Or … is it a seedling or a weed?
By this time, early May, you’ve probably planted a number of seeds in your garden and they are coming up (if you haven’t planted any hurry up, it’s already late for things like peas and certain greens). But there are weeds coming up too, and it can be difficult sometimes to tell the difference between them and your seedlings.
A little basic biology first (no really, it’s not that scary). When seeds first sprout they send up a single leaf or pair of leaves called seed leaves or cotyledons. Most of what you’ll be planting will have 2 seed leaves. Most of the plants with a single seed leaf are grasses or related plants. Generally, seed leaves look different from the leaves that come later (true leaves) although there are definitely exceptions. Seed leaves will have simpler shapes, smoother edges, and less prominent veins (see the beet seedlings picture, especially).
Below are number of the common seedlings you may have planted.
Radish seed leaves are typical of the members of the cabbage family including Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cauliflower, Turnip, Rutabaga, Kale & Mustard. So if you’re growing any them their seed leaves will look similar to the radish (for red cabbage and some of the kales the leaves will have a purplish tinge too).
Carrot seedlings are one of the hardest seedlings to tell from a weed because they are very small and look a lot like grass, but if you look at the picture here you can see the differences. Carrots have the 2 seeds leaves coming from the same spot while with the grass, each new leaf comes from inside of where the previous leaf came from.
Spinach can be a bit difficult too, but the seed leaves are much larger than carrots. I think they look kind of like big, floppy rabbit ears.
Beets are easier, especially if they are red beets. because you’ll see some of the red color even in the seed leaves. Also, beets will almost always have more than one seedling come up in the same spot because each beet “seed” you planted is actually the fruit of the beet and contains a few seeds. Eventually, you’ll want to thin out the extra beet seedlings or they they’ll compete for nutrients and you’ll get very small beets. Chard looks the same as beets.
Squash and other members of that family (cucumbers, melons, gourds) are probably the easiest to tell because their seed leaves are very large, on the order of an inch long, each.
Lettuces do have seed leaves, but they aren’t very distinct from the true leaves so you just have to pay attention. Luckily, they are very distinct from grass or any narrow leaf weeds, like grass.
Peas, have no visibly distinct seed leaves. However, since peas should be planted very early, there shouldn’t be a lot of competing weeds to confuse you.
Onions and other members of their family (garlic, chives, leeks, shallots, scallions) also don’t have observable seed leaves, but they are very distinct in the garden. Their leaves look like round tubes coming up out of the ground.
Beans are almost as easy to tell as squash, but it’s too early for them yet, so I don’t have any pictures, but I’ll add them at the proper time.
That’s it for now.