People pay good money (or even bruise their feet with weed-removal tools) to get rid of the sea of yellow flowers on their lawns. But left in place, dandelions are wonderful for attracting bees and some butterflies. Their leaves are especially delicious for several moth caterpillars, and humans can eat them too! Dandelion greens are an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron and more.
Chances are you’ve already had an encounter with the nettle; hairs on the stems sting with even the slightest touch, but they’re not all bad; they can help your gardens out by repelling various grazing animals. Not only that, the nettle is the perfect weed for creating a butterfly haven. It actually supports more than 40 species of insects, including caterpillars, moths, and some ground bugs. Aphids love them, and therefore expect to see plenty of hungry birds around.
This is certainly not the easiest task for some of us who might be a bit more neurotic. There are definitely ways to attract wildlife and pollinators to your garden with beautiful flowers and shrubs, but here’s a list of some beneficial weeds anyway. Be strong.
Chenopodium (Goosefoot and Oraches)
Hold the phone! Planting weeds on purpose? I’ve worked myself into quite a tizzy after stumbling upon weeds in my garden, viciously ripping them from the ground and snapping them in half with delight (picture this happening in slow motion with classical music playing). I’ve become so consumed with tearing dandelions out of my lawn that the top of my foot has bruised due to overuse of my weeding tool. But really experienced gardeners will tell you to leave some of these weeds alone or even build a weed garden! It turns out they’re actually very beneficial to attracting wildlife and important pollinators.
You’ll most often find these tall weeds growing in pastures and other grassy places, its small red flowers hanging in clusters. It’s actually not terrible-looking, which makes it a little easier to leave in the yard. Birds, caterpillars, and moths will love you for it; sorrels are an excellent food plant for them. There are many different varieties, and some are edible for humans as well, most commonly used in French cuisines.
It’s National Gardening Week in the UK, a time to celebrate all the beauty gardens bring to our communities and yards, and to encourage more people to take part in this wonderful outdoor activity. Typically, we associate gorgeous flowers, shrubs, and vegetables with gardening, while weeds get nothing but negative attention. But believe it or not, weeds actually serve a very important role in our gardens, and should almost be purposely planted!
These weeds are rather satisfying to kill, because they are so easy to pluck out of the ground, root and all. But they produce an incredible amount of seeds, which means you’ll have many different bird species flocking to your garden all season long. Once again, caterpillars and moths love to munch on its foliage.
Hori Hori knife – Gardeners who use a Hori Hori knife quickly fall in love with this Japanese gardening tool. It’s part knife, part trowel with a serrated edge on one side. They’re great for removing weeds but are also handy when dividing perennials, digging holes for bulbs, or trimming small branches.
Landscape fabrics are said to allow water to pass through to the roots of your plants, but I’ve found that water runs off quickly with little penetrating the tightly woven fabrics. This leaves the roots of your trees, shrubs, and perennials dry and the plants prone to drought damage. I have seen weed barrier and landscape fabrics be effective when used in outdoor pathways and patios where they were then covered with a thick layer of pea gravel. Generally though, they cause more garden problems than they solve.
I don’t want to alarm you but did you know there is a weed seed bank in your soil? That means there are seeds in your soil just waiting for the right conditions to germinate. And they can lay dormant for years, sometimes decades! The best way to reduce garden weeds is to never let them set seeds in your beds. Even if you’re super busy and don’t have time to pull up all the weeds, at least clip off any flowers or seedheads that have developed on weed plants. You can break them off by hand or use garden snips. If you’re gardening in a new site, you can reduce the weed seed bank in your soil by tilling or hand tilling the soil, watering, and then waiting. Many of the weed seeds in the soil will germinate. Pull them out as they appear.
7 – Garden in raised beds (or containers)
Hand trowel – The classic garden tool, a hand trowel can also be used to dig and lift weeds from garden beds. There are many different styles of trowels with some having wide blades, and other quite narrow. Some are made from steel, others from plastic. If you have arthritis, you may wish to buy one with an ergonomic handle to make weeding more comfortable.
Cobrahead – For almost twenty years, gardeners have been using the Cobrahead Weeder & Cultivator to pull out weeds, even stubborn, deep-rooted weeds like dandelions. I use mine for weeding but also for loosening soil for seeding and transplanting.
During the main growing season, I spend a lot of time in my vegetable garden. Some of that time is spent tending the crops, other times I just want to hang out and relax in that beautiful space. I often take a mug of tea up to the garden and wander around the beds, checking the growth of my crops and taking a peek for potential problems – like weeds. One of the keys to a weed free garden is to pull weeds as soon as you spot them. When immature, most weeds are easy to remove with a quick yank or the help of a garden tool. Don’t make weeding an occasional chore, pull them as soon as you see them to minimize the risk that they will spread.
4 Tools for a weed free garden:
In small spaces, you can also plant annual flowers, vegetables, and herbs in containers. There are many types of containers available at garden centres and online in a wide selection of sizes, styles, and materials. When you garden in pots you’re planting in sterilized potting mix, not garden soil and that means fewer weeds.
My raised vegetable beds are four feet wide. This means that I can easily tend to my crops from both sides of the bed without ever needing to walk on the soil. Walking on garden soil causes compaction. Compacted soil has fewer air pockets and doesn’t allow water to move through the soil easily. When soil is compressed, the only plants that seem to grow well are weeds. Having raised beds or gardens where you never walk on the soil is a big step in promoting healthy plant growth and reducing weeds.