cycle in one year. Sometimes, they can grow from seed, flower, produce seed and go on doing this several times in just one season. They can flower when they're small, too - less than an inch high, sometimes. So you want to get rid of annual weeds as soon as you spot their seedlings.

Perennial weeds are also a big nuisance. Often, they have long tap roots or root systems that cover several square feet, and they just keep on going, sending up shoots over large areas. You want to get rid of these, too.

There are two ways of getting rid of weeds - either before they become a nuisance, or after. Removing seedlings before they have a chance to spread or flower and set seed is obviously the ideal solution. Sometimes, there are just too many, or you don't spot them in time. Then you can either dig out the offenders, or you can use weedkiller, although this is usually best used only for clearing larger areas of weeds. Individual plants can be treated with a 'spot' weedkiller. I read that thistles and dandelions can be killed with a drop of bleach or vinegar in the middle of the plant, but it didn't work for me. It only turned the existing leaves brown, and the root was still there.
It's often said that a weed is just a flower in the wrong place. With the current fashion for flower lawns and wildflower gardens, this has never been more true. A lot of people like some types of thistle, some people deliberately sow seeds of wild Toadflax. Some people even want Nettles or Dandelions for herbal uses. The problem of how to define a weed is even more difficult.

It has to come down to what you personally don't want in that particular patch of ground - if it's in a pot or seed tray, it's probably unwelcome. Exactly what sort of weeds you get in your garden will depend to some extent on what sort of growing conditions you have. When I lived in an area with dry, chalky soil, I had different weeds from those I got on an acid, clayey, wet soil.

To show you what many of the most common weeds look like, I've made a Chart with photographs of the flowers, a brief description, and a photograph of the seedling so you can recognise them and remove them if they appear where you don't want them. It's not a nice thought, but there are pictures of fifty weeds here, most of which appear in my garden! One or two of them don't grow in my garden, so I've actually had to grow them deliberately to be able to photograph them - my thanks to Chiltern Seeds for supplying the seeds.

I've started with those with white flowers, then yellow, orange, red, pink, mauve, purple, blue and green, and in roughly height order in each colour, which might help you to identify something you find in your garden - although you don't need to identify a weed to know you want to get rid of it!

White Flowers ~ Yellow Flowers ~ Red, Pink, Purple and Blue Flowers ~ Green Flowers

There's also a picture index to these weeds, showing just the flowers, in order of colour, here. There are details of 50 more wildflowers in the Plant Profiles section, and a picture index to these is on this page.

PS ~ If you have a lot of weeds and you can't control them, you might like to pretend they're wildflowers you're growing deliberately for herbal purposes. There are plenty of books on herbs and their uses, but I found 'Herbs and Healing Plants of Britain & Europe', in the Collins Nature Guides Series, a good starting point. It has clear photos of over 300 plants so you can easily recognise them, good descriptions, and information about their active ingredients and how to use them at home. Small enough to carry in your pocket, and costs around 5-8.

There's more about British wildflowers here.

Back to the Index of Technical Terms