Texas AgriLife Extension Service,
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

November-December 2009

Is This A Weed? Differentiating Cottage Garden Seedlings From Surrounding Weeds

William C. Welch, Professor & Landscape Horticulturist
Texas Agrilife Extension Service,

From first to last: bluebonnet seedling, coreopsis seedling, larkspur seedling, nicotiana (ornamental tobacco) seedling, petunia seedling, viola seedling
bluebonnet seedling coreopsis seedling larkspur seedling nicotiana seedling petunia seedling viola seedling
from first to last: antique petunias, colored tobacco, larkspur, sweet peas, painted lady and cuponi
antique petunias colored tobacco larkspur sweet peas, painted lady and cuponi

The much needed rains of fall have arrived and along with cooler nights we are in the middle of a great fall growing season. Ever blooming roses are in full color along with summer annuals like zinnias and marigolds. These “ideal” growing conditions are also encouraging a host of weeds and cool season annuals. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference. Let’s take a look at some of the “good guys” like larkspur, poppies, French hollyhocks, flowering tobacco, coreopsis, bluebonnets, sweet peas, old fashioned petunias and violas. By identifying these, dividing them and providing some cultivation and care they can be a great source of color for your late winter and spring garden.

Reseeding annuals are like old friends that come back to see you each year. They like your garden so much that they keep coming back. Petunias are among the most useful. Hybrids can be spectacular but the old, single flowering types are more heat resistant and have a wonderful fragrance. Colors include white, pink, purple, lavender and stripes. They all seem to blend together and make individual masses about 18-24” tall and wide. Petunias prefer at least a half day of direct sunlight and well-drained soils. Larkspur are spike flowers that come in double and single flowering form. Pink, rose, white, purple and variegated flowers are available. Usually once planted, larkspur will reliable return each year. Ornamental poppies are old time favorites in both single and double flowering forms. Some are so showy that they almost take the place of tulips in warm climates. French hollyhocks (Malva zebrina) have spikes of purple and white striped flowers amid masses of dark green foliage. Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sp.) come in cool white forms as well as greenish, dark rose, purple and lavender. Some are highly fragrant, especially at night. Bluebonnets have expanded their color range from blue to pink, white and almost red. They require a sunny well-drained location and prefer alkaline soils. Coreopsis (C. grandiflora) is often sowed along Texas highways. It is a tough and flashy yellow-flowered spring wildflower that usually makes a rounded plant about 2’ tall.

Old fashioned sweet peas such as ‘Cupani’ and ‘Painted Lady’ are tough enough to come back on their own and have a wonderful fragrance. They need support from a fence, trellis or similar structure. They also like a sunny location and well-prepared soil. Violas such as the old fashioned “Johnny-jump-ups” with their charming faces and small blooms are also fragrant. Unlike their later cousins the pansies, these little violas reseed readily.

The accompanying illustrations may help you differentiate returning desirable annuals from weeds. A frequent mistake is to leave the seedlings too crowded which reduces their vigor and effectiveness in the garden. Single seedlings may be dipped out with the tip of a trowel and placed in a well-prepared bed. Work several inches of organic material such as composted pine bark or your own leaf mold into the soil along with about 5 pounds of cotton seed meal or alfalfa meal for every 100 square feet of bed area.

Arrange the plants in drifts (elongated mass) of at least 8 or 10 individuals. Larkspur, poppies, violas and bluebonnets should be spaced about 6” apart while flowering tobacco, coreopsis, petunias and French hollyhocks do better with about a foot between individual plants. Be sure to water the transplanted seedlings every day or two for the first week or ten days. Apply water soluble fertilizer about every three weeks.

If you don’t see any likely transplants coming up now is a great time to purchase and plant seeds. They should germinate quickly producing seedlings for leaving in place or transplanting within a few weeks.

EarthKind uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum gardening and landscape performance while preserving and protecting the environment. For more information on EarthKind Landscape Management Practices see our website: https://earthkind.tamu.edu