Oxalis corniculata var. atropurpurea

Garden identifier: weed seedlings

Find out how to spot some of the most persistent garden weeds with help from this ID guide.

Tackling weeds as they emerge means you can get on top of them before they get out of hand.

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Broadly speaking, weeds are plants in the wrong place. In beds and borders they compete with other plants for light, water and nutrients, making it harder for other plants to grow. Check out this advice on dealing with annual and perennial weeds.

While weeds are a persistent thorn in the side for gardeners, it’s important to not be overzealous in your efforts to eradicate them, as many can be beneficial to wildlife. Nettles, for example, provide food for the caterpillars of red admirals, commas and small tortoiseshells.

If you can, make room in your garden for an uncultivated patch where weeds can grow freely. Choose a tucked away spot so you can focus your energy on the more visible areas of the garden. Boost the biodiversity in these areas by creating dead wood habitats or a stumpery for insects.

More weed-busting advice:

Use our handy guide to weed seedlings to identify unwanted arrivals.

Tackling weeds as they emerge means you can get on top of them before they get out of hand.

1

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) weed seedling
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) weed seedling

Spot it: identify this widespread weed by the distinctive rosettes of leaves with deep tap roots. Spreads rapidly by seeds after flowering.

Solution: dig out the entire taproot and don’t let it set seed.

2

Bramble, Rubus fruticosus

Bramble (Rubus fruticosus) stem
Bramble (Rubus fruticosus) stem

Spot it: stems root into the soil to form thickets. The fruit (blackberries) also spread seed.

Solution: cut back plants when young and dig out all roots.

3

Speedwell, Veronica filiformis

Speedwell (Veronica filiformis)
Speedwell (Veronica filiformis)

Spot it: delicate looking, with small blue flowers, it seeds itself through lawns and borders.

Solution: hoe or mow it out before it can seed and spread.

4

Nettles, Urtica dioica

Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Spot it: a tough perennial with strong spreading stems and thick roots.

Solution: dig out the plants and their roots before they can get established.

5

Lesser celandine, Ficaria verna

Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) seedling
Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) seedling

Spot it: with flat, heart-shaped leaves and yellow spring flowers, this perennial grows from persistent root tubers.

Solution: dig out every single piece of root.

6

Hairy bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) seedling
Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) seedling

Spot it: short-lived, but it spreads rapidly via thousands of fast-germinating seeds.

Solution: remove plants when young before seeds form.


7

Chickweed, Stellaria media

Chickweed (Stellaria media) young plant
Chickweed (Stellaria media) young plant

Spot it: a quick-growing annual that spreads to form dense, smothering mats.

Solution: hoe out, hand weed or smother with mulch.

8

Bindweed, Calystegia sepium

Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) foliage
Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) foliage

Spot it: a highly invasive perennial climber that will smother plants and take over beds.

Solution: remove every bit of root and plant, or it will return.

9

Couch grass, Elymus repens

Digging out couch grass (Elymus repens)
Digging out couch grass (Elymus repens)

Spot it: this vigorous perennial spreads by creeping underground stems as well as by seed.

Solution: dig it out, removing every piece of root and stem.

10

Sun spurge, Euphorbia helioscopia

Sun spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia)
Sun spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia)

Spot it: common annual with abundant seeds that disperse explosively.

Solution: remove when young, before plants have time to flower and set seed.

11

Creeping woodsorrel, Oxalis corniculata

Creeping woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata)
Creeping woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata)

Spot it: persistent weed with clover-like foliage that spreads by means of creeping stems that root, as well as by explosive seed capsules. The species has green foliage, though a purple-leaved type is common, too.

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Solution: hoe repeatedly, smother with mulch or dig out all parts of the plant.


Time your weeding

It’s particularly important when hoeing that you do it in the morning, on a dry day. That way weeds can be left on the surface to dry out and die before being raked up. 

Dandelion leaves and flower