(Almost) Everything You Know About Weeds is a Lie
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-million 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 lawns began as a symbol of high status; in 16th century Europe it was common practice for the wealthy to plow their land and create rolling ‘laundes’ or open meadow-like fields, which they filled with herbs like thyme and chamomile. In the 17th century, wealthy landowners began to cut sprawling glade-like lawns which were important to use for their herds of grazing livestock. It was also said to be used as a war tactic; keeping short and tidy grasslands around castles and fortresses helped them to see any incoming enemies from farther away. This practice eventually trickled down into the working class and became a tradition amongst many land and homeowners.
While it was ideal for that specific 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 idea of keeping a neat and short lawn.
Most modern species of grass are actually naturally invasive. When North America was colonized, Europeans also brought with them necessary grass seeds needed to create and cultivate these specific types of lawns. So the idea that native plants and weeds are the ones that are a threat is actually quite the opposite.
While many weeds are thought to be a menace to grass and other garden plants, they can actually be extremely helpful to the vitality of the soil, native wildlife, and even human health. Here’s a closer look at some of the most commonly misunderstood lawn and garden weeds.
Possibly the most commonly known and easily recognized weed, the dandelion is an incredibly useful and nutrient-rich flower that really gets an undeserved bad rap. 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 all life on Earth. They’re also fantastically packed with nutrients and minerals that are beneficial to humans; they have been used for thousands of years in food, medicine, and teas to aid in digestion and inflammation.
Green clover is another commonly pulled plant that’s a very good thing to keep around. It’s wonderful for the soil as it pulls nitrogen from the air and deposits it into the ground, which nourishes the surrounding plants and attracts earthworms (who are also incredibly important fertilizers.) It’s additionally a great food source for wild rabbits and deer, who would otherwise go snacking on the goodies in your garden.
Another member of the clover family, the white clover is similar to its green counterpart in which it aids in the process of pulling nitrogen from the air to help fertilize and nourish the soil. 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.
Another edible and medicinal weed, chickweed is high in vitamins and can easily be used in cooking green dishes. It’s also a good indicator that your soil is lacking in nutrients. Keeping them around will help you take better care of your lawn or garden. It’s also a great food source for many animals, particularly many species of wild sparrow.
Mugwort is a big leafy plant that likes to hang out around sidewalks, roadsides, walkways, and parking lots. A plant that is arguably better for humans than it is for other plants, this weed has many medicinal properties and has been used in teas and capsules to soothe discomforts such as stomach ailments and menstrual cramps, as well as general pain relief. Although it can be a bit pesky for some gardens, it does provide some benefits to the soil as it absorbs heavy metals and prevents ground erosion.
There are hundreds of species of weeds not including on this list that have their own advantageous properties. Although it’s become a 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.