Many people think that weeds are aggressive plants that like to compete with purposefully grown plants. But in reality, they have many uses in the garden. They can save you money and improve soil health. Learn how to utilize weeds in this article.
Table of Contents
How to utilize weeds in the garden
As mulch and for soil improvement
When it gets hot, weeds keep the soil cooler longer. They retain moisture, protect soil inhabitants (bacteria, fungi, animals, etc.) and help slow the germination of plants that are not as heat tolerant. Therefore, it is a good idea to grow wild weeds in your garden paths to take advantage of this soil stabilizing effect.
Weeds break up soil compaction: Weeds with deep roots, such as field foxtail and thistle, establish themselves deep in the soil and loosen the soil. Then, when the top is killed, the root remains in place and becomes food for soil inhabitants that improve soil structure.
Utilize weeds as an indicator of soil condition.
When you know how to decipher the meaning of weeds, they provide information about the condition of the soil. The types of weeds that grow in your garden, as well as their size and state of health, provide information about the pH of the soil , the nitrogen content and help you identify mineral deficiencies.
Among other things, ferns are often an indicator of dry, compacted soil. However, if your soil is not dry or compacted and other plants are growing slowly and sprouting suddenly, this could be an indication that your garden bed is low in calcium. Overly lush planting may mean the soil is too alkaline for vegetable growing, while even growth means you’re on the right track.
Tap-rooted weeds indicate soil depth: Taprooting weeds such as dandelion, hairy cat’s-tongue, thistle and chamise are indicators of what type of root vegetables you can grow most successfully. When the roots of these weeds are shallow and spreading, most of the nutrients and water are in the top few inches of soil. If they look more like a tall, upside-down Christmas tree, the nutrients are in the depths.
You can use this information to match your crop selection with the root profiles of your weeds. In deep nutrient areas, grow long carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes and parsnips . Shallow nutrient areas are better for half-length carrots, beets, kohlrabi and other root crops close to the ground.
Weeds warn of dry soil: some weeds, like the amaranths, germinate and grow even better when the soil is more semi-dry. So if you see amaranth seedlings in full bloom in your garden beds, water more thoroughly and frequently.
As a source of nitrogen and for bioaccumulation.
Were the above reasons able to convince you that weeds can be utilized? Not completely? Then read on!
Some weeds are a source of nitrogen: clover, which many people consider an invasive weed, is an incredible source of nitrogen for the soil. These powerful plants pull nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules on their roots. When the plants die, the nitrogen in these nodules is broken down by soil dwellers and is then available to other plants. For clover to be a good source of nitrogen, you need to pull it out of the soil before it begins to flower.
Some weeds are excellent “bioaccumulators.” Bioaccumulation is a buzzword that means a plant is particularly good at extracting minerals that other plants don’t have access to. Bioaccumulators have access to minerals in a wider pH range and have a complex root system that allows them to extract forage better than other plants. Garden fescue is the best-known example of a wild herb that works well as a bioaccumulator.
If this plant were palatable to animals, it would be one of the easiest to grow and most nutritious food sources you could offer your goats, chickens, pigs, ducks and cattle. Unfortunately, animals don’t like the taste, as is often the case with the healthiest foods. However, all of these minerals and proteins are equally nutritious for your garden. They need to be composted to become bioavailable .
Utilize weeds as plant probiotics.
If nettles show up uninvited in your garden, put on a long-sleeved shirt, jeans and gloves and dig for the root to get rid of them. But while you’re at it, you can also reap the benefits by making them into a probiotic leaf mix and vitamin cocktail for your garden plants. Chop them up, put them in a bucket and pour water over them. Let it ferment for a week or more. Stir the mixture gently several times a day to saturate it with oxygen.
When it smells good and has mostly stopped bubbling, carefully strain it. Then dilute it 5:1 with water and pour it into a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on the underside of all the leaves of the garden plants. The preparation of this fermented plant tea adds a variety of beneficial bacteria and minerals that help plants fight pests and pathogens.