Benefits of Weeds – 6 Reasons To Keep Some Around

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Phil: Hey Guys! It’s Phil from smilinggardener.com and today we are talking about the benefits of weeds and if you haven’t picked up the 15 Vital Lessons For Becoming A Better Organic Gardener, you can do that right on the homepage of smilinggardener.com.

So, do you remember when I had a particularly weedy lawn of a client of mine and I had to get you to come and help me hand weed the lawn?

H: I do. I think I did it for free. No way. You still owe me.

Phil: I just remember that that – like there were – that was a small front lawn but there were more weeds there than grass, right?

H: Yes. Same at the backyard because I ended taking all of that job for you and the – it was just crazy. You could hardly even see the grass.

Phil: So it’s the kind of thing where we knew that we could eventually, over the course of a number of years, improve the soil and help the plant to the point where the grass would win over the weeds but it was just in a short term because the client didn’t like the weeds. We had to hand-pull them, right?

H: Yeah. Exactly. I guess that’s the problem with trying to find the short term solution, right?

Phil: So. Today – I mean today we are just talking about the benefits of weeds which – I don’t know if we ever got that across to hearing that but they are really – there was a reason the weeds were there which is because they were more suited for that soil than the grass.

So usually it means the soil is not in great shape. It’s – it could be any number of nutritional imbalances or water issues or compaction issues. But today we are talking about what the weeds do for the lawn or the garden, right?

H: Yes. We are. We love talking about weeds.

Phil: So why don’t you tell people something that the weeds that’s good?

H: Okay. Well. Weeds bring mineral.

Phil: Don’t lose it.

H: Weeds bring minerals and water up from deep in the soil and they make them available to microbes and neighboring plants.

Phil: Well, how you stress like every third word there.

H: Hey! There is a point to be made.

Phil: Yes. Weeds bring nutrients. I am certain weeds bring up nutrients from really deep in the soil because they have long tap roots. They are also – just a lot of them have extensive root systems. They break up hardpans and break up compaction. They are always dying back and growing, both above and below ground.

So they are adding organic matter to the soil. They are fixing– like the really cool thing is weeds will come in and if you have a calcium deficiency, there is going to weeds to come in and fix that calcium deficiency. Now it may take decades or centuries but sometimes it will be really quick but that’s what they do.

So actually we have a longer list on the Blog of what weeds do that’s good for you. But I guess we just want to tell people to embrace their weeds. We get into it – I mean I get into a lot more in the academy and then probably in 2013, we will actually talk a little bit more about what you can do to improve soil condition like on the Blog, mostly we cannot talk a lot more detail in the academy.

So the question I want to ask today is what weeds are causing you guys problems. Yeah. I just want to hear like what kinds of weeds you have in abundance. So let me know in the comments down below. Is there anything else?

H: I cannot think of anything else particularly or just so about weeds.

Phil: Okay. That’s good for today then.

Phil: Hey Guys! It’s Phil from smilinggardener.com and today we are talking about the benefits of weeds and if you haven’t picked up the 15 Vital Lessons For Becoming A Better Organic Gardener, you can do that right on the homepage of smilinggardener.com.

So, do you remember when I had a particularly weedy lawn of a client of mine and I had to get you to come and help me hand weed the lawn?

H: I do. I think I did it for free. No way. You still owe me.

Phil: I just remember that that – like there were – that was a small front lawn but there were more weeds there than grass, right?

H: Yes. Same at the backyard because I ended taking all of that job for you and the – it was just crazy. You could hardly even see the grass.

Phil: So it’s the kind of thing where we knew that we could eventually, over the course of a number of years, improve the soil and help the plant to the point where the grass would win over the weeds but it was just in a short term because the client didn’t like the weeds. We had to hand-pull them, right?

H: Yeah. Exactly. I guess that’s the problem with trying to find the short term solution, right?

Phil: So. Today – I mean today we are just talking about the benefits of weeds which – I don’t know if we ever got that across to hearing that but they are really – there was a reason the weeds were there which is because they were more suited for that soil than the grass.

So usually it means the soil is not in great shape. It’s – it could be any number of nutritional imbalances or water issues or compaction issues. But today we are talking about what the weeds do for the lawn or the garden, right?

