Putting out the welcome mat for weeds
“I kid you not ladies and gentlemen, weeds in your garden are a thing of the past. No more will you have to bend, grimace and heave those green unwanteds from your garden. Yes ladies and gentlemen, never again will weeds trouble you but wait…there’s more. Not only will weeds never trouble you, but those pesky plants will deliver untold reward by activating previously inaccessible trace elements and aggregating your soil. Hard to believe I hear you say, promises, promises I hear you say, but be convinced ladies and gentleman weeds are a burden you will no longer have to bear!”
While I am not offering you steak knives, dear reader, I am offering a remedy whose underlying sentiment reveals scientific truths.
Weeds are and always have been unwanted plants in particular locations, for example a suckering rose would be considered a weed if it sprouted in your lawn.
Many of these weedy plants deliver numerous garden benefits including revealing information about your soil, activating nutrients and building above and below ground habitat. I believe that it was Emerson who stated that a weed is simply a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered and so running with this notion, allow me to convince you that many ‘weeds’ have such a valuable role in your garden that you should allow them to prosper.
Common Chickweed (Stellaria media)
A snug little ground cover that has the habit of regrowing from any stem piece left behind. The presence of Chickweed is an indication of excessive nitrogen and tillage and hence is common to many vegetable gardens. Excessive tillage can damage soil structure decreasing water translocation pathways and access to oxygen, so be careful how you hoe and under what soil moisture conditions. Chickweed is also a good nectar source for helpful critters such as lacewings. Young foliage is edible and can be used in salads, but I’m not a fan of its flavour.
Clover (Trifolium repens)
Patches of clover are scattered throughout my vegetable garden primarily for its nitrogen fixing ability but it is also a fabulous pollen provider for bees. Next time you pull up a clover plant look for the pinky white nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots: these are the sites where rhizobia and the clover plant are working together to fix nitrogen into a plant-ready form from nitrous oxide in the air. The fixed nitrogen will be made available to surrounding plants if you intermittently slash the leaves leaving the roots and stolons intact thus also causing partial root shedding and the release of nitrogen.
Sorrel & Dock (Rumex sp.)
These plants are highly valued dynamic accumulators of major nutrients including potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron and sodium. This means that they bring these nutrients from lower in the soil profile. As for the clover, it is a good habit to pull leaves from these plants leaving them in your garden for the wondrous little microbes to work on and release the accumulated nutrients. Docks are also a good source of pollen for beneficial insects and their abundant presence typically indicates waterlogged acid soils.
Dandelion (Taxacum officinale)
I get so excited when this plant pops up in my garden as not only is it such a useful nutrient recycler, but it grows in acid soils – a soil pH I have only in a few precious spots due to my slipping soil history. It accumulates and activates potassium, phosphorous, calcium, copper, and iron. Watch your plants carefully to know when they are going through obvious life cycle highs and lows as the leaves when blanched or fresh are tasty when young, flowers can also be added to jam. The dandelion is a well-known detoxifier aiding in the removal of wastes from our bodies.
Stinging Nettles (Urtica sp.)
These plants naturally deter aphids and flies, accumulate a wide range of nutrients, provide shelter for beneficial lacewings (look for these beautiful bugs as they are out and about now) and are a food source for predatory lady birds so needless to say I am jealous of anyone who has these plants, as I have none. One popped up in some bartered mulch and I thought that it was Christmas, but although I left it to seed no such luck. Nettle tips are also edible and when steeped in boiling water make a short term spray on fungicide.
These are just a few of weeds with hidden virtues, and I am sure you can add others to the list. And for those of you following the de and re-construction of my kitchen, you will be pleased to know that it is all but complete, with only one or two coats of paint on the windows remaining! Woo hoo!
See you next month – Kylie.
Catch up on Kylie’s earlier columns here…