In the Garden, When Are Flowers Weeds?

When is an absolutely beautiful flower really a weed? Well, let me tell you about a few that grow in my garden!

The number one problem flower at our home is the Shirley Poppy. It’s a self seeding annual that has followed us from home to home the past fifteen or so years. A friend gave me seeds in a film canister many years ago. She told me to throw them on the ground in late fall to early winter and wait for the spring show. I did that and the poppies came in March the following year (and they were spectacular!)—and every year thereafter. Now I give seeds to friends, family and perfect strangers!

There are two issues with self seeding annuals like the Shirley Poppy. Number one they may come up where they are not wanted which qualifies them as a weed. Number two the Shirley Poppy only blooms two to three weeks then continues to hoard water, air, light and soil space from other heat loving annuals which have self seeded and want to get started. This requires a major effort from my husband and me to pull each one by hand and throw them on the compost pile. They are gorgeous and really make a statement in our three quarter acre flower garden but next year I think they will get the hula hoe treatment at the seedling stage.

The second problem flower is also pink, the Mexican Primrose. This flower can make anyone look like they have a green thumb. It flourishes in good or poor soil, requires very little water, and blooms from early spring to the first hard frost. If it sounds too good to be true, it is! This flower also followed us through two moves by hitching a ride in a favorite plant we couldn’t leave behind. It reproduces with underground runners that send up flower shoots continually. It can overtake an orderly flowerbed in one season. We plan to contain it along the driveway where nothing else seems to grow.

Another beautiful heat loving, drought tolerant flower that could become a problem in limited space is the Mexican Petunia or Ruellia brittoniana. This is a very hardy, drought tolerant, disease and pest resistant perennial. I have the blue woody variety which gets three to four feet tall and wide and spreads by underground runners and wherever else a branch touches the ground. This variety is on the invasive flower list for all of Florida. It’s a definite show stopper though with its pretty trumpet flowers from spring until frost.

One of my favorites which my husband considers a weed is the sunflower. I buy seeds of all colors and sizes and most of them come back every year. He thinks all sunflowers are like the ones that reseed freely along highways and other places they aren’t wanted. I agree to put mine at the back of flower beds and away from pathways and his lawn and he agrees not to spray them with roundup.

I planted seeds of lime green Nicotiana about three years ago. They have migrated to every flower bed on the farm. We also have a white variety which may be a variation of the original lime green. This plant has beautiful, fragrant flowers and blooms from early spring until frost. One drawback is it gets so tall and heavy with flowers it falls over. It does not lend itself well to staking.

Orange and yellow Calendula are prolific in all our gardens. They bloom almost nonstop year-round so it’s hard not to love them. When little else is blooming in December and January we have a sea of orange and yellow just outside our windows. However, they freely self seed and I think they could become a problem if we aren’t careful.

Other plants that can be problematic are the California poppy or sweet woodruff, or most groundcovers.

In closing, most gardeners know that a weed is a plant or flower that grows prolifically where it’s not wanted and competes with wanted plants. It pays to sometimes be careful when adding a plant to your garden that easily self-seeds or readily spreads by underground tubers or roots.

The Master Gardeners will be live to answer your questions at two upcoming events: May 8, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Luis Nursery in Visalia; and June 5, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Ace Hardware in Visalia. You can contact them at 559-684-3325, or visit their web site at

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