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low growing weeds

Low growing weeds

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense) sounds like it's native to Canada however, it's actually a descendent from Asia and Europe and should be called 'Creeping Thistle' or 'Field Thistle' in order not to confuse us. This "noxious weed" reproduces by wind-dispersed seed and by a colonizing root system which allows it to form dense patches or monocultures. Canada Thistle is a ruderal species — a species which is first to colonize disturbed land. The spread by an underground network of roots, along with the spiny leaf edges and stems, make this weed difficult to deal with in any situation. Though it's a pest in the garden, this species also plays an important role in the ecosystem. Its purple flowers are visited by a wide variety of insects, the seeds are an important food source for birds like goldfinch and its leaves are used as food by many species of butterflies and moths.

JP: No, all weeds come from the kingdom of plants and all weeds will produce flowers (or equivalent reproductive organs). They're definitely the underappreciated relatives of some of our most beloved garden plants. For example, what may be considered a weed in British Columbia might be considered a garden gem in Ontario. On a larger scale, a beautiful culinary herb that is desirable in Europe and brought to North America for its desirable characteristics can become a menace — even invasive. Such was the case with Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) which is now a common unwelcome resident in many Ontario gardens.

A plant expert answers questions about every gardener’s nemesis

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is one of the most common garden weeds and you'll also find it creeping along the cracks of your driveway and between your interlocking brick work. This 'annual' weed whose origins are debated features fleshy, flat reddish-green leaves which creep along the soil on thick prostrate stems and small yellow flowers which open only on bright sunny mornings. The fleshy leaves and stems are basically organs for water and nutrient storage which can give them an advantage in dry soil and drought conditions and help them tolerate compacted soils. The fleshy nature of purslane enables it to continue to flower and produce seeds for several days after being pulled and it is important to get every part of the root removed as it will re-establish quite effectively from even a small portion of root remaining in the soil. Just like dandelion, this species has a long ethnobotanical history and is becoming popular once again in the culinary world.

What is your personal favourite weed and why?

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But no matter how many weeds they've plucked, even veteren gardeners get stumped at times trying to determine what is, and what is not, a weed — particularly in the spring when everything is just beginning to peek out of the soil and your winter brain has wiped all your geographical gardening memories clean. "Is this where I planted a patch of Primrose or are these weeds that need to be annihilated?"

Test Garden Tip: Thistle has an extensive root system that can grow several feet out from the main plant.

Appearance: Identify this lawn weed and groundcover by its scalloped leaves, creeping stems, and clusters of purple flowers in late spring.

Appearance: Pigweeds are tall plants with a taproot. Identify weeds by their hairy-looking clusters of green flowers (though some varieties are grown as annuals).

Size: 12 inches tall, 6 – 16 inches wide

Canada Thistle

Appearance: This common lawn weed has a long taproot; leaves are deeply notched. Yellow flowers mature into puffballs. Dandelion seeds are like parachutes that fly away in the wind, helping them invade new spaces in lawns and garden beds.

Control: Mulch garden areas in spring to prevent pigweed or use a preemergence herbicide in spring. Pull weeds by hand or spray with a postemergence weed killer.

Control: Prevent poison ivy with a deep layer of mulch. If the weed starts to grow in your yard, spot-treat it with an herbicide or wrap your hand in a plastic bag, pull the plant up, roots and all, and carefully invert the plastic bag around the plant, seal, and throw away.

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Control: Use a mulch or a preemergence herbicide in spring to prevent quickweed. If plants do grow, pull them by hand or spot-treat them with a postemergence herbicide.

Appearance: This garden weed has light green leaves that look a little like clover and cup-shape yellow flowers in summer and fall.