Weeds: Friends or Foes?

By Victoria Fuller

“Weed” be silly to completely get rid of our weeds!

As avid gardeners the first thing we think of when we hear the word “weeds” is “oh no!”. Weeds are associated with all of the negative aspects of gardening: they are “ugly” (at least according to common opinion), invasive, useless, relentless, annoying, and overall terrible…or are they?

Firstly, let’s “dig” into what actually are weeds? According to the good old Merriam-Webster dictionary, a “weed” is defined as “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth. Especially: one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants.” Now this does not exactly paint the weed with a particularly favourable brush, what chance does the noble weed have of ever shaking off its negative reputation when the literal DICTIONARY is describing it in such a way? There is unfortunately no denying that weeds can be a complete nuisance, they are invasive, they can harbour problematic insects, they interfere with harvesting, they can compete with favourable plants for nutrients, space, light, and water, and sadly the list truly does go on and on.

Although it’s pretty clear why weeds have earned their horrible reputation, in honour of the recent “national weed appreciation day” we thought we would shed a little light on some of the positive sides to the world of weeds! Here are 7 (of many) reasons why weeds may not be the villain of the garden that we have been lead to believe:

  1. Weeds are incredibly resilient and adaptable, they are able to grow and thrive in habitats where other plants simply wouldn’t stand a chance. Certain weeds (such as Crabgrass) thrive in the cold and can grow in extremely low temperatures, also there are many weeds who only need the smallest amount of space to thrive (picture a Dandelion blooming in a sidewalk crack: a nuisance? Perhaps. A nice reminder that nature will find a way no matter what? Absolutely.
  2. Weeds provide food and habitats for a plethora of animals including many who rely on them entirely (such as the Monarch Butterfly, whose larvae feed exclusively on the leaves of the Milkweed, a wildflower which falls under the category of “weed” even though it’s beautiful AND useful!)
  3. Weeds can add substantial organic matter to soil with their rapid rate of growth and their overall life-cycles. When weeds decompose they can help regenerate soil by bringing water and nutrients back to the surface of the soil.
  4. Weeds can be a fantastic indicator on the phosphorus levels in soil, for example: Dandelions do not grow well in soil with low potassium, Daisies (English or Ox-eye) can be an excellent indicator of acidic soil.
  5. An all-weed garden can be a feature unto itself! Daisies, Clover, and Goldenrod are some of the most notable beautiful weeds. Not every weed is a spiky, aggressive and conventionally unpleasant addition to your garden, so remember to have an open mind when addressing your weeds.
  6. Weeds provide a haven for pollinators such as bees, in fact there is actually a weed for every season that will help our pollinating friends: in Spring - Dandelions, in Summer - Ground Ivy, Autumn - Comfrey, and in Winter - Stinking Hellebore.
  7. Some weeds can be included in recipes and have been known to have healing and medicinal properties! Think Dandelion and Chamomile teas! Dandelion and Chickweed can also make great accompaniments to a variety of recipes such as salads, tempuras, and omelettes!

So there we have it, next time you are thinking of blitzing your garden and scorching the earth of your local weeds, perhaps think of if there is a way that you could repurpose them, or give a little thought to all of the good that they are doing instead of just the evil that we tend to fixate on.

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