Weed or native plant?

In a landscape of native plants and young seedlings, it can be a true chore to tell the difference between the ones you want and the weeds you don't
In a landscape of native plants and young seedlings, it can be a true chore to tell the difference between the ones you want and the weeds you don’t. This is what the #ButterflyRedux landscape looked like pre-weeding.

There is many a native plant that when young (or even when not in bloom) looks like a weed – or could be confused for one. Even though I’ve been a landscape designer doing design/build for 10 years, there are times where even I’m not sure if the young plant I’m looking at is supposed to be there or is a volunteer of the weedy variety. This reality poses real challenges not simply for burgeoning gardeners who are looking to invite in a bit more of the wild but also for larger landscapes that require maintenance crews to keep the landscapes relatively weed-free. A certain level of skill and experience is required to discern the difference between emerging plants you want and the weeds you don’t, and a certain level of care is required as well, as these young plants are oftentimes relatively fragile and simply won’t take well to the traditional mow-and-blow treatment. Thus it is little wonder that default for so many landscapes great and small are cultivars, as their intentionality is readily apparent, and thus they are unlikely to be accidentally ripped out by a maintenance crew or an everyday gardener.

You wouldn't be scolded for confusing this hyssop seedling for stinging nettle or another such weed. They look extremely similar.
You wouldn’t be scolded for confusing this hyssop seedling for stinging nettle or another such weed. They look extremely similar.

In native-plant catalogues and in photos accompanying purchased, potted native plants, we most often are only presented with a pretty photo of the plant in bloom and close up. As such, we can be left in the dark when it comes to seedlings of the plants and what they look like when emerging. Additionally, we are left in the dark as to the overall form of the plant when it isn’t in bloom, thereby complicating the design of a landscape, as that form will be what people perceive most of the year, with the bloom merely lasting a couple of weeks.

A photo like this should accompany either a maintenance guide or the photo of the mature version of the plant. In this way, it can be clear that this is to be left and not pulled come spring or when the plant emerges.

Whether it be for the training of maintenance crews for a larger landscape, or for just your everyday gardener or designer of smaller landscapes, it is really high time that the photo of a plant – in particular those that could be confused for weeds – be accompanied by another photo of the plant when just emerging and young. As such, those maintaining or managing the landscape can know what to pull and what not to pull, and we’ll end up with fuller, more thriving landscapes in the process.

John Kamp

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