A weed is a plant in the wrong place or a plant that we have not yet found a use or liking for – but they are still plants and part of the overall biodiversity that exist in nature. Not necessarily the bad guys but not your best friends either!
Benefits of weeds
- Weeds encourage Biodiversity. They attract pollinators and are part of a healthy eco-system. There is no such thing as a weedy lawn – look at it as a wildflower meadow or insect heaven. A ‘perfect’ green lawn is akin to a desert from nature’s point of view.
- Many weeds are pioneer or ruderal plants - ie. they are the first plants to colonize disturbed land. As such they cover bare soil and prevent erosion from wind or rain. Many of these pioneer plants have long tap roots which help breakup compacted soil, improve drainage and make available minerals.
- Weeds indicate soil conditions. Dock, foxtails, and willows are signs of swampy soil. Chicory and mustard suggest compacted soil. Dandelions, sorrel, and stinging nettles point out high acidity - plant blueberries, rhubarb, and potatoes.
- Weeds can also be eaten or have medicinal uses. Love your nettles!
Sooner or later, weeds do have to be controlled. If you do however wish to keep them as plants then remember to cut the tops off before they set seed! (I don’t think I need to mention that weed killer is not an option)
Advantages – will also aerate the soil, good exercise, can cover large areas quickly
Disadvantages – must be done in dry weather, works best with smaller weeds, has to be done regularly.
Advantages – very good when weeds are taking over a perennial plant. Will also prevent root disturbance – important with crops such as carrots.
Disadvantages - must be done in dry weather, has to be done regularly.
Advantages – will also keep in moisture, protect plants from slugs, protect the soil, needs only to be done once a season.
Disadvantages – can be expensive, laying or gathering the mulch can be difficult.
Advantages – can weed large areas which would otherwise be hard to clear ie. gravel paths, in between paving stones. Fantastic for clearing seed beds of weeds that emerge after you sow seeds but before the seedlings emerge. Does not disturb the soil.
Disadvantages - has to be done in good weather, only destroys the foliage – does not effect the root.
Advantages – fast growing green manures will quickly suppress weeds, improve soil condition and attract pollinators. Excellent if you have cleared the soil but will not be sowing for a while. Good for under sowing or between widely spaced crops.
Disadvantages – Must be dug in before they get too woody.
When is a plant a weed?
- When there is competition with cultivated or native plants.
- When the unwanted plant competes for resources so yield is diminished.
- If they are poisonous or an irritant to skin.
- When they are invasive i.e. gunnera, knot weed.
- When they provide hosts and vectors for plant pathogens, giving them greater opportunity to infect and degrade the quality of the desired plants.
- If they provide food or shelter for animal pests.
- If they cause root damage to engineering works such as drains, road surfaces, and foundations i.e. Japanese knot-weed.
- Plants are also considered weeds if they are thought to be unattractive or to spoil as desired aesthetic effect. (Could be considered as plant-shaming!)