Are Weeds Friends or Foes?

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It is always stimulating to explode beliefs hoary with age. So here goes another. Weeds are not all bad. Many of the ones well known to us are important and are doing great good in the garden.


However, this does not mean you stop pulling weeds and let them strangle your crops. It does mean that you take a second look. Learn their names and discover how to make them work for you instead of against you.

Five Excellent Reasons For Inviting Weeds

There are at least five excellent reasons for inviting and cordially entertaining certain weeds on your home grounds.

  1. With their deep root systems, many common weeds bring minerals up from the subsoil and make them available to flowers and vegetables. They find and store nitrogen, phosphorus, potash, potassium, and valuable trace minerals in their leaves and stems.

If weeds are burned, many of these elements are deposited in the ashes on the ground’s surface, and from there, they seep down to the root level. 

On the other hand, if weeds are allowed to decompose on the ground, turned in as green manure, or shoved under mulch, they leave their cargo of plant nutrients near the surface and thus are available to the more shallow-rooted plants.

  1. Certain weeds (not grasses) well spaced through the garden develop a maternal relationship with the neighboring plants. Their aggressive roots race down ahead of those of plants, loosening the subsoil.
  1. Weed roots often fill the soil with fiber, create porosity, and condition it, so it is neither too soft nor too hard. Living soil is crumbly, yet, when squeezed, partly holds together. 

Once the soil is softened, worms and bacteria come in. They thrive surrounded by food (organic matter in all stages of decay) and, likewise, enlarge the feeding area of the plants.

  1. You probably grew up, as I did, believing that weeds rob plants of moisture. There is another side even to this. Some common weeds (sunflower, pigweed, and ragweed) have two root systems: shallow, surface, and deep. They feed through their surface roots in early spring and compete with our plants for water.

In exceptionally dry areas, this must be considered. But in most sections, spring rains usually supply ample moisture for all. Later, these weeds feed mainly from their deep roots when the ground dries.

Instead of stealing moisture, something remarkable happens: there is some reason to believe that an upward movement of moisture occurs outside these deep-diving roots. So, more moisture is available to plant roots where weeds and plants grow together than where plants grow alone.

  1. Weeds also accomplish something else rather curious. When a Cherokee Indian wanted deer for dinner in midwinter, he would head for a weedy cove. The earth was warmer there than elsewhere, and the deer knew this. The extra deep layer of organic matter converted into humus generated heat even in winter.

In the same way, parts of your garden where weeds are decomposing under a mulch will often be warmer and more ready for early spring planting.

But never let weeds grow too thick. Uncrowded by the next, each must completely mature so its roots go deep, never letting them choke out a planting.

A mulch of hay on vegetables or buckwheat hulls on flowers keeps the area more or less weeds-free. Still, a few will come through, especially close to the plant stalks. Some of these may be left to work for you.

Have you one last protest? Aren’t you thinking, “Don’t weeds look unsightly?” This is largely a point of view. When you understand the value of weeds, you may find them quite attractive. What is more, beautiful than milkweed blossoms or the seeds dancing out of their rough pods in October? And both thistle blossoms and leaves are dramatic looking.

Best Soil Builders

Among the best soil builders is the rough red pigweed. This is an exceptionally splendid guardian for root crops: carrots, radishes, beets, etc. 

A good husky pigweed in a potato hill mothers the potatoes. The result is more potatoes. In addition, some farmers have reported that potatoes grown with pigweed have fewer insect pests.

Other good “divers” are lamb’s quarters, nightshade, and thistles. Lamb’s quarters appear helpful among tomatoes, corn, and onions, but a few around zinnias and other flowers aid them in doing their best.

The nightshade has a potato-like flower, fruit similar to a blackberry, and an unusually penetrating root system. 

With thistles, you have a useful mother weed and an attractive flowering plant. Grow a few with Kentucky Wonder beans, limas, asparagus, and broccoli.

Sunflowers are not only handsome, but they have exceptionally deep root systems. As a result, the stalks cut up in the fall and decompose rapidly, depositing their needed nutrients.

Milkweed roots reach down and down. Their extensive systems not only open up poor soil and help it become productive but the shoots may be cooked, like asparagus. Use only the early summer shoots under 8″ inches high.

Common Edible Weeds

Other common edible weeds are the dock, lamb’s quarters, and pigweed. Yellow dock is popular in the South, where the fresh leaves are used early in spring as a pot herb or raw in salads. Lamb quarters should be eaten only when young (plants under 8” inches).

The Indians in New Mexico and Arizona thrive on smooth-leaved pigweed, boiled like spinach, and the ripe seeds may be dried and cooked like oatmeal.

Even the fierce old cocklebur is a good companion plant for tall vegetables. So are stung nettles. Wild lettuce and ground cherry are also useful. But, best of all is ragweed, giant and common.

Although an enemy of many people, it means vitamins to cows and provides birds with seeds in winter when other food is scarce. In the garden, it is one of the sturdiest and deepest divers of weeds.

You may not be able to change your thinking overnight. But begin to consider weeds as friends instead of enemies.

After viewing every weed in the garden with dismay, you have no idea how relaxing it is to consider some well-developed weeds in the corn with a warm and affectionate eye.

When goldenrod grows up in the middle of the raspberries, and a few sunflowers creep into the asparagus, instead of feeling guilty and apologetic, relax and enjoy them. You will be much happier.

44659 by Jean Hersey