When it comes to lawn care and gardening, the most commonly taught rule of thumb is that weeds are the number one arch-nemesis of your yard. But contrary to popular belief (and a multi-billion dollar weed killing industry) certain weeds are actually incredibly beneficial not only to your lawn or garden, but to many species of wildlife as well.
The concept of a clean-cut suburban lawn is actually a result of colonization. Having a lawn was a symbol of high status in 16th century Europe, and it was common practice for the wealthy to plow their land to create rolling ‘laundes’ or open meadow-like fields.
In the 17th century, wealthy landowners began to cut sprawling glade-like lawns which were important to use for their herds of grazing livestock. This practice eventually trickled down into the working class and became a tradition amongst many land and homeowners.
It was also said to be used as a war tactic–keeping short and tidy grasslands surrounding castles and fortresses helped armies to see incoming enemies from farther away.
And while having a lawn was ideal for that specific geographic area of the world, it’s not practical for the rest of the planet’s diverse topography and climate. When Europeans came to colonize places like America, they brought with them all of their customs, culture, and tradition—including the concept of keeping a neat and short lawn.
This means that most modern species of grass are actually invasive. When North America was colonized, Europeans brought with them the necessary grass seeds needed to create and cultivate these specific types of lawns, replacing all of the native flora with their species of short lawn grass. So, the narrative that 'weeds' are a threat to your yard is false, and a direct result of European colonization.
While many weeds are thought to be a menace to grass and other garden plants, depending on the species, they can be extremely helpful to the vitality of the soil and, most importantly, native wildlife. These plants are used for pollination, shelter for the smaller critters, and food sources for others.
Many of these 'weeds' even have medicinal benefits for human health. It's important to identify which plants are beneficial, so let's begin by taking a closer look at three of the most commonly misunderstood lawn and garden weeds.
Because of their long bloom-life and affinity to being largely populous, dandelions are possibly one of the most important plants used for pollination—a process that quite literally supports the entirety of life on Earth.
Dandelions are also packed with nutrients and minerals that are beneficial to humans. Their leaves and stems have been used for thousands of years in food, medicine, and teas to aid with things like digestion and inflammation.
2. Clover (Green and White)
Green clover (or Trifolium) is another commonly pulled plant that’s a good thing to keep around. Clover is wonderful for soil as it pulls nitrogen from the air and deposits it into the ground, which nourishes the surrounding plants. It’s also an important food source for earthworms (who are also super important fertilizers!) as well as mammals like wild rabbits and deer, who would otherwise go snacking on the goodies in your garden.
Another member of the clover family, the white clover (or Trifolium repens) is similar to its green counterpart in the fact that it also pulls nitrogen from the air to help fertilize and nourish the soil. Because of this, it will most likely show up on its own in parts of the soil that are nutrient-deficient. Its white flowers are also a nutritious food source for many animals such as rabbits, deer, foxes, groundhogs, woodchucks, some species of birds, and many species of insects.
Chickweed (or Stellaria Media) is another edible and medicinal weed. Although chickweed is found in many places in Europe, it's long been naturalized across the globe and has been said to have been used by Native Americans in many medicinal rituals.
High in vitamins and nutrients, chickweed also can easily be used in cooking. When consumed, it's been said to help with things like inflammation and appetite control.
Chickweed in your yard is a good indicator that your soil is lacking in nutrients. Keeping them around will help you take better care of your lawn or garden. Chickweed is a great food source for many animals, particularly many species of wild sparrow.
There are hundreds (possibly even thousands) of species of weeds that have their own advantageous properties. Although it’s become a modern societal norm to have a clean-cut, well-manicured lawn, consider the damage being done to the native plant and animal life by cutting it all away. The next time you’re doing some landscaping, do some research before getting rid of any weeds; you could be doing yourself, your yard, and the local wildlife a big favor.