What is a Weed? Tips for Weed Identification In Your Garden

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Identifying weeds in your garden is not always as simple as you would think. Just what is a weed? Are they always detrimental to your space? Here?s what you need to know about weed identification.

Want to know how to identify weeds in your home garden? Believe it or not, the secret to weed identification is that it?s all about perspective! Read on for my tips on how to identify weeds and what to do about them. It may not be what you expect.

What Do Weeds Look Like: A Childhood Perspective

I remember picking bouquets of dandelions as a child: grabbing so many in my hand that I couldn?t keep my fingers around the flowers that kept falling out. It took some time to hone my picking skills, and sometimes the head would pop off, but luckily, there were plenty of blooms for me to practice on in the local park.

Dandelion Growing in Rocks

I also remember blowing the little parachutes into the wind from a dandelion who had gone fully to seed and watching them float in the air, touching down where they would grow next. It?s a classic childhood thing to do because, for kids, are just about the most fun flower around!

Today, I?m certain that my neighbours will not mind if my son picks their dandelion blooms, and I?m equally as certain that they would cringe to see him blow the seeds into their yards.

Dandelion Seeds

So what is it about these sunny, yellow flowers that get people all worked up?

When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant FREE PRINTABLE QUOTE

I mean, if you think about it, you can even . So? are dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) weeds? And if so, what makes them weeds?

What is a Weed: A Plant Lover?s Perspective

You may be reading this and thinking ?a dandelion is obviously a weed. Just look at them. They take over gardens and beautiful yards of grass. That obviously makes them a weed, right??

Well, yes?and no.

If you are now scratching your head and wondering ?how do I identify weeds in my yard??, then you have come to the right place because I?m going to tell you.

A weed is simply a plant that is growing where it is not wanted.

If you have a bunch of rogue tomato or squash plants in your garden, they are called ?volunteers?. However, if you have fairly hardy, native, or invasive plants growing where you didn?t plant it, that?s a ?weed.? If you have a few pop up in the middle of the flower bed, that is a ?wildflower.?

They are all the same thing.

Dead Nettle

The reason weeds are seen as a garden problem at times is because they compete with plants who prefer garden space, nutrition, and water. Left to their own devices, the weeds will probably win.

They are stronger, faster-growing, and relentless in the garden. They can come back from a tiny thread of root left behind and bury themselves so deep you will lose your shovel before you get them all. Or, they can grow sideways out under rocks, pots, or landscape fabric.

The seeds can also stay dormant for hundreds of years before the right conditions allow them to germinate.

Amazing, right?

Stinging Nettle

Weeds Aren?t Bad: There Are Many Benefits

Weeds get a bad rap, and I?ll admit, sometimes I?m not thrilled about them either (like when my bindweed tries to claim control over my garden). However, there are a few benefits to weeds:

  • They are an important food source for insects, birds, and wildlife.
  • Many are edible, tasty, nutritious, and medicinal.
  • They cover bare soil quickly, holding in water and nutrition.
  • They can also draw water and nutrients from deep in the soil via those long taproots that make them so hard to pull up.
  • Compost these weeds, and those nutrients will feed your garden.
Crocus Blooming in Sedum

Weed Identification: How to Identify What is a Weed in Your Garden

You can certainly search the web for weed identification and it will bring up plenty of charts. The methods I generally use don?t require any books or a computer screen, though.

In most cases, I will let the plant in question grow and see what happens. If it seems that this little seedling will soon be a monster taking over my beautiful peony, then, yoink! It?s off to the compost bin.

If it?s peppering the lawn with flowers as clover does, I?ll happily leave that for the to enjoy. The bees have enough problems these days without me taking their food sources away.


Identifying Weeds in the Vegetable Garden

In the , I teach children to identify weedlings before they take over the veggie plot.

Generally, if a tidy row of similar-looking greenery is growing in an orderly fashion where you planted some seeds, it?s likely cultivated. You can certainly check a photo of vegetable seedlings on the internet to confirm, but pattern goes a long way here.

Clusters of random-looking greens or sprouts where you didn?t plant seeds are probably wild plants. If you are still in doubt, the wait-and-see method works every time!

This doesn?t mean you need to let your entire garden grow to maturity before you realize that it?s just all buttercup. It?s simply the technique that I use to start identifying what I want and what I don?t want growing in the garden.

