fbpx

Are Weeds Really ‘Bad’?

Rob Herring
Need to Grow

Rob’s short film aired in the 2022 Superfood Garden Summit

The film is called “We Decided to Become Farmers.”

Rob Herring is an environmental filmmaker and musical activist. He directed/produced/wrote The Need To GROW, winner of multiple Best Documentary awards and seen in 175 countries around the world. Rob worked on the critically acclaimed GMO OMG, and is a Producer on the follow up to the world famous Zeitgeist Trilogy.

As a musician, Rob writes songs for health and eco activism, and headlined the Rock For Nature concert in Berlin for 25,000 people. He is also a Certified Holistic Health Coach and is the co-founder of Integrative Pediatrics.

By: Rob Herring, The NEED to Grow Film

Weeding in your garden?

Maybe you shouldn’t.

Contrary to our decades-long battle against weeds, such as in lawns and in gardens (and especially where I live in America)…

…most weeds are around for a (natural) reason.

No, I’m not saying you should let weeds crowd out and choke your plants! (That’s not good, either).

As with many topics, we want to approach it with nuance as best we can, and recognize that if we allow some weeds to dwell near garden beds or on the lawn, they might provide benefits that get easily overlooked (beyond the obvious beneficial pollinators).

You may be doing a double take right now. How could weeds possibly be beneficial?

Especially plants like dandelion and even (gulp) thistle?

If you’ve got a green thumb, a lawn care passion, a landscaping hobby, or if you only garden from time to time, here are the top benefits of weeds that you need to know…

…so you can spend more time doing the more enjoyable stuff, while letting the wild green things do their beneficial stuff.

Erosion Control

Good advice for gardeners: why kill weeds in your garden, only to leave the soil open and barren?

While gardeners (and farmers, too) can get stuck on having neat, clean, and bare soil come winter— or when their plots are not in use…

…this can cause erosion during hard rains and floods, which makes you lose topsoil, soil life, and amazing nutrients for your plants next year!

Instead of cleaning up, let some of the low-lying weeds hold the soil in place. The root systems are doing Nature’s work underground.

Clumpy weeds like chickweed and ground ivy can be ideal to keep around for this.

Nutrient Availability 

Soil compaction is the worst enemy of gardeners and farmers.

That means soil is so pressured and hardened that water and roots have a tough time working their way through.

While sprouting weeds around your young plants can be terrible in some ways, they can be amazing allies against soil compaction on the other hand!

Next time you’re eyeing some weeds and thinking it’s their time to go…

…think twice about if your soil is nutrient deficient, compact, or if there are hard pan issues.

Weeds with very long taproots are amazing at paving the way for next year’s plants, and these include dandelion, sow thistle, and even cockleburs (a.k.a. burdock).

Helpful Cover (and doing the weeding for you!)

Yep: you heard me right— some plants can help you cut down on weeding!

Especially if you struggle with grasses (the bane of gardeners)….

…there are some plants you should keep around, which can help fight and outcompete these peskiest of weeds such as on garden borders, paths, and right in your lawn (if you’re wishing for a more biodiverse lawn, that is).

These weeds accomplish this by having wide, thick leaves that overshadow grasses and lateral roots that spread quickly, easily choke out grasses (both horizontally and vertically) if you encourage them to stick around.

Some great examples are (again) dandelion, red (or white) clover, violets, and purslane (which is also delicious by the way!)

Oh, and of course, that’s another perk too…

….many “weeds” are edible, too (but be careful and make sure you know what you’re considering ingesting, or speak with a qualified herbalist or native plant expert in your region before you go randomly experimenting).

Are Weeds Really ‘Bad’?

We should always remember that the concept of a “weed” is a human idea…

A belief that one plant is more desirable than another, can sometimes come from a short-sighted approach, focused solely on productivity specifically for human consumption or extraction.

Nature thrives from biodiversity and while some plants can be detrimental if not kept in check, it may be helpful to consider the possibility that the certain plants may be serving more important roles in the ecosystem than our human minds can even comprehend.

If they arrived on site, the system may have “called them in”.

There may be a function they are playing, or a ‘role’ they have in the succession of the ecosystem.