H: Yes. We are. We love talking about weeds.

Phil: So why don’t you tell people something that the weeds that’s good?

H: Okay. Well. Weeds bring mineral.

Phil: Don’t lose it.

H: Weeds bring minerals and water up from deep in the soil and they make them available to microbes and neighboring plants.

Phil: Well, how you stress like every third word there.

H: Hey! There is a point to be made.

Phil: Yes. Weeds bring nutrients. I am certain weeds bring up nutrients from really deep in the soil because they have long tap roots. They are also – just a lot of them have extensive root systems. They break up hardpans and break up compaction. They are always dying back and growing, both above and below ground.

So they are adding organic matter to the soil. They are fixing– like the really cool thing is weeds will come in and if you have a calcium deficiency, there is going to weeds to come in and fix that calcium deficiency. Now it may take decades or centuries but sometimes it will be really quick but that’s what they do.

So actually we have a longer list on the Blog of what weeds do that’s good for you. But I guess we just want to tell people to embrace their weeds. We get into it – I mean I get into a lot more in the academy and then probably in 2013, we will actually talk a little bit more about what you can do to improve soil condition like on the Blog, mostly we cannot talk a lot more detail in the academy.

So the question I want to ask today is what weeds are causing you guys problems. Yeah. I just want to hear like what kinds of weeds you have in abundance. So let me know in the comments down below. Is there anything else?

H: I cannot think of anything else particularly or just so about weeds.

Phil: Okay. That’s good for today then.

Yes, weeds can be a bummer, but many gardeners don’t know there are a lot more benefits of weeds than downsides.

Besides, they’re easily controlled in the garden with mulch.

The lawn is definitely trickier. I had one client who’s front lawn had more weeds than grass.

I knew it would take years for me to balance the soil to the point where the grass won the battle, so I was out there every couple of weeks pulling the weeds by hand.

She was a nice client, but I knew she wasn’t thrilled with the weeds, and I don’t blame her at all, but it’s important to understand why the weeds are there.

Weeds are helpful plants for your organic garden because each beneficial weed thrives in a specific imbalanced soil condition and works to bring the soil back into balance.

So if you’ve heard that healthy soil grows weeds just as well as the plants you’re trying to grow, it’s a myth.

If the weeds are doing better than your lawn or garden plants, it’s because the soil isn’t optimally healthy and the weeds have set up shop to fix that.

That’s what was happening with my client’s lawn, so my long-term goal was to help fix the soil in order to speed up the process.

But if time didn’t matter, I could have let the weeds take care of it.

Doggies Knows The Benefits Of Weeds
“Mmmm… I love weeds. They’re so pretty and they make the soil better.”

So, what are the benefits of weeds?

  1. Some lawn and garden weeds bring nutrients and water up from deep in the soil and down from the air, and subsequently make them available to microbes and plants.
  2. Some weeds break up hardpans and compaction, and control erosion.
  3. Another benefit of weeds is that they increase the organic matter content of the soil as they continually grow and die. That’s one reason to let them cycle through the lawn.
  4. Garden weeds also act as our own diagnostic tool by telling us a tremendous amount about the nutritional balance of our soil through their presence and growth habit.
  5. They also fix nutritional imbalances, vastly improving soils, perhaps in as little as a couple of years, but often decades or centuries.
  6. One of my favorite benefits of weeds is that they provide homes and food for microbes and animals. (If you get a chance, check out the documentary Microcosms. She will post a link on facebook…it’s a very CLOSE-UP account of insects’ lives on plants in meadows and ponds, beautiful!)

That’s just a few things weeds do in the lawn and garden. Having said this, if you simply can’t live with them in the lawn, which I understand, it is possible to control most of them and still have a happy garden.

That involves creating a healthy, balanced soil with strong turf plants (which I cover in the Academy) so that the weeds can’t thrive.

But you can also see why the benefits of weeds makes them good to keep around. Besides, many of them can be added to salads for a healthy boost.

Do you have any especially persistent weeds? Let us know below…

34 Comments

  1. ginny on October 13, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    The scourge of my lawn and life is Creeping Charlie!  Please tell me how to get rid of it for good!

