I've just moved into a new house with a garden. Woohoo!

It's about 7m x 15m with a lot of borders, all of which are heavily overgrown. I've started to go through the borders weeding them, but I really don't have much experience, so I don't recognise a lot of the plants. And I don't want to rip out things that would be nice to keep.

What options are there, for me to identify plants (probably common plants!) that I don't recognise, or do recognise but don't know anything about, other than asking other people what they are. (Whether that's on here, or asking neighbours/family/local horticultural communities)

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    Not gonna lie, from the title I thought you were trying to learn what the plants used to identify themselves and I'm like I don't think plants think that way but who knows.
    – corsiKa
    May 11 '20 at 22:21

Traditionally, botanists and hobbyists used plant keys to at least narrow down an identification. Here's an example of one for the NE US: Go Botany plant key. When using a key, you follow a path towards (one hopes) success by answering a series of questions about the plant. These are easier done if the plant is blooming than only in leaf (or twig). A downside of keys is that they're region-specific; it may be difficult to find one for your area (check University sites; horticulture or botany departments may have written their own keys for your area).

There are also sources that allow you to upload photos and get an ID, but I just tried one (PictureThis) and didn't get good results for an uncommon but sold-in-the-nursery-trade plant, so I suspect only the most common plants will be in these databases. Still, they may be helpful.

There are also apps that work similar to the photo-ID applications. Here's one (Plant Snap) that I haven't tried (my phone is only a phone and doesn't use apps).

Finally, if you're stumped on an ID, we're always ready to help here. Just include at least a couple of photos (flower or leaf close up and the plant from a distance so that we can see the form).

I'm glad thatyou're willing to take the trouble to identify things before pulling them - it would make the gardener who planted them very happy to know that their plants are in good hands.


In addition to @Jurp's comprehensive answer(+1), you may well find that a knowledge of botanical terms is a very handy asset. It might seem tedious to have to know what a "petiole" is or "fastigiate" or "sessile" or "cordate" but all of these terms come in very handy when doing searches, not only of plant keys but also of Google image search. If you have a photo of the plant you can do a search for similar images but it will produce an extensive list of possible matches; if you can add a text term from the botanical description you think applies then this narrows down the list of possibles considerably.

If you have the patience and determination start building a collection of pressed flowers, leaves and stems from your garden noting on the botanical sheet all the technical terms that apply. You will soon learn to associate shapes and characteristics with the strange terms involved.

  • Excellent idea, Colin! Learning the botanical names is also a good idea (you'll be able to pick them up as you look up plants) so that you can differentiate between plants better. For example, I know of at least four plants called "pincushion flowers", but they don't all look alike or have the same plant habits or needs (Armeria needs better drainage than Knautia, for example).
    – Jurp
    May 11 '20 at 21:58
  • I prefer taking a picture with my smartphone and then use Google Lens instead of a reverse image search. At least for me, it yields much less results which are more precise.
    – Blutkoete
    May 12 '20 at 9:29

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