Recognising Common Garden Weeds – Perennial Weeds

Willow herb

Perennial Weeds
Perennial weeds come up every year from the same plant and are difficult to get rid of but not as hard as they are often made our to be. Most have deep tap roots which need to be removed but once this has been done smaller regrowth can be dealt with relatively easily. Other perennials with different growth habits are daisy, plantain, sliverweed and creeping buttercup which all need vigilance to remove tenacious shallow roots but are still relatively easy to eradicate.

Perennial weeds will be your biggest problem when starting a new vegetable garden on a new plot but once you have got rid of them they will be much less of a problem than annual weeds.

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recognisign Field bindweedField Bindweed
Bindweed is a very invasive climbing shrub with white or pink trumpet shaped flowers. Hedge bindweed is easier to control by continually pulling any small stems you see or using a trowel to remove any accessible roots. By constantly removing any foliage the roots will starve and eventually die after on or two years of constant attention.

Field bindweed is not as easy to see and is more enduring with constant removal of roots difficult and time consuming. A thick mulch can help suppress its vigour but infested areas will probably always need some annual attention.

recognise bramble or blackbery seedlingBramble
Brambles always look far more difficult than they actually are due to their tangle of long thorny stems. Get a good thorn proof pair of gloves first and remove all the stems, removing the roots is actually relatively easy by forking out.

Mulching will help after the ground has been cleared though strong stems can push through. Digging any new stems over a period if a year or two should see a problem patch successfully cleared.

regognising creeping buttercupCreeping Buttercup
Creeping buttercup is a weed common to waterlogged ground and can be difficult to remove because of its tough, shallow roots. Mulching is effective outside the growing season but when growing vigorously roots will need to be dug out. Roots are shallow and tenacious so will need to be lifted with a good amount of soil and shaken off.

Remember the ‘creeping’ part of the plant name because, like strawberries, buttercup will produce rhizomes with new plants at every node so will quickly colonise an area.

Skutch grass leaf and rootCouch Grass or Skutch Grass
Couch or Skutch Grass is very common in most gardens and is very likely to be seen in ground which has been compacted or over cultivated at any stage. If growing through light friable garden soil it is relatively easy to remove by following the roots and gently pulling them out. New grass will grow from any root particles left in the soil so 2 years may be a more realistic time to clear you plot.

Skutch grass is also kept under control by applying nurtient rich mulches to the surface of the soil as it prefers a more compact and less fertile soil.

recognising creeping thistleCreeping Thistle
Creeping thistle can be relatively easily eradicated by continually pulling up small plants making sure you also remove the long tap root. Loosen the soil around the thistle with a trowel and with gloved hands grasp the fleshy stem and gently pull as much root as you can.

You will not be able to extract all the root so keep pulling any new seedlings that may come up which will soon exhaust the parent roots by cutting off its source of sugars. Large patches of creeping thistle can initially be daunting but can be cleared with persistence.

recognising dandelion weedDandelion
Dandelions will take 6 to 9 months to get rid of by digging out small roots with a trowel or removing larger specimens with a spade. Try to remove as much of the parent root as possible so there is little left in the soil to re-grow.

Although dandelions are a common weed which spread easily from their root fragments or from their many windblown seeds they are also valued for their medicinal qualities and culinary uses. Dandelion is from the same family (Asteraceae) as lettuce and endive and so share their bitter taste. The leaves are diuretic which cleanse the liver and can be eaten in salads for their rich mineral content.

recognising dock leavesDock Leaves
Dock leaves look much more difficult to get rid of than they actually are. They can be more tricky if growing around the woody stem of a plants like currants or raspberries (which is why you should always make sure your site is clear before you plant) but if out in the open they are relatively easy to eradicate with a sharp spade.

Slicing through the tap root about 15cm (6inches) down and removing as much as possible will usually prevent it from re-growing. Smaller plants can be pulled in loose soil or dug and removed with a trowel.

Once seed heads mature they produce large clusters of brown seeds which are best burnt rather than risked in a hot compost pile. Dock leaves without seeds can be composted with other green material. Remember Dock leaves are friends and well as foe and will soothe skin stung by nettles by rubbing on the affected area.

recognising ground elderGround Elder
Ground elder will regrow from roots left in the ground so try to dig along their length and remove rather than breaking them. The roots travel horizontally rather than vertically and wind themselves around the roots of other plants which can make them difficult to eradicate in busy beds. Digging root fragments is the only option, when you see a new seedling emerge followed by mulching to exclude light.

