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What’s That Growing in my Garden?


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 Seedling

Radish Seedling

Cabbage Family
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).

How to tells carrot sedlings from grass

Carrot Seedlings vs. Grass

Carrots
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 Seedling

Spinach Seedling

Spinach
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.

Beet Seedlings

Beet Seedlings

Beets
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 Seedling

Squash Seedling

Squash Family
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.

Lettuce Seedlings

Lettuce Seedlings

Lettuces
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.

Pea Seedling

Pea Seedling

Peas
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.

Onion Tops

Onion Tops

Onion Family
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
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.
Happy Gardening

4 Responses to “What’s That Growing in my Garden?”

  1. kellysett says:

    THANK YOU! this information and the presentation of actual images was very helpful. a good teacher thinks back to what it was like to be a novice and then provides a succinct presentation that addresses those needs. thank you very much!

  2. Lisa says:

    Thank you so much for explaining the difference between carrot seedlings and grassy weeds. I just weeded my vegetable bed, and it occurred to me that I had no idea what carrot seedlings looked like. I might have pulled up some carrots, thinking they were grass!
    Thank you for the pictures, I’m not growing all these veggies, but the pics were helpful for the ones I am growing. :)

  3. nancy says:

    Thanks for the photos. I planted spinach and lettuce, and have the time, some week or grass comes up also, and AI havae a hard time telling them apart.

  4. nancy says:

    That was suppose to say: I planted spinach and lettuce at the same time. Sometimes weeds or grass comes up with them, and I have a hard time telling them apart.

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