I like to maintain a fairly neat lawn and I work on balancing my gardening style with aesthetics. Okay, I want to maintain a fairly neat lawn and balance my gardening style with aesthetics. It does not seem to be happening so far this year. Despite that, I want to come out in defense of a few maligned plants, aka weeds. My truth is:
They (Usually) Aren’t Hurting Anyone
Okay, so I do chop and pull anything that can cause pain or discomfort. I’m looking at you, Burdock and Thistle! However, most weeds are just sitting there, chilling. They can’t really be accused of harming the soil or lawn. They’re just there, doing their own thing, right alongside your grass.
Clover, dandelion and plantains everywhere? You may just have some really compacted soil. You could also be running low in available nitrogen and calcium while holding onto plenty of potassium. Knotweed is alerting you to acidic soil (Hello, blueberry lovers!) and ground ivy wants you to know that things just aren’t draining very well.
They Can Help Repair Soil Problems
Clover doesn’t just tell you that your soil may be deficient in nitrogen, it actually sucks nitrogen out of thin air and deposits it into the soil when the plant decomposes. So you can mow and leave adequate slow release fertilizer behind without cost or any of those pesky runoff issues. Dandelions may tell you that your soil is lacking in available calcium, but they are masters at getting it. A single serving of dandelion leaves contains 10% of your daily calcium requirement. You don’t have to eat them if you don’t want to, though. Yank them out (their roots have already wiggled their way deep, breaking up compacted soil) and compost them. Wanna do some lazy vegetable gardening? Skip the composting and mulch your tomatoes with freshly clipped dandelion leaves.
Biodiversity Isn’t Just a Farm Thing
Nearly everyone knows about the dangers of monocropping in large farms. Consider this on a smaller scale. Clover feeds grass as it decomposes, effectively eliminating the need for chemical fertilizer. It also attracts bees, who get to work pollinating food crops and producing honey. Wild mustard attracts ladybugs which devour plant killing aphids and serve as food for dragonflies and birds.
All in all, weeds are just plants. Dandelion arrived in North America thanks to European settlers who cultivated it for consumption and is making a comeback in salads, jellies and artisan wine. Purslane was once an American staple. Amaranth was a staple crop for the Aztecs. It seems that one generation’s weed is another’s food. With climate change looming on the horizon, some of today’s hardier “weeds” might just be tomorrow’s staples.