There are plenty of plants that aren?t typically characterized as weeds that I rip out of the beds just as quickly as I would some dreaded horsetail. With this, you are learning about your garden, the plants that naturalize there, and their habits.

If you identify a weed that looks beautiful when blooming that you want to keep for a short spell (like those darling forget-me-nots), just be sure to pluck that sucker from the soil before the flowers go to seed. 

Enjoy it while you can, but be ruthless before you have hundreds to contend with!

But maybe you will like that too. It?s all perspective after all.

Plantain Weed Edible Plant

If you struggle with weed identification, I hope this post helped to give you confidence about knowing what is a weed and what is not.

More Reading on Wild Plants and Weeds

Want to embrace the wildness and eat some of the weeds? Check out these posts:

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Have you dreamed of growing a lemon tree but just don?t have the climate for it? Fret no more! Today?s post will share all the tips you need to grow a thriving lemon tree even in cooler climates. Learn why you?d want to grow lemons, if it?s worth the trouble, how to overwinter and care for them, and so much more!

learn how to grow a lemon tree in any climate

Growing Lemon Trees in Cool Climates

I?m sure that you are well aware that lemon trees are subtropical fruit trees, thriving in sunny, warm climates. They are highly sensitive to frost; however, perhaps you did not know that they are also some of the most forgiving citrus trees.

If you?re a fellow cool-climate gardener and you want to level up your mad gardening skills, growing lemon trees is a fantastic way to reach for the stars, or lemons as the case may be. Those who live in warm, sunny areas may not understand, but growing citrus in cool areas (like Canada) is a big deal!

It takes quite a bit of work but we cherish those little lemon trees. In fact, it?s not uncommon to see a lemon tree dressed up with Christmas lights during the holidays. No, not so they are festive, but because that provides a bit of heat to keep them from freezing.

I have a friend on Vancouver island who lives up on a hill where it?s quite sunny. She?s got a uniquely dry, sunny microclimate, and has been trying to grow lemon trees. She did it?her little lemon tree is budding and she?s thrilled!

Naturally growing outside in hardiness zones 9-11, lemon trees can also be grown as container trees indoors to provide you with fresh lemons right at home. Until fairly recently if your garden didn?t fit those conditions, you just had to shelve your dream of having lemon trees. Until now, that is.

A Guide for Growing Lemon Trees in Colder Climates

I?m thrilled to bring you an interview with Steven Biggs, author of . This book is a treasure trove of information that I am positive that you?ll love!

An author and garden master, Steven first made the case for growing fig trees in the colder Canadian climate. Now, he?s back showing us how to grow lemon trees ? and providing amazing tips (and recipes!) too.

I first met Steven when we did a Twitter chat together, after which he and his daughter were kind enough to invite me on their podcast, (). After that, Steven sent me a book he wrote on lemons and I was totally blown away by it! I asked him if he would be kind enough to share some info about his book and growing lemons with you all?and here we are!

I am very happy that Steven tackled this topic because far too often people feel like if they live in a climate where a plant won?t grow naturally, they can?t grow that plant at all. Thankfully as I shared above, it?s not impossible to grow citrus even in the coolest of climates. It just takes a certain know-how coupled with grit and determination.

Read my interview with Steven below to catch some gems that can help you right now. Then grab his book, , as your guide for growing lemons.

Cover of grow lemons where you think you can't by steven biggs

How to Grow a Lemon Tree Where You Think You Can?t

I couldn?t be more tents_2470 excited to share this information-loaded interview with you. Find out more about Steven, , and growing lemons (even in climates you think they won?t grow).

1. Please tell me the story about how you started growing lemons in a cold climate garden. There has to be a story there!

As a student, I spent a summer working at a nursery in England that housed the UK National Collection of Citrus?if you can believe that there?s such a thing! There?s a tradition in the UK of growing potted non-hardy fruit trees?and that summer job introduced me to this tradition, and, in particular, growing citrus in cold climates (and also to figs?but that?s another story).

Fast-forward a few years, and my neighbours, Joe and Gina, asked if I would like their lemon tree when they moved. I was honoured. Joe grew it from a seed in 1967.

My wife, Shelley, was horrified when I put a six-foot-high tree in the window of our tiny living room over the winter?until it started to bloom and the fragrance filled the room!

