Protected by a blanket of snow, weed seeds and some seedlings survive a Midwest winter and burst forth at the first sign of marginally decent growing conditions. Now is the time to learn all about the weeds that can threaten the success of your favorite garden plants. Just as knowing how a tomato plant grows and develops from seed to tasty tomato, knowing how weeds germinate, grow and propagate will help you stop the spread of these pesky plants before they take over your garden.

Even in April, there are weeds to be identified and dug. Perhaps I should say especially in April, because there are few vegetables that are volunteering in our gardens. In the flower bed, weeds can sprout and spread quickly enough to block the development of perennials or volunteer seedlings. It is critical to know what the seedlings look like so we don’t pull perennials too.

There are some weeds that are fairly common in all of our gardens. Included in this list are field bindweed, quickweed (Galinsoga), dandelion, creeping charlie (ground ivy) and quackgrass. But there are many, many others that we might not recognize. Fortunately, the Internet provides some excellent sites to help us.

I like to start at this site hosted by Rutgers University, What I like best about it is that you can browse color photos that enlarge when clicked. This may help in identifying weeds you recognize from last season. Most of the photos I looked at showed the more mature plants but often you see a seedling. But that is no problem. Once you have identified the name of the weed in question, zip on over to University of California’s Integrated Pest Management site at Here the first step is to identify the plant as a broadleaf, grass or sedge. If you don’t know the answer, simply click on the list of plant names and choose the one pictured on the Rutgers site. Click the name you want and up pops a world of information including a plant description, habitat information, description of the seedling state as well as the mature plant, flowering information, seed information and reproduction methods along with photos of most of those stages. Pay close attention to the seedling stage for the best identification this time of the year.

If you prefer printed material, Michigan State University has a superb publication for only $5. Officially known as bulletin NCR607, and titled “Common Weed Seedlings of the North Central States,” this publication includes 54 of the most common problem weed species in the North Central Region. Although the publication does not seem available in digital format, you can preview the booklet and see the information on 18 out of the 54 plants. The photos are very informative with clear color snaps of both the seedling stage as well as the mature plant. This could be the only publication you need. To order call 517-432-1859 or 800-709-9195 or order from the online store at To preview the book, see

Many weeds can be mulched out of existence but some, including bindweed and quackgrass, thrive on mulch, creating a thick mat of roots that sprawl outward until they find light and then sprout. But a layer of mulch in the garden can cut down on the majority of weeding tasks when compared to leaving the earth bare. Learn how your weeds grow and how to contain them. Start early for the best success in combating those weeds this season.

Beverly Carney can be reached at cultivating