Look at that beautiful weather. Spring flowers are blooming, trees are leafing out. All of this can all only mean one thing: Weeds. The weeds are back in all of their glory and majesty. Huzzah and jubilation!
I recognize that in written form, you may assume I’m being sarcastic, but let me assure you, weeds (or more precisely, the fantastic plants we’ve decided are weeds) are wonderful and will do you and the ecosystem far more good than harm. And, yes, I realize that this is an unpopular opinion, but what good is a columnist that only tells you things you want to hear? It can actually be fun to get a new perspective on the world, so let’s dive in.
Let’s talk weeds. Specifically, let’s talk about the somewhat invasive species that love to pop up where you least want or expect them. I’m not talking about actual invasive species that are non-native and destructive; I’m talking dandelions, violets, lamb’s quarter, clover, creeping Charlie, wild plantain — the list goes on.
These sweet babies have been given an unfair reputation for a few reasons, one simply being that we’ve decided controlling our environment is better than working with it. Another reason being that we are more than a little obsessed with the perfect lawn as featured in the American Dream™.
We tend to take lawns for granted. We treat them as a necessary part of the aesthetics that go into creating a good life. Houses that have spotty or weedy lawns are seen as eyesores.
And, I get it. I have been that person, judging people based on their front lawns. But outside of aesthetics, what do lawns do? They make extra work for us, they over-tax the soil, they require pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that can have huge negative effects on the local ecosystem, and they take up space where native, more beneficial plants could be growing.
Am I saying you should go rip out your lawn right now and turn your yard into a nature preserve? No. (Unless that’s your thing.) But one thing we can do to begin letting go of the strangle-hold we have on the environment is to let weeds grow in our lawns and gardens.
What are weeds for? Until recently, I didn’t see them as having a particular purpose, but I was happily taught otherwise.
Weeds are nature’s way of healing itself. They are quite literally there to help. They are drawn to poor soil — soil that is often compacted, recently disturbed or lacking in nutrients. Weeds with short or clumping roots like violets and clover help with erosion control and provide nutrients. Weeds with long taproots like dandelion and wild plantain will loosen hard, compacted dirt, drawing nutrients up from deep in the earth and storing them in their leaves.
When they die back, those nutrients go right into the soil. This is where their short life-cycles become so beneficial. They can come back again and again, gifting the soil with new nutrients when they die.
Many of my clever readers will have noticed where I’m going with this. If weeds are drawn to poor soil, and they pop up in gardens and lawns all the time, one might begin to suspect that their lawns and gardens are unhealthy or nutrient poor in some way. And those people would be right.
There’s a reason that we used to sell grass seed with clover seed mixed in. Grass gobbles up the nitrogen from the soil, clover puts it back. So let the clover and the violets and the chickweed be. You can mow them when you mow the lawn, and leave the clippings to enrich the soil. If you have a huge patch of violets where grass won’t even grow, then get excited! That means nature is doing it’s thing; it’s healing.
When you kill or pull weeds out of your lawn and garden, you’re not only halting the healing process, you’re actually taking whatever nutrients those plants had stored out of the local ecosystem altogether. Now, this doesn’t mean I think weeds should just be allowed to overtake a garden and smother our plants. We can work with them.
If you trim beneficial weeds back every month or so, leaving the leaves to decompose back into the soil, you will allow the plant to survive and continue bringing much-needed nutrients to the surface, putting out new leaves that you can then work right back into your dirt.
However, if you have something that gets too over-zealous, like some vining weeds or truly invasive plants, by all means remove it. Just recognize that gardening naturally takes nutrients from the soil and it has to replenish itself somehow.
Rather than always buying chemicals and nutrients to put into the soil, you can get out of the way and let the system work. We can provide a guiding hand without always having to fight with nature to get what we want.
So let’s show these weeds a little more love. We get to decide what looks good, and a mono-culture lawn doesn’t have to be our ideal anymore. I personally think most weeds are absolutely darling. And if you can’t get past the aesthetic, think of the soil, and your garden, and the pollinators, and local wildlif, and the ecosystem in general.
For that matter, think of yourself. Every weed I’ve mentioned in this article is at least partly edible and most of them are medicinal. Weeds are the gift that just keep giving.
If you’re interested in learning more about how weeds help us, check out these two articles: tenthacrefarm.com/5-weeds-you-want-in-your-garden/ and tenth acrefarm.com/when-weeds-are-good/. I found them wonderfully informative and even drew some inspiration from them.