Potted lemon tree on a patio


2. I know that lemon trees are sun-lovers. Where do lemon trees grow best?

Lemons grow best in full sun. My potted lemon trees hang out on my sunny patio for the summer. Having said that, it?s important to point out that as home gardeners, we don?t always have perfect growing conditions.

I?ve grown my potted lemons in part sun with very good results.

3. What makes homegrown lemons better than store-bought lemons, or bottled lemon juice?

With a store-bought lemon, you get some juice and zest.

With a homegrown lemon, you get:

  • a beautiful container plant
  • fragrant flowers that make your house or patio smell amazing
  • leaves that impart a delicious flavour when you cook with them?and the juice and zest.

Of course, there?s the freshness of the lemon, too, which anyone who has used a shriveled supermarket lemon will understand!

4. Can you grow a lemon tree from seed? How long will it take to fruit if you grow it from seed?

Yes, lemons can easily be grown from seed.

It?s a fun project for kids to help out with as well.

All you need to do is:

  • stick a few seeds into a pot with potting soil
  • bury them a centimetre or two down

However, if your goal is to have fruit as soon as possible, I?d suggest buying a plant. That?s because your lemon seedling will go through a ?juvenile? stage before it flowers and fruits?and that can take a few years.

Flowering lemon tree


5. How long does it take a lemon tree to grow?

Plants you get at a garden centre are reproduced ?asexually,? which simply means that they?re made using wood from a mature plant (usually budding or grafting, like apple trees. )

That means that your little store-bought plant thinks it?s a grownup and is ready to flower right away. How quickly the plant grows depends on the size of the pot it?s given as well if it?s well-fed, and the location.

6. Can you grow a lemon tree indoors? Is it worth the trouble?

Yes, you can grow a lemon tree indoors. It?s worth it if you like the smell of the flowers and cooking with the deliciously fragrant leaves.

I overwintered Joe and Gina?s tree indoors for many years until I changed tactics and started to overwinter it somewhere cold and dark.

Two things to keep in mind if you?re growing indoors:

  1. It?s rarely as bright in front of a window as it is outdoors?and this can be fine for overwintering. But, if there?s an opportunity to move the plant outdoors over the summer, I would recommend doing that.
  2. Hot, dry conditions indoors over the winter (from forced-air heating) can give conditions that are ideal for such as spider mites?so check your plants for pests periodically.

7. What?s the best fertilizer for lemon trees?

Feeding plants is a bit like cooking: Everyone has a personal favourite recipe. Some people like to use specialized formulations for citrus. I?m low fuss when it comes to feeding, so I keep a general-purpose feed that all of my plants get.

The one thing I highly recommend is to look at the fertilizer label to make sure it has micronutrients because that can help prevent a couple of common deficiencies.

Girl holding a large home-grown lemon next to a potted lemon tree.


8. How do you overwinter a lemon tree?

There are so many options. These days, I have a cold greenhouse that gets down to just above freezing in the winter. It?s just fine for citrus.

Before I had a greenhouse, I kept them in my cold, dark garage for the winter. (They?re fine without light when it?s cold?they stop growing.)

As I mentioned above, you can bring the plants indoors for winter. And, my favourite idea (which I can?t use here in Toronto because it?s too cold) for more moderate climates is to cover with a string of insulating lights and an insulating cover for the winter.

I have a friend in North Vancouver who gets a great citrus harvest this way.

9. What are your favourite lemon varieties to grow?

Meyer lemon, hands down. It has a compact, bushy growth that makes it suited to growing in a pot. And it?s amazingly productive. It?s actually a lemon-like citrus relative. The taste is milder than a conventional lemon, and the zest has a wonderful taste. (It makes a fantastic sorbet?see below.)

lemon tree with several lemons blooming in a cluster


10. What are your favourite ways to use homegrown lemons?

Right now it?s BBQ season, so I?m taking lemon leaves, wrapping them around a wedge of haloumi cheese, and then grilling them on the BBQ. You don?t eat the leaf but it imparts a delicious flavour in the cheese (and I suggest haloumi because it keeps its shape when grilled, and doesn?t melt away).

My other favourite is .

11. How cold can lemon trees get over the winter?

Lemons can withstand temperatures slightly below freezing.