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      Yes, it’s very hard to get rid of because it creeps along and evades pulling. It’s in the mint family, and a lot of those like to stick around.It usually means you have fairly fertile, moist soil. I notice it doesn’t move too far uphill to dry soil. It can be made into a herbal tea for drinking, and actually has many medicinal uses.

  2. Kerry on October 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    I seem to see a lot of prostrate knotweed in a compacted area of the lawn…  Dandelions used to be more in abundance , but less now.  I don’t consider dandelions a weed… I hope they don’t all disappear.  Burdock and yellow (?) dock are too happy here and bother me the most.  We have much lambs quarter, which we eat in salads. Some kind of cranesbill, garlic mustard, pokeweed… I could go on  ;D

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:06 pm

      Sure sounds like low calcium to me.

  3. Helga on October 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I LOVE weeds !! For years we used to keep our property mowed and weed-suppressed (how un-educated and disconnected we were !!) – but over the past 5 years I have learned soooo much. NOW I welcome weeds, let them grow, only mow areas that are necessary to keep clean and short (because of snakes) … and I have learned to use weeds like gourmet-ingredients for our food (we grow most of our food ourselves). I want to recommend the work of Markus Rothkranz (who is currently writing the BIGGEST book on WILD plants). He has helped me to understand so much more about the big picture and the way to live and eat, be MORE self-sufficient (and we thought we already were :-)) .. and especially: to appreciate WEEDS !!He just sent the latest video clip – and I would like to share it here – it ist MOST BEAUTIFUL and so inspiring !!!With love,Helgahttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      Thanks Helga! Great advice.

  4. Frank yeo on October 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Thank you Phil for your article. Yes I cant agree more with you that weeds are beneficial to the plants. I cant keep noticing on my plantation, where there are weeds e.g. ferns, my plants are striving much better than areas with grasses. My concern now is not having the weeds overshadow the plants, such that the plants can get optimum sunlight and rainfall, not to mention air flow. Another disadvantage is to the untrained eyes, it looks untidy with weeds around.  

  5. Adar4him on October 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Please Do tell me the benefit of Bermuda grass. It is throughout my yard I have no lawn.It is in my vegetable garden.

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      When I say “benefit,” it’s often more to the soil than to us. For example, bermuda grass is great for erosion control because of its crazy root system, which indeed is a pain to get out.

  6. Chuck Pardy on October 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    I have a big problem with plantains. My lawn is just 3 summers old with about 2 inches of topsoil over a hard pan.This year I started the transition to an organic lawn using compost tea and occasionally other organic fertilizers from “The Gardeners Pantry”. I also had a large amount of clover growing naturally in the lawn and after reading some benifits of clover I decided to overseed my entire lawn with it. So far I love it, but the plantains live on.

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      It may be difficult to establish a weed-free lawn on 2 inches of topsoil, but the plantains will be happy there. Hopefully over the next few years that hardpan will be gradually loosened by microbes and earthworms, allowing the grass to win out. Plaintain used to actually be cultivated in England along with clover.

  7. Sahim on October 14, 2012 at 12:37 am

    SahimThe weeds that I have in abundance are purslane, lambs quarters, and dandelion and a few others i can’t name.

  8. Laura on October 14, 2012 at 3:11 am

    Can plantain be spread by lawn mower?  I suspect that is how entire sections have become little else.  We also have lots of ragweed, lamb’s quarters, wild violet, clover, poke weed, henbit, a little chickweed, and things I can’t even identify.  The whole area is regularly “worked” by ducks, chickens, and goats, so it should be quite fertile.Also, I have never seen our chickens eat henbit or chickweed-  I guess no one ever told them they were supposed to love it.

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:24 pm

      I’m not sure if they spread by the mower, as they usually seem to stay below the blades.

  9. Michelle R. Stone on October 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I let my weeds grow. Since I live in the city, I’m sure I’m the scourge of the neighborhood! I try to keep them out of my actual gardens, but I don’t care if the whole lawn is covered by them. What we mostly have is plantain, dandelions and creeping charley. I don’t know what the Charley might be good for, but the plantain and dandelion have medicinal uses. I’ve also purposely planted red clover in my yard for that reason. You can’t eat grass and it has no medicinal use, so it’s fine with me if it gets crowded out.

