It is inevitable. You will find a weed somewhere in your lawn or in your garden. As things begin to grow this spring you’ll notice weeds coming up where you don’t want them. In fact that is the general definition of a weedy plant – a plant that grows where you don’t want it! Any plant can become weedy but some have a certain knack for it.
How to Deal with the Weeds
First lets look at how to deal with weeds. I do not recommend using chemicals and I avoid them almost entirely (except for maybe poison ivy). Instead I mainly use mechanical means to remove my weeds. I dig them, pull them, or use my scuffle hoe to cut them off at the top of the roots. The other method it to smother them with something.
(Sidenote: If you don’t have a scuffle hoe or stirrup hoe (Am. Aff.) I highly recommend getting one!)
Right now my vegetable garden pathways are covered in cardboard to eliminate spring weeds. If weeds can’t see light then they can’t grow. This is only temporary and the cardboard will be replaced with mulch soon. Once weeds are removed from the area cover with a good thick layer of mulch! I often put newspapers underneath these areas to increase the effectiveness of the mulch at smothering weeds. (Warning: cardboard and newspaper can attract wood eating insects so don’t use this close to your house.)
For tricky hard to remove weeds I like to use boiling water. Boiling water works great to remove weeds from between stones and rocks and can take care of hard to eliminate weeds like wild garlic. Of course if you are into foraging you may view wild garlic in a different light!
Let the Grass Grow Tall
When it comes to the lawn allow your grass to grow tall. This will crowd out weeds and prevent light from reaching the soil surface where the seeds of weeds are. If you practice mowing your lawn correctly each year you will notice fewer weeds.
How to Use Your Weeds in the Garden!
So far I’ve mentioned how I remove weeds but eliminating weeds isn’t always necessary. Weeds don’t all have to be treated as enemies. Remember I mentioned that weeds have a knack for growing? Weeds have the ability to grow where other plants really don’t. Often they are better adapted to deficient soils where other plants can’t grow and these weeds are able to pull nutritional value from those areas and bring it into themselves.
Make a Weed Tea
Which makes many weeds awesome material for making your own weed tea to water plants! I use weeds that I know are safe like clover and dandelions. Dandelions have a lot of nutritional value and clover is a nitrogen fixer. I steep both of these in a bucket of water in the sun for a couple days then use on plants as a fertilizer.
Be sure to cover the pot with a cloth that will allow them to breathe without attracting mosquitoes. Strain the weeds out of the water before use and toss the leftover pulp into the compost bin to decompose further. I would also recommend diluting the mixture to about 10% with water so that you don’t put too much on any one plant.
Compost the Weeds
If you don’t want to make a weed tea then compost those weeds so that one day you can return the nutrition the weeds have pulled from the soil back to the garden. Remember to weed before seed formation so you don’t spread weed seeds through out your garden when you put out compost.
Common Garden Weeds
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is actually an edible plant that grows through the wintertime. It also can serve as a beneficial groundcover. It’s easily removed by hand or with a hoe. If you do want to eliminate chickweed remove it mechanically before it goes to seed. It will die back on its own but not before resowing itself.
Clover is often used as a cover crop because of its nitrogen fixing properties. I recommend to harvest it and toss the leaves in the compost or use as a mulch. It’s also valuable as a food source for pollinators. It can also be used in a tea as I mentioned earlier. I like clover and advocate that people accept it as a beneficial plant and not as a weed!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelions are probably the most complained about “weed” in the lawn or garden. They have deep taproots which make them tricky to remove but that taproot also allows dandelions to gather nutrients from deeper layers of soil. Dandelions are edible and highly nutritious plus they can be used in the garden. Make an organic fertilizer by harvestings the flowers and leaves then use in a plant tea. Or make dandelion wine for yourself! Dandelions are also great for pollinators.
Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
I’m not a fan of hairy bittercress. When it goes to seed it has sharp seeds that pop up in the air when you pass by them. It’s easy to how or pull up by hand before it goes to seed.
Lamium (Lamium amplexicaule and Lamium purpureum)
Lamium is responsible for turning lawns in the spring into swaths of purple flowers. There are two common types of Lamium: hebit and dead nettle. It’s a good food source for pollinators in the spring. Let your fescues grow high in the winter to gradually remove it from the lawn over time or just accept having a colorful purple yard! A little spring color is a good thing!
Wild Garlic (Allium vineale)
Wild garlic is tough to beat. Using a trowel to dig them up is fairly successful but may require multiple diggings to remove them all. You’ll almost always miss a bulb! Boiling water does kill them off but they may need retreated. If you can’t beat the wild garlic you can always eat it! I have used the greens in place of green onions or chives in dishes.
I think what we consider weeds needs reevaluated. Many weeds offer benefits to gardeners. We should save the weed title for those deserving of it like ragweed or Johnson grass!