Ground Elder is a member of the Umbellifer family (celery and carrot) and has edible leaves which can be used as a filling for omelettes in early Spring when little other greenery is available.

Mare's tail horsetail recognisingMare’s Tail
A very difficult weed to get rid of due to the fact that the smallest fragment of root will produce a new plant. The plant is a remnant from a prehistoric time which will give you some idea of its vigour, it has deep roots and spiky, jointed foliage.

Digging the roots is not a good idea as you will spread the plant. The best way of dealing with is with a heavy mulch followed by very frequent hoeing to starve the roots, this can take 3 years or more. If you are tempted to use the dreaded roundup it also puts two fingers up to Monsanto, it doesn’t seem to have any effect whatsoever.

Broad leaf plantainPlantain
There are two types of plantain; the broad one (pictured) and the narrow leaved variety. They are more commonly seen in poorly maintained lawns but can also be seen in the vegetable garden especially on paths where soil is compacted.

Dig and remove plants before they have had a chance to set seeds which they do in tall spear like seed heads. Plantain has a long tap root, you will need to remove as much as possible as smaller parts of root will re-generate.

Plantain does have an antiseptic quality and can be used to relieve itching and redness form mosquito bites by crushing a leaf and rubbing on the wound.

recognising willowherbRosebay Willowherb
Willowherb is an invasive weed both from seed as well as root. Immature plants can be initially mistaken for lamb’s lettuce. If small seedlings are allowed to grow they will send out tenacious roots and white stems just below soil level that will remain for many years. If you are persistent stems can be removed quite easily by digging with a towel followed by a light excluding mulch.

Attractive pink flowers (see header of this article) are borne on long stems in late Summer which quickly produce hundreds of seeds. If this is allowed to happen Willowherb will be a problem for many years.

recognising silverweedSilverweed
Silverweed gets its name from the silvery underside of its leaves, it is common on lawns and paths but can also easily invade the vegetable garden. You are more likely to encounter silverweed in wet compacted soil with poor drainage so it is unlikely to be a big issue in your vegetable beds.

If pulled or hoed silverweed will quickly re-root so will need to be dug out. The plant will also reproduce like a strawberry by sending out rhizomes which root at the nodes and produce new plants.

Recognisisng stinging nettleStinging Nettle
Nettles are not too difficult to get rid of by forking out plants and levering out the main mass of yellow roots, small roots will not regrow. Mature plants produce hundreds of seed which will germinate readily but can easily be hoed.

Wear thick gloves when handling large plants as stinging can be pretty unpleasant and last a long time depending on your reaction.

  1. Carole Watson

    The bane of my garden is hairy alkanet. Every part of the plant is brittle making removal next to impossible. 2years of constant digging up and use of various weed killers have failed to eradicate it. The trouble is, too many neighbours think it’s pretty and encourage it, and I have now run out of energy and time to wage serious war on this pest which exploits every nook and crevice as well as open ground. I admit it’s beaten me!

    1. admin

      Hi Carole
      I feel your pain. I put in some borage (related) a few years ago because I thought the flowers were pretty and have it coming up all over the place. Alkanet is a most vigourous plant and very difficult to control especially if allowed to go to seed. The only way of controlling it is being vigilant and removing flower stems before they produce seed. As you say, if neighbours encourage it you are fighting a loosing battle! I hope you have a great season otherwise, thank you for getting in touch!

    1. Andrew

      Hi Joan
      The weed in the header image is Rosebay Willowherb, it is featured in the article and shown in its immature form.

  2. Di

    Hi, I recently moved house and have a plant in my borders that looks like a grass, with flattened leaves which are reddish are the base and white bulbous horizontal rhizomes (2 or 3 from each stem). I thought it might be a miniature iris but the leaves look too slim for that. I don’t think it’s a scilla or a chionodoxa either, but any suggestions as to what it could be would be very welcome! I can’t remember it having flowers of any sort last year, but then again, it was very hot! Thanks in advance.

  3. David

    Hi I recently emptied a sand pit filled with water in my garden *5 months of rainwater* we now have a weed which has grown that day, it’s small curly like stems which are white with a very small hint of pink in them, they have what looks like flowers on the end and are yellow, however the stems look too thick to be anything common, any suggestions?

