Don't Pull Those Weeds Yet! 5 Ways Weeds Can Help You Grow A Better Garden

Happy Earth Day! I don't know about you, but this is the time of year when I'd rather be playing in the garden than anywhere else. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, plants are starting to grow...including the weeds.

If your garden is anything like mine, weeds are starting to pop up all over the place. And while it's best to pull them before their root systems get too established, every year I take some time to look at the weeds to see what they're trying to tell me about my garden.

One clump of weeds that got away from me last year

Just like any other plant, each species of weed tends to have a preference about where it will grow. And, believe it or not, weeds can actually be beneficial to your garden - if you're not growing anything else!

1. Weeds Prevent Soil Erosion

To me, this seems like weeds' primary function. Often, weeds grow where nothing else will grow, and they do a darned good job at it. Sure, they're annoying when they pop up in the middle of your lawn or vegetable patch, but that's just a side effect of their primary directive.

If you're not planning on putting another plant in a weed's place, you're just opening up your precious topsoil to erosion. Not only will your soil lose nutrients, but you risk soil runoff and dust in your eyes whenever the wind starts blowing.

2. Weeds Absorb and Recycle Nutrients Back Into the Soil

Secondary to preventing soil erosion, weeds actually use the nutrients in the soil. Sure, that's annoying when they're competing with your precious rosebushes, but weeds also help break down tough soil, and when they die they give those stolen nutrients back to the soil. Circle of life, baby!

3. Weeds Can Tell You If The Spot is Bright or Shady

Some weeds seem like they can grow just about anywhere. (I'm looking at you, dandelion!) But others have preferences for sunny spots while others prefer shade. As best you can, identify what kind of weeds you have in each section of your garden. Try to find out as much as you can about their preferences, if they have any. For example, wild violets prefer shade, while bindweed tends to like sunny spots.

Once you've identified your weeds' light preferences, you'll know whether you can really plant that full sun annual in that spot. I find this method a lot more useful than trying to look at the spot and decide if it's mostly sunny or mostly shady.

4. Weeds Can Tell You The Moisture Content of the Soil

Just like their preferences for sun and shade, weeds have preferences for moisture. Sure, water is essential to life, but some weeds thrive in drier conditions while others prefer it to be nice and moist. For example, chickweed and nutsedge grow in moist soil, while purslane and black medic grow in dry soil.

When you know the basic moisture content of your soil, you can adjust your watering schedule to both meet the needs of your plants and thwart your weeds.

5. Weeds Can Tell You If Your Soil Is Healthy

Lastly, some weeds thrive in poor soil where nothing else can live, while other weeds love rich, healthy soil. Chickweed, red clover, and stinging nettle, all love rich soil, while daisies, red sorrel, and plantain thrive in poor soil.

Knowing how healthy your soil is can help you decide what plants will thrive best in your garden, and whether to amend your soil.

After playing detective with your weeds, it's finally time to pull them all out - as long as something else is ready to take their place! Weeds really are amazingly helpful, if you know how to read the messages they're sending!

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