Updated: Aug 14
Weeding in your garden?
Maybe you shouldn't.
Contrary to our decades-long battle against weeds, such as in lawns and in gardens (and especially where I live in America)…
…most weeds are around for a (natural) reason.
No, I’m not saying you should let weeds crowd out and choke your plants! (That’s not good, either).
As with many topics, we want to approach it with nuance as best we can, and recognize that if we allow some weeds to dwell near garden beds or on the lawn, they might provide benefits that get easily overlooked (beyond the obvious beneficial pollinators).
You may be doing a double take right now. How could weeds possibly be beneficial?
Especially plants like dandelion and even (gulp) thistle?
If you’ve got a green thumb, a lawn care passion, a landscaping hobby, or if you only garden from time to time, here are the top benefits of weeds that you need to know…
…so you can spend more time doing the more enjoyable stuff, while letting the wild green things do their beneficial stuff.
Good advice for gardeners: why kill weeds in your garden, only to leave the soil open and barren?
While gardeners (and farmers, too) can get stuck on having neat, clean, and bare soil come winter— or when their plots are not in use…
…this can cause erosion during hard rains and floods, which makes you lose topsoil, soil life, and amazing nutrients for your plants next year!
Instead of cleaning up, let some of the low-lying weeds hold the soil in place. The root systems are doing Nature's work underground.
Clumpy weeds like chickweed and ground ivy can be ideal to keep around for this.
Soil compaction is the worst enemy of gardeners and farmers.
That means soil is so pressured and hardened that water and roots have a tough time working their way through.
While sprouting weeds around your young plants can be terrible in some ways, they can be amazing allies against soil compaction on the other hand!
Next time you’re eyeing some weeds and thinking it’s their time to go…
…think twice about if your soil is nutrient deficient, compact, or if there are hard pan issues.
Weeds with very long taproots are amazing at paving the way for next year’s plants, and these include dandelion, sow thistle, and even cockleburs (a.k.a. burdock).
Helpful cover (and doing the weeding for you!)
Yep: you heard me right— some plants can help you cut down on weeding!
Especially if you struggle with grasses (the bane of gardeners)….
…there are some plants you should keep around, which can help fight and outcompete these peskiest of weeds such as on garden borders, paths, and right in your lawn (if you’re wishing for a more biodiverse lawn, that is).
These weeds accomplish this by having wide, thick leaves that overshadow grasses and lateral roots that spread quickly, easily choke out grasses (both horizontally and vertically) if you encourage them to stick around.
Some great examples are (again) dandelion, red (or white) clover, violets, and purslane (which is also delicious by the way!)
Oh, and of course, that’s another perk too…
….many "weeds" are edible, too (but be careful and make sure you know what you're considering ingesting, or speak with a qualified herbalist or native plant expert in your region before you go randomly experimenting).
Are Weeds Really 'Bad'?
We should always remember that the concept of a "weed" is a human idea...
A belief that one plant is more desirable than another, can sometimes come from a short-sighted approach, focused solely on productivity specifically for human consumption or extraction.
Nature thrives from biodiversity and while some plants can be detrimental if not kept in check, it may be helpful to consider the possibility that the certain plants may be serving more important roles in the ecosystem than our human minds can even comprehend.
If they arrived on site, the system may have "called them in".
There may be a function they are playing, or a 'role' they have in the succession of the ecosystem.
Humility is key. We must not pretend we understand the complexity to Nature's system. We must work with Nature and listen to her as well.
I'd love to hear from the community:
How have you found weeds to sometimes be beneficial?
Are there certain plants described as weeds that have helped your garden, farm, or ecosystem at large?
Are there certain weeds you've used for their nutritional or healing potential?