difference between weeds and flowers

What’s the actual difference between a weed and a flower?

Is there a difference between a weed and a flower, other than what an individual gardener thinks is a good or bad plant? My neighbor and I were debating this the other day.

—Dena Jefferson, Highland Park

My definition of a weed is a plant that is growing where it is not wanted in the garden. That said, there are plants like creeping Charlie that would be considered weeds, pretty much no matter where they are growing. Different gardeners will have alternate ideas as to what constitutes a “weed” in their gardens. For example, are violets in the lawn weeds or interesting spring color accents? Or is white clover in the lawn a weed or a great plant for attracting pollinators like bees?

There is a biological difference between a weedy plant and an invasive plant. Weedy plants readily spread (some ornamental plants can be weedy/aggressive in the garden too), especially in disturbed areas, but generally do not pose a threat to the integrity of native plant communities. Invasive plants are usually non-native and are able to establish themselves within existing native plant communities; they threaten the integrity of the plant community by taking over and pushing out native plants. When plants are introduced to a new location, either intentionally or accidentally, they can spread prolifically, outcompete native species for resources and eventually even dominate the landscape. Buckthorn is an example of an invasive plant in the Chicago area that creates a dense thicket and shades other plants out.

Different gardeners will have alternate ideas as to what constitutes a “weed” in their gardens. However, there is a biological difference between a weedy plant and an invasive plant.

What’s The Difference Between Weeds and Flowers?

It can be difficult to tell at first. A flower is simply the seed-bearing part of any plant, meaning that certain weeds are technically also flowers.

A weed can be any plant that is not wanted in a garden or yard and is usually bad news because they can be invasive, meaning they spread everywhere very quickly, in addition to taking away crucial resources from the plants that you do want to keep.

Some weeds even have a flowery appearance that provides an aesthetic that might make someone want to keep it in their garden, while many other weeds have a much more unattractive appearance and are unwanted entirely.

Wait till the plant blossoms or flowers so that you can properly identify it and determine whether or not it is something you wish to either keep or remove.

Plants and Weeds: A Closer Look

Invasive Plants

All invasive plants are some type of weed and are also the type of plants that most gardeners try to avoid for several reasons.

The problem with invasive plants is that they often spread very quickly, and produce many seeds along the way.

This often causes them to harm native species of plants because of how quickly they spread and how much seed they produce, creating more and more of the invasive plant, drowning out any good plants close to them.

This can provide a challenge to any gardener, requiring them to maintain their flower beds more frequently to keep them out of their garden and also keep them from taking away essential nutrients needed by the desired plants in a garden.

Examples of common invasive plants would include honeysuckle, buckthorn, and hogweed, to name a few.


Similar to invasive plants, weeds can spread very quickly. However, they do not pose as great of a threat to native plants that invasive plants do.

While invasive plants can actually be harmful and bad for other plants, weeds are more of a nuisance or inconvenience than anything, but can similarly steal nutrients from other plants if there are too many of them.

The negative connotation often associated with weeds is typically attributed to the unattractive aesthetic that they often provide, especially in gardens where they can ruin the overall look of the garden itself among the plants that you’ve actually planted and organized.

Weeds can usually be broken down into three categories. These include broadleaf weeds, grass-like weeds, and lawn weeds.

Common weeds include plants like prickly lettuce, crabgrass, and poison ivy, amongst others.


The vast majority of flowers are of course desired in any garden.

Flowers are the blossom/bloom of a plant and the reproductive organism of the overall organism itself.

Beware of weeds that can end up flowering and thus appear to be attractive, beautiful flowers but in reality are weeds that can spread all over your garden or yard.

Sowthistles and dandelions are good examples of this because they have an attractive aesthetic, but are actually weeds that can prove detrimental to other plants.

This may not be a concern for some of the weeds do not have an unattractive look to them, but it’s best for the other, more important plants that you do wish to keep to have enough resources to sustain themselves, so ideally all weeds should be removed from gardens to keep them healthy.

Do your research online to distinguish good flowers vs bad ones, as well as identifying flowers that may be endangered and thus you should keep, or harmful invasive plants that you will want to get rid of. Native and endangered flowers can be easily found online per state or region, with pictures and descriptions to help you identify the specific type.

Preventing Weeds

Having weeds in an area typically indicates that there is some sort of problem with the maintenance of the plants in that area, whether that’s uneven watering, over-acidity in the soil, or a lack of fertilizer.

Herbicides can be very harmful to other plants in your garden or yard, so it’s important to only use herbicides in areas entirely populated with weeds. This can be avoided by weeding by hand, and completely digging out the roots. This does not always guarantee that the weed will not grow back, meaning weed-control may require ongoing-maintenance.

When weeding by hand, wear gloves to avoid the risks posed by poisonous plants and plants that can make you itch.

By taking good care of your soil, you are decreasing the likelihood that weeds will grow in your garden or yard.

Mapping Your Garden

By mapping out both what you planted and where when you first start a garden, you are able to use that map as a reference and identify locations where you planted something, and simply remove anything where you did not map something, because that means it is some form of plant that is unwanted, regardless of the type.

This is recommended to anyone starting a garden. Not only does it help you keep track of the different types of plants that you have planted, but it also serves to effectively identify unwanted plants that grow in spots where you did not originally plant anything. This makes it easy to keep your garden healthy and get rid of plants that harm the nutrition of your garden.


While it may not be obvious at first glance, there are many factors that help indicate whether a plant is a weed or flower, or more importantly, whether it is a good or bad plant, as some flowers can be types of weeds for example.

Wait for a plant to blossom before removing it so that you can first identify if it is an invasive plant, flower, weed, native plant, or endangered plant, and then act accordingly.

Mapping out your garden can be very helpful in distinguishing between weeds and other unwanted plants in your garden or a specific area.

It can be difficult to tell at first. A flower is simply the seed-bearing part of any plant, meaning that certain weeds are technically also flowers.