A few things affect cold hardiness including:

  • plant age
  • how woody the branches are
  • whether plant growth has already slowed down from cool temperatures

But the main consideration? The fruit freezes at around -3?C?so you?d never want to let the tree get colder than that or you?d lose your fruit.

12. What?s the #1 way to kill a lemon tree?

Overwatering is the number one way to kill your lemon tree. Lemons don?t like sopping wet soil around their roots. If you?re not sure whether to water, stick your finger right into the soil in the pot to get an idea of whether it?s still damp lower down.

Potted lemon plant on a patio


Author Bio

Horticulturist and author Steven Biggs has a passion for incorporating edible crops into the landscape, creating beautiful, edible landscapes with a long and varied harvest. He was recognized by Garden Making magazine as one of the ?green gang? of Canadians making a difference in horticulture. His yard includes a driveway straw-bale garden, rooftop kitchen garden, wicking beds, an edible-themed front yard, and fruit plantings. His book Grow Figs Where You Think You Can?t gives cold-climate gardeners many strategies for successfully growing figs.

Learn more about Steven and grab his book on his website.

I hope you loved learning more about how to grow a lemon tree right at home ? even if you live in a colder climate. I really enjoyed interviewing Steven ? thanks, Steven!

More Growing Guides:

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It?s time to make an old school favourite: homemade ginger ale! If you?ve only ever had the 2-liter bottled version, you are seriously missing out. This version keeps all the medicinal properties of ginger intact for a zesty, fresh beverage. I?m doing a deep dive into how to make your own ginger syrup which you can then use to make ginger ale and a delicious ginger mint lemonade that I know you?ll love.

While I?m not a fan of hot pepper spicy, the warming heat of ginger is totally my jam. Ginger is one of my all-time favourite flavours; I love it in tea, baking, dinner dishes, and above all else, ginger ale.

While most kids don?t like the flavour of ginger ale, I was that odd one who ordered ginger ale at the pizza party when all the other kids were having grape or orange soda.

It might be because I?m Canadian, the home of , which is made with real ginger. I was quite surprised to learn that this delicious drink wasn?t nearly as popular across the border as it is up north.

History of Ginger Ale

As a maker who loves to dig in to learn the ?how-to? on everything (including ), I did a deep dive into making homemade ginger ale.

The Difference Between Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer

While I remember Canada Dry as my first taste of this delightful drink, historically, ginger ale is a fermented beverage ? which is created from the fermentation of ginger and sugar (usually cane sugar or molasses).

Before today?s carbonated sodas were invented, fermented drinks were often brewed at home as a safer (and only mildly alcoholic) alternative to water, which was often contaminated. Ginger Beer, as it was called, was invented in Victorian-era England.

The first ginger ale, a soft drink version with no alcohol, was invented around 1851 in Ireland with the carbonation being created by adding carbon dioxide to the drink. And in 1907, our modern Canada Dry version of ginger ale was created by Canadian pharmacist John McLaughlin.

Organic Ginger Ale Soda in a Glass with Lemon and Lime

What is Ginger?

Originally from Southeast Asia, ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a flowering plant with a thick root that is used as a spice and for medicinal purposes.

Ginger?s rhizome, or root, is the part of the plant that is used for many purposes (see below). Harvest this spice by pulling the entire plant out of the ground after the leaves have died back, removing its leaves, and cleaning the root.

You can use ginger in many different ways such as:

  • Fresh
  • Dried
  • Candied
  • Stored as a spice
  • In a syrup
  • Brewed in tea
  • Topically as an oil (like in a )

Peeled ginger root with lemons and a bottle of ginger syrup in background.

Health Benefits of Ginger

Ginger has anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties that make it very effective for use in medicinal applications.

Chinese medicine has used ginger for thousands of years to:

  • Decrease nausea
  • Assuage digestive disturbances
  • Reduce fever
  • Stimulate and support the digestive, circulatory, reproductive, and immune systems

Here are some of the common uses of ginger today:

Soothes Stomach Upset

Ginger?s gingerol compounds help to relieve nausea and vomiting and aid indigestion.

Reduces Inflammation

Its anti-inflammatory properties help ease joint pain caused by arthritis.

Shortening or Preventing Illness

Its anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties make it effective in the fight against illness such as the and bacterial infections.

Reduce Risk of Cancer

Ginger?s antioxidant properties may help prevent cancer cell growth, making it a potentially powerful aid in preventing cancer.