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      Agreed, and creeping charley actually has many medicinal uses.

  10. Laura on October 14, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I should clarify my above comment to add that we “eat the weeds” and use them medicinally around here too, so I’m not actually looking to rid the yard of them.  I’m more curious about what their presence means about my soil.  I’ve noticed that our dandelions have almost entirely disappeared.  

  11. Alice @ Vinyl Garden Sheds on October 15, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    That is just interesting. I usually don’t like weeds in my garden but I am really glad to learn about this informative post. I may leave them since they have a lot of benefits in the garden. Mulching is definitely an option as well. Cool share!

  12. Ecs8284 on October 15, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    My lawn and garden explodes with wild violet(oxalis?) and clover.The clover, I think, is good so I pull it at the end of season and compost it.The violet just over runs everything-2 or 3 appear for everyone I pull? Do wild violets serve a purpose?

    • Phil on October 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      All plants serve a purpose when it comes to improving the soil, but I don’t know much about wild violets other than that they like lots of shade (of course both lawn and vegetable garden prefer full sun). But I don’t know if they do something chemically for the soil.

  13. TP Knotweed on October 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Your experienced made me to love weeds by using them accurately. They do protect from many things which we didn’t  know))

  14. Paranormal Skeptic on November 2, 2012 at 12:49 am

    A perfect example of “weeds” that people try to get rid of are cattails. What people don’t realize, is that they are generally caused by using too much fertilizer, and the cattails are soaking up the excess from the run off.Meanwhile, the slow water speed, and hold soil in place to stop waterside erosion.

  15. Steve on November 8, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Another benefit of weeds is that they will tell you what is going on with your soil. Weeds are like people, they have different taste. A weed will grow in a certain type of soil environment, which lets you know what your soil needs.

    • Phil on November 10, 2012 at 6:23 pm

      Absolutely – one of the best benefits. I kind of alluded to that in point 4.

  16. SalishSeaSam on December 16, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Horsetails!!! I don’t mind them anywhere else, but my lovely raised veggie beds are becoming overrun, so much so that seeds have to be started and grown large before being put in the garden to be heavily mulched to control the horsetail. It seems to be counterintuitive… well-drained soil full of organic compost.

    • Phil on December 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      You’re right, they do tend to prefer wet, poorly-drained soils. Once they’re established, they’re certainly difficult to get rid of. Apparently they’re very medicinal. Maybe you should sell them to a local herbalist or biodynamic farmer.

  17. Mariella on January 4, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    What can I say, just thank you at the moment. You have opened a window into an amazing world I had no idea of…

  18. deancross on February 16, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    I don’t know if it is classified as a weed, but what is called “nut grass” locally, has taken over my vegetable garden.

  19. Frank on February 18, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Dear PhilI am getting thistle and lots of ferns in my plantation. How can they tell about the nutritional balance of our soil through their presence and growth habits of ferns and thistles. Will they rob the nutrient from my plants, if so how can I get rid of them? Thank you.

    • Phil on February 25, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      I’ll have to wait until I get back to my trusty weed book in mid-April to give you some ideas on these specific weeds.

  20. PeterGreen12 on July 9, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Surely one of the best ways to control weeds while helping your garden to grow would be to use lawn weed and feed.

  21. rosalind on July 22, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    I have 10 acres of primarily nutsedge and other weeds that I would like to have become st. augustine grass and I don’t know how to do that. In this same 10 acres, I planted a garden and used cement blocks to outline it. I layed paper boxes on top of the weeds and I put organic dirt in it. The weeds came through the boxes and I have never had a garden because I don’t know how to get rid of the weeds. Can you help me?

    • Phil on July 27, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Nutsedge is a difficult one. I don’t know much about it. The tubers are supposed to be quite nutritious though, so maybe you could harvest it as a crop. Perhaps planting a cover crop of cereal rye and something in the mustard family could help keep it at bay.

  22. Mikyla on April 24, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Canada Thistle is prevalent here in Aurora Colorado. I don’t grow lawn, but it likes my flower beds. What is it telling me about my soil?

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