What is a weed? There are so many ways to define a weed. For me it is a plant that I wish was not growing where it is. Others might call them a nuisance and removing them certainly involves hard work.? Then again “A weed is but an unloved flower” according to Ella Wheeler Wilcox. “Weeds grow abundantly wherever people have made mistakes” is part of another definition I found in an article by Jenny on the American Meadows Blog which explains how weeds can sometimes give you useful information.

Weeds don’t lie – they’ll always tell you what’s going on in your soil. And knowledge is power, right?

With a title like that, I sure have a lot of explaining to do. But, before we jump in, let me assure you that I?m not suggesting you let your garden go completely to the weeds; I?m only suggesting that you make full use of their wisdom before you eradicate them!

What?s a weed?

Weeds are plants that grow where we don?t want them to.

That?s the short answer, but here?s my favorite answer:

?(Weeds) represent human beings? failure to master the soil, and they grow abundantly wherever people have made mistakes – they simply indicate our errors and nature?s corrections. Weeds want to tell a story – they are nature?s means of teaching us, and their story is interesting.?
Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer, 1899-1961. Author of Weeds and What They Tell Us ? 1970


flowering ground ivy
An early spring bumble bee visits flowering ground ivy.
So, what?s so magical about these weeds? In my opinion there are three powerful reasons that we gardeners should leave flowering weeds in place, for specified amounts of time:
  1. Free food for pollinators. Today (early May) there is nothing flowering in my garden, except for ground ivy and dandelions – both weeds – both of which are covered in bees! Further, there?s a huge bed of goldenrod popping up, which won?t flower until late summer. I?ve learned that if I leave the goldenrod in place, it will provide pollinator food at the end of the season, when most of my flowering plants have faded and the bees once again become desperate to find food. I always want my garden to be a haven for pollinators.
  2. Leaving weeds in place is a solid strategy for keeping nutrients and carbon stored safely in your soil. Weeds, like all rooting plants, help to prevent wind and water erosion, which prompts nutrients to wash away or evaporate into the atmosphere. Erosion is the enemy of healthy soil. Further, any green plant (not just trees) is storing carbon away from the atmosphere and in the soil where it belongs. In other words, as pesky as some weeds can be, they’re never as bad as bare soil.
  3. Weeds can tell you what?s happening with your soil. Dr. Pfeiffer (quoted above) explains that if you’re willing to be a bit observant, different weeds can alert you to changes in your soil, such as an increase in acidity or compaction. They can tell you that your soil is too wet or too dry, or that an area that you thought was doing well is starting to decline. All vital information for gardeners! If you know where your soil is headed, then you have the ability to intervene and make a change for the better.

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