Most gardeners will admit that insects and weeds are the most troublesome aspect with maintaining an attractive landscape. The sad part of this tale is that many gardeners know more about insects and insecticides

than they may ever know about weeds and herbicides. I can not fault anyone in not understanding weeds or herbicides as there aren’t many good sources of information to draw from that are readily available.

The Jr. Colleges in do their best in educating students as to what a weed is and how to treat for them. However, I have found that “Weedology” is a self-taught subject, experience being the best teacher. To fully understand weeds, you need to begin at ground level.

The basic understanding of what a weed is comes from early teachings that a weed is any plant that is out of place. This is to say that even a rose found growing in a juniper bed could be considered a weed. Further study would tell us that certain weeds occur in areas due to cultural reasons or environmental factors. We can eliminate many of the cultural reasons for weeds, however I am not aware of anyone who can alter the environment to rid themselves completely of weeds.

I find weeds fascinating because they are great story tellers. Weeds thrive in conditions that many cultivated plants find intolerable, such as humus deficient, barren, saline, swampy, rocky, alkaline, and high acid soils. Weeds pop up in areas that have witnessed Man’s failure to achieve a perfect and controlled landscape. Weeds such as sorrel, dock, and horse tails are found in slightly acid soil. If you have hardpan soil you’ll probably find mustard, nettle, morning glory, or quack grass. Cultivated beds and compost piles give rise to lamb’s quarters, plantain, chickweed, dandelion, prostrate knotweed, speedwell, rough pigweeds, mallow, and prickly lettuce. Legume or pea family weeds prefer light sandy soils.

Proper weed identification will be your hardest chore. By recognizing various patterns such as soil preference, seasonal appearance, and flowering time you can research the weeds in good books. Flowering and growing patterns are of great importance as most weeds are classified as either annual, bienniel, or perennial. The color, shape, and placement of the flower on the weed will also aid you in identifying the weed. I have learned that collecting and pressing weeds as I find them has made identifying and recognizing weeds much easier. I try to find them in books or have them identified by an expert. Without proper identification you can not expect to gain ground in the War Against Weeds.

As for sources of information, I recommend that you develop your own horticultural library as there exists no one book with all the answers to the many weed problems we all have in our own areas. The Department of Agriculture can be of help, but is unfortunately under staffed. You may want to cultivate professional relationships with local Jr. College instructors, horticultural consultants, or landscape supply houses as all of these people will be of some help in identifying your weeds.

Recommended for your library:

  • Garden Weeds of Southern California, by Tom Yutani.
  • Weeds and What They Tell, by Ehnrenfried Pfeiffer, Biodynamic Gardening Association.

One word of advice on buying books, BE SURE to check the place of publication as many of the books are from England or the East Coast and therefore may not be applicable to your area.

Remember, you can’t control weeds unless you can identify them, so start that weed collection now as well as adding to your library.