One of the most beautiful parts about the Earth is that she knows how to heal her soils, and she does it through the weeds
When looking to regenerate our land, we can be quick to rush in and remove all of the weeds for the sake of replanting “beneficial” species. But what if our infamous garden foe is actually a friend and tool for our land?
Weeds are a diagnostic tool
Weeds are nature’s way of healing itself and can actually tell us about our soil conditions and what they’re needing or lacking. It takes some detective work, but once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll know exactly what corrective work the weeds are mastering. Let’s take a look at the root structures.Photo by Irene Dávila on Unsplash
Shallow roots and thick landscape: If weeds are growing thickly on the ground but have shallow roots, like clover, their role is to hold the soil in place to prevent wind and water erosion.
The solution: Incorporate a mulch or living mulch to help do this work without weeds.
Deep taproots: If the weeds have deep taproots, like comfrey or burdock, their role is to loosen and enrich the soil.
The solution: Add organic matter to those areas and use a digging fork to loosen the soil.
Additional benefits that weeds have for our soilPhoto by Keegan Houser on Unsplash
They help to protect soil: Because of their fast-growing nature, weeds can quickly cover the bare ground to protect it. Their roots do a great job of holding soil together and keeping it from eroding away with wind or rain. If you live in an area prone to drought, weeds may be the only plants to survive. They’ll hold down the topsoil for when the rains and other plants return.
They make nutrients available: Weeds store up minerals and nutrients, and as companion crops, they enable domesticated plants to access unavailable food. This accumulation of nutrients in weeds’ leaves also serves us when they die back as they feed and enrich the damaged topsoil. This can happen as we harvest our vegetables, as we extract nutrients from the soil each time. If you’re noticing extra weeds after harvests, it may be beneficial to amend your soil with compost or other natural fertilizers like worm castings.
They attract beneficial insects: Weeds shoot up and flower quickly and often, which attracts beneficial insects who are looking for habitat or food. Their decaying roots also create tunnels for worms and add organic matter into the soil for other microbes to ingest. All of this is just the beginning of renewed biodiversity. What starts with weeds feeding insects expands to insects attracting and feeding birds, which encourages fruit and other seed dispersal, which creates habitat for larger creatures, and then the next thing you know, you have an entire natural space being restored.
Soil is never meant to be left bare, so if it is for a brief or longer period, or there is only one type of plant (lawn) and the soil is malnourished, the weeds see it as their job to come in and intervene. That means if your weeds are outdoing your garden plants or lawn, your soil needs some work and the weeds have hired themselves on as the task force to bring soil back to its rightful balance.
While an abundance of weeds can be frustrating to see amongst your garden plants or yard, remember what their function is. You can check out this list of weeds you want in your garden and their added benefits here. If we see weeds as a diagnostic tool rather than a nuisance, we can better know how to help our soil and return urban areas to a lush, biodiverse space.