Weeds. We’ve all heard the saying, “One person’s weed is another person’s wildflower, ” (Susan Wittig Albert), but who are we kidding? If the gardener didn’t plant it, it’s a weed. And seriously, we’ve spent our gardening careers pulling them. Why would we allow some to stay in the garden? For several reasons.
Weeds are the plant that keeps barren soil in place. Think of how much topsoil hasn’t eroded or blown away due to the presence of weeds. If you have a bare spot in the garden and the weeds growing there aren’t noxious (ivy, poison ivy, etc.), consider letting them stay to help with run-off, but don’t let them go to seed. Their purpose isn’t to take over, only to be helpful while they can.
Some weeds (dandelions, thistle, Queen Anne’s lace) have developed taproots that reach far down into compacted, clay or hardpan soils, breaking up the soil and creating room for root growth and air exchange. If you till them into the soil, the nutrients they accumulated are beneficial to topsoil. They also act as a wick for water from deep reserves. Leave a few every few feet in your more compacted areas of the garden. Again, don’t let them go to seed.
Some weeds attract beneficial pests to the garden and even repel a few non-beneficial ones. Studies aren’t conclusive, so experiment on your own, but Queen Anne’s lace is said to be a host for ladybugs, and milkweed repels wireworm. Use lambs-quarters to lure leafminers away from your spinach, and dandelions to draw honey-bees. And, it bears repeating, don’t let them go to seed. (You’re getting the point of it by now.)
Weeds are good indicators of what’s happening in your soil. Remember, all weeds like good, nutrient-rich soil, but when you see chickweed, knotweed, dandelion and nettle, the chances are the soil is compacted and nutrient deficient. Weeds can help identify soil issues, and often changing your fertilizing program gets rid of the weeds. Check here to see what your weeds are telling you about your soil.
Five Weeds that Can Be Beneficial
Written by Cinthia Milner, landscape consultant, and blog writer.
B.B. Barns serves Western North Carolina, Tennessee, and South Carolina.