  4. Kathy Unsworth

    Hi on the picture of the Mares Tail weed is another weed? to the left of it, it’s a single stem with top like a brush, my garden has these all over it, please could you tell me what they are, many thanks Kathy

  5. Wilma

    I have a weed in my garden which is not mentioned here. It is very persistent, low growing with small flowers if left. Very fine threadlike roots. I have sent a picture to the email listed above.

  6. Jacky

    I have a weed in my garden I can’t identify. I am sure it is a weed. It is about four feet tall and quite woody. The leaves are quite small and jagged looking with at times variegated slightly with yellow. I haven’t seen any flowers yet. It has grown into quite a patch of plants.

  7. Linda

    Hi. I have loads of little yellow flowers growing under where I had a Niger seed feeder. I know these are from the fallen seed. But suddenly I have a mass of thin yellow, easily broken stems winding around the flower stems and spreading like a mesh net. We recently planted the area all around the Niger flowers with good quality wild meadow seeds. Any idea what this yellow binding mesh could be? We can’t see roots and it doesn’t appear to have any foliage! Thanks

    1. Andrew

      Hi Linda. It is difficult to advise without seeing the plant I am afraid. I am sorry but I’m at a loss on this one.

  8. Phil

    Great article we struggled with ground elder in a large plot was glad to move house after years of battling even a summer of digging and root removal across 1/2 acre did not completely remove it and it was at full strength two years later.

  9. Elizabeth Ustic

    Thanks for the images of common weeds. I have lots of wicks in my lawn but I can’t find out anything because I don’t know any other name for them and when I google I get the DIY chain store and Joe Wickes working out in the garden, amongst other things! I wondered if the grass needed some lime possibly to get rid of the weeds and help the grass to grow?

    1. Andrew

      Hi Elizabeth,
      I must admit I’m with google on this one – I’ve not heard of wicks either! Can you give me a description?

  10. Graham Easton

    I have come across masses of long bright yellow almost horizontal roots some as thick as my little finger just a few inches below the surface of a flower border which I never usually weed as it is covered by a creeping (pink thug) geranium. The roots seem not to have produced any foliage as yet but I am at a loss to guess what the dreadful invasive thing is. The root smells quite pleasant. Google images show a yellow dock as a possibility. but I have never had a dock in that border and I thought docks only had tap roots. The longest one I have pulled up before it broke was over two feet long and was branched only once in that length. Any guesses please?

  11. Suzie

    Hi looking for some help, have just moved house and attempting to get the garden in order. Would anyone be able to help me identify what plants are weeds and what are plants. ?

    1. Andrew

      Hi Suzie
      You can get an app on your phone that identifies plants, they are surprisingly accurate. I don’t know which is the best but I use ‘Picture This’ and find it very good., I think it was £20.00 or something for the year and I get a lot of use out of it. For new gardeners I think I would definitely recommend it or something similar. I hope this helps. Andrew

  12. Philip Soars

    We have a strange weed which,luckily is easy to pull up.My wife says its like a starfish ,if with very thin dark green legs which lie above the ground with tiny purple flowers.Its a strong plant which retains its shape when pulled up.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Philip, if you want to send a picture into us at quickcrop@gmail.com we can take a look at it for you and try to identify it. There is a great app called Picture This, if you know anyone who has it. It’s really good at identifying plants.

  13. Eric

    Hi there,

    This lovely pant loves our garden, but I have looked in dozens of websites and cannot identify it!

    It is an annual with light green leaves shaped a bit like parsley but more rounded tips, easily broken but also not hard to uproot, hairy lower stems, yellow blossoms like a buttercup when 18 inches tall, and the most distinct feature: bright yellow roots and sap.

    I’ll send a couple pictures… But am I the only one in England with this weed? Or could you include it in your website guide?


  14. Elizabeth Vetch

    I have masses of rather stringey low growing plants with tiny yellow flowers in my lawns. What is this –
    it seems totally immune to weed killer?

    1. Andrew

      Hi Elizabeth, would it be creeping buttercup or maybe lesser celandine? We recommend ‘Picture This’. It’s a great app that helps you identify species of plants. Some of your gardening friends may have it. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

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