To a gardener, it’s a disgusting word. A word that represents constant struggle and frustration. A word that goes against a well kept, groomed garden. Many of us wish our vegetable gardens were half as hardy and persistent.
But weeds aren’t all bad. In fact, they can provide many benefits to a garden, whether by telling us something about the soil or filling a physical need. They may be frustrating at times, but like many plants, weeds come with their fair share of benefits. Here are seven things you probably didn’t know about weeds:
- Removing weeds can cause more harm than good to the soil, since it leaves soil bare and vulnerable to erosion. When other plants, such as grass, might die off, weeds are hardy and stay to protect the soil.
- Weeds absorb moisture from the air. This moisture is then sent down through the roots, helping to break up soil. This is particularly beneficial to plants like corn and tomatoes, which have weaker roots. Through this process, nutrients are also drawn closer to the surface of the soil, making them available to shallow-rooted plants.
- Chopping down weeds and leaving them in the soil can provide valuable organic matter and nutrients, contributing to the composting process—so long as they are cut before seeds develop (otherwise, you’ll get a whole lot more weeds!)
- Weeds often indicate soil conditions. Like other plants, they have preferred conditions, which includes factors like pH level, moisture, and soil compaction. Some weeds also indicate how fertile soil is. For example, clover will often grow in low-fertility areas, while nettles will sprout in high-fertility areas.
- Weeds can repel certain pests, so they can be an effective (and organic) way to keep out unwanted plant-eaters. Ground ivy repels cabbage worms, cucumber beetles, and tomato hornworms. Likewise, weeds can also attract pests since they are often edible and provide nutrients. This will draw those pests away from your own garden.
- Just as weeds protect soil, they can also protect habitats for many animals, insects, and soil microbes. They provide ground and tree cover, pollen, nectar, and nutrients for many creatures.
- Many weeds are actually edible plants. For example, Lamb Quarters (wild spinach) can be eaten like spinach and includes more nutrients. Just don’t eat it in from a contaminated area, as it absorbs soil pollutants.