Humility is key. We must not pretend we understand the complexity to Nature’s system. We must work with Nature and listen to her as well.

COMMENT!

We’d love to hear from the community:

→ How have you found weeds to sometimes be beneficial?

Are there certain plants described as weeds that have helped your garden, farm, or ecosystem at large?

→ Are there certain weeds you’ve used for their nutritional or healing potential?

Light Deprivation for Weed Control

Tasha Greer
Simple, Epicurean Homestead Living

Tasha is a 2022 Superfood Garden Summit presenter.

Weeds are Superfoods Too (for you & your garden!)

Tasha Greer is an Epicurean homesteader and writer focused on simple, sustainable living. She’s the author of Weed-Free Gardening and Grow Your Own Spices. She gardens in Surry County, North Carolina on about 1.5 acres and grows a large variety of annual and perennial edible, medicinal, and ecosystem support plants.

Additionally, she has a large greenhouse for year-round gardening and exotic edibles. Tasha also keeps ducks, dairy goats, chickens, a pet turkey, worms, and (occasionally) pigs to help with landscaping projects and manage soil fertility. She also teaches classes related to growing food, edible landscaping, and organic

Light deprivation is great low-to-no cost way to control some weeds in your garden. It’s done by covering an area with black plastic sheeting, landscape fabric, scrap sheet metal, a tarp, old carpet, or other kinds of light barriers for a few months. Alternatively, you can use carbon rich materials like paper and cardboard held in place with heavy objects or covered with mulch.

The idea is that if the weeds underneath the cover can’t access sunlight, they can’t photosynthesize. If they can’t photosynthesize, they can’t do the necessary maintenance to keep their roots, stems, and leaves in good working order. Over time, overall plant health will start to decline. In that weakened state, insects and soil microlife will begin to nibble on those weeds until they eventually die.

It’s a little gruesome to imagine in detail. But the method is really effective on fast-growing weeds with fibrous root systems or rot prone crowns. Unfortunately, there are also many weeds that can wait out short-term light sieges.

Light Seige Resistant Weeds

Here are a few examples of weeds that can’t be easily killed with light deprivation.

• Herbaceous perennial weeds with the capacity to go dormant (e.g., cold hardy or drought hardy plants) can use their dormancy aptitudes to survive without light for more than 6 months.

•  Weeds with deep storage roots or tubers can survive a light siege by continuing to do critical maintenance using those nutrients stored in their underground plant parts for years.

• Weeds that spread quickly by rhizomes can extend beyond light blocking barriers and continue to feed the root systems underneath the light blocking barrier indefinitely.

For these light-seige adapted survival weeds, targeted digging or repeat mowing to weaken root systems, followed by long-term light deprivation are necessary.

Weed Seed Light Blocking

Light deprivation is also used to prevent certain weed seeds from germinating. This is normally done by applying a few sheets of paper followed by several inches of compost, garden soil, or other mulches to bury weed seeds.

This method is really effective against seeds that require light or that germinate only at shallow planting depths. It won’t prevent deep-germinating seeds from starting. However, by increasing the soil depth they have to grow up through, those weeds will be weaker when they emerge. Then, you can cover them with a big rock or repeat mow them down to finish the job.

Solarization vs. Light Deprivation

Just one cautionary note: Be careful not to confuse light deprivation with solarization.

Solarization is an in-ground method of pasteurizing your soil used only to treat severe cases of fungal pathogens. It’s done over a long period of time, including the warmest months of the year, using tightly applied clear or black plastic that scorches the soil. Solarizing is detrimental to soil life and often causes enormous amounts of weeds within a few months of removing the plastic sheeting.

Light deprivation, by contrast, should not interrupt the airflow to soil or cause the soil to heat up. The soil below should also be kept moist so it doesn’t overheat in dry hot weather.

Light deprivation kills plants while beneficial insects and microlife in the soil remain unharmed. In some cases, light deprivation even increases soil life populations as they feast on the dying plants.

Weed-Free Gardening

For more weed-free tips and tidbits, check back weekly or sign up for email notifications of new posts. Also, if you want lots more Weed-Free Gardening information at your fingertips, consider buying a copy of my book.

Please share any tips you have for successful organic weed control.