Wildflower vs. Weed

 Many people love the look of a prairie-style or native garden, where they let wildflowers grow wild. The question many gardeners face is how to keep this style going? How do you determine what is a wildflower, growing as it would in a prairie, and what is a weed? 

A lot of people define a weed as anything that is growing where you don’t want something to grow. In fact, Webster’s dictionary defines it as “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth.”

Based on this definition, you can think of any beautiful flower that creeps into your lawn as a weed. The common blue violet often spread into someone’s lawn, but is not usually welcome.  It is, however, planted in beds as a beautiful perennial. So while it is a weed in your lawn, in a garden bed it would be considered a flower.

While weeds can be beautiful flowers, they are seen as a weed due to the location they’re growing, the habit they are growing in, and how easily they can be to get rid of. Wherever weeds grow, they are in competition for nutrients, sunlight and water with your other plants.  They take all of these things away from the area, which is why they are undesirable.

Weeds can also host diseases that then spread to your plants.  Mildew is one that I often spot on weeds in my garden.  Not only do weeds hog the good stuff like sunlight, but they can share the bad stuff like diseases and pests.

Another attribute of weeds, is that they are often vigorous in growth.  They steal the necessities for growing from the plants around them and grow like crazy, invading your garden and choking out other plants.  Because of their growing habits, they can be difficult to eradicate.  It doesn’t help that some weeds, like dandelions, spread their seeds by air, while other vining weeds have runners that are hard to dig up.

Finally, wildflowers may be considered weeds in one region and flowers in another.  Depending on the region you live in, you may consider the same plant a wildflower or a weed.  This again goes back to where it is growing for you, the habit it is growing in, and if it is desirable. A great way to define the difference of a wildflower vs. a weed is whether or not it is a nuisance.

So after all of the deciding factors are looked at, wildflowers can be weeds and vice versa.  When growing a wildflower or native garden, it is important to keep the plants that have the most attractive display of flowers for your garden.  It is recommended to avoid more invasive species, just so you won’t be having to pull them out of your yard as they spread beyond your garden edge. 

A few of these choice wildflowers are perennials like gaillardia, Echinacea, rudbeckia, daises, asters, liatris and coreopsis.  For more native plants to Illinois, check out this great link.

Christian Goers