Many gardeners tell me they don’t know the difference between weed seedlings and the seedlings of desirable plants. There is no easy way to tell, the answer is to leave in anything you’re not sure about and wait until it gets big enough and/or flowers so you can identify it!
The key to discriminate weeding is to chuck out your hoe and get down in amongst your plants and weeds so you get up close and personal enough to learn how to spot what is desired and what should be got rid of. If you can learn how to identify what are known as ‘volunteers’ (those plants that generously seed themselves around giving you an endless supply of offspring) you can increase your plant stock by either leaving the new plants in situ or transplanting them to a more desirable location.
To give you an idea of what your seedlings might be, have a look around at the plants in your garden. Plants that typically self-seed prolifically are things like foxgloves, nasturtiums, Calendula, Alchemilla mollis, Verbena bonariensis, borage, poppies, ash trees, hellebores, some of the ornamental grass species, the list goes on… Also, get to know the weeds that grow in and around your garden. You will likely already know the worst culprits and can pull their little ‘uns out and you will get your weeding eye in the more time you spend looking closely at your soil.
In the picture below, you can see two seedlings ringed in red. The one on the left is a baby aquilegia and on the right is Alchemilla mollis. These are two very useful plants, the aquilegia will flower in the Spring providing you with an early hit of colour and the alchemilla is a tough workhorse, making an excellent edging or ground-cover plant where other, more particular species may struggle.
You can see they are surrounded by a collection of other little unwanteds including oxalis, hairy bittercress, rosebay and some speedwell. These seedlings can either be hand-pulled, or in the case of the oxalis dug out with a trowel as it forms a meaty, transparent bulb quite low down in the soil.
The problem with the two volunteer seedlings is that they are growing too close together. In this instance, I would leave the aquilegia where it is as they don’t usually survive being transplanted. Then I would lift the alchemilla seedling and pop it into a pot or wait until it’s a little larger and a little later in the season and move it straight into its new home in the garden.
The subject of weeding is much more interesting than it first seems and it happens to be one of my favourite jobs in the garden, so no doubt there will be more to come on this topic...