With all these healing benefits, why not include ginger as part of your diet?

That being said, I like to make this quick ginger ale at home that has the spicy-sweet bite I love, with a simple syrup that can be added to fresh soda.

Bottles with homemade ginger syrup.

How to Make Ginger Syrup

I use , but I usually cook it longer than this recipe calls for.

First, a quick note: This syrup is a bit zippy. If it?s too much for you, and you want to lessen the bite, first blanch the chopped ginger in boiling water. Let it simmer for a minute or two, then drain it and continue with the recipe.

Also, you can peel your ginger or leave it unpeeled. If you leave it unpeeled, your syrup will simply have a darker color.

Ginger Syrup Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces fresh ginger, peeled or unpeeled
  • 2 cups sugar (for a sugar-free version, use ? cup powdered stevia)
  • 4 cups of water
  • Pinch of salt

Ginger Syrup Directions:

  1. Thinly slice the ginger. Then, use your knife to roughly chop it into smaller pieces.
  2. Put ginger, water, sugar, and salt into your pan. Heat on medium-high heat to boiling, then reduce heat to a steady simmer. Cook for about 1 hour.
  3. Let cool and strain your syrup through a fine-mesh strainer. Store your syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. It will keep for about 2 weeks.

3 bottles of ginger and mint lemonade on a tray with a bowl of fresh mint

Homemade Ginger Ale Recipe

Now that you have your ginger syrup, you?re probably wondering how to make ginger ale.

To make ginger ale, combine:

  • ? cup ginger syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups soda water
  • An optional squeeze of lemon or lime

Then, if you want to try something a little different, but equally as tasty, you can also make Ginger Mint Lemonade.

bottles of ginger mint lemonade next to a glass of the lemonade and ice

Ginger Mint Lemonade

You wouldn?t think that mint and citrus would go well together. I mean, have you ever had a glass of orange juice after you brushed your teeth? Thankfully, this recipe is nothing like that!

The spicy yet smooth sweetness of a ginger syrup combined with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and vague mint is a delight that anyone and everyone must taste. It?s tart, sweet, spicy, and fresh all at once.

Ginger Mint Lemonade Ingredients

Note: This lemonade makes 4 servings

  • 4 lemons
  • 1 cup ginger syrup
  • A handful of fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cups of water
  • Ice

Directions To Make Ginger Mint Lemonade

  1. Juice 4 large lemons to yield 1.5 cups of juice.
  2. Add one cup of for this recipe.
  3. Reserve a few sprigs of mint for garnish. Remove the remaining mint leaves and tear them into small pieces.
  4. Grind and bruise the mint leaves in a mortar and pestle to release the oils. Pour a little of the ginger syrup into the mortar and use the pestle to mash the leaves.
  5. Pour all of the ingredients together into a large pitcher and stir well. Use a fine-mesh sieve to strain out the pulp, seeds, and leaves.
  6. Serve over ice with a sprig of mint.

a glass of ginger mint lemonade and ice in front of bottles of lemonade

And that?s it. I told you this would be a deep dive into making ginger ale. I hope that you love this recipe for homemade ginger ale and ginger mint lemonade as much we do!

If You Love This, You?ll Love These Other Recipes From the Garden:

Peeled ginger root with lemons and a bottle of ginger syrup in background.
5 from 2 votes

Homemade Ginger Ale Syrup

Use this zesty, sweet ginger ale syrup to create a DIY ginger ale or a refreshing ginger lemonade.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 5 mins
Keyword: ginger ale, ginger syrup


Ginger Ale Syrup

  • 8 oz fresh ginger peeled or unpeeled
  • 2 cups sugar can sub for 1/3 cup powdered stevia
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 pinch salt

Homemade Ginger Ale

  • 1/4 cup ginger syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups soda water
  • squeeze of lemon or lime optional


How To Make Ginger Syrup

  • Slice your ginger into thin pieces, then chop into small pieces.
  • Place all ingredients into a pan. Heat over medium until it boils.
  • Reduce to a rolling simmer, then cook for one hour.
  • Let the ginger ale syrup cool, then strain it.
  • When stored properly in the fridge, this syrup will last two weeks.

How To Make Homemade Ginger Ale

  • Combine all of the ingredients together.
  • Add a couple of ice cubes if necessary.

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