Basics of Identifying Weeds

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The soil seed bank is the storage of seed in or on the soil. Seeds can remain dormant for year waiting for the right conditions to grow. This is why it’s important to promote the growth of desirable plants, to prevent the germination and growth of the non-desirable. However, this is not always enough and methods of control need to be taken before getting out of hand.

Plant identification is the first step to control. There are several great resources out there to help assist you in identification. When trying to identify a new plant you will want to examine the foliage, stem, flowers, and roots. Plants are identified by visible characteristics that remain roughly constant among all individuals within a species.

Take note of…

Leaves: leaf shape, leaf margins, structure (simple or compound), arrangement on the stem

Hairs: Presence or absence of hairs on leaves or other parts of the plant

Flowers: size, structure, color, inflorescence (arrangement of flowers or flower clusters on the plant)

Fruits: size, shape, structure, color, and arrangement of fruits or seeds

Roots: roots, rhizomes, and other underground structures

Life cycle: annual, biennial, perennial

Habit of growth: erect, prostrate, climbing, ect.

Noting when the weed emerges can help aid in identification. Summer annuals usually emerge between the spring frost-free date and late summer, and die at the first fall frost. Winter annuals emerge any time between the end of summer and early the following spring. They set seed in spring and early summer and usually dry up with the onset of hot weather.

You may be able to tell if it is an annual or perennial by digging it up when it first comes out of the ground. Try digging it up and see that it is a true seedling (easy to dig up with few fine roots). It may be sprouting from a perennial root or other structure (harder to dig up, attached to a large root, rhizome, tuber, or a fragment of one).

Once you have your specimen in hand and have become familiar with its characteristics, you can use photographs with written descriptions of similar looking weeds in a field guide or manual, use a dichotomous key, which consists of a series of ‘either-or’ pairs of categories until you narrow it down to one or a few species, or an interactive key online.

Whether you want to control weeds in your lawn, garden, or pasture you must know what weed you are trying to control. For more help with weed identification, contact North Carolina Cooperative Extension- Anson County at (704) 694-2915.

Written By

Kinsey Everhart, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionKinsey EverhartExtension Agent, Agriculture - Livestock and Row Crops Call Kinsey Email Kinsey N.C. Cooperative Extension, Anson County Center
Posted on Mar 29, 2021
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