By now your garden is planted, and you’ve been watering in your new plants and your seeds every day. Water, water, water. Do you know what that brings? Weeds! You have to get rid of them! Do you know why?
Seed gets dispersed through wind, water, birds and other animals. It is very mobile! Say you have a flowerbed that has a lot of reseeding plants, such as hollyhocks, cosmos and calendula. You may find hollyhocks in your lawn, cosmos in your vegetable garden or calendula across the walkway. That’s when a plant becomes a weed. If you want to maintain the look and feel of your manicured yard, sadly these weeds must be pulled.
Why weeds can be harmful to your garden
Plants that grow where you don’t want them will suck water and nutrients away from the plants you do want growing well. If you have a vegetable garden with reseeding cosmos sprouting in it, as beautiful as they are, the cosmos will have to go into the compost pile.
Cosmos is a big plant that will use a lot of water and drink fertilizer meant for its neighbors, as well as cast shade on plants that need sun. Any plant that detracts from your intended plants are weeds!
Easy ways to pull weeds
The easiest way to pull weeds is to be sure the soil is damp. Plants come out with little effort on your part. Water at night and pull weeds in the morning. Simple!
Once the weeds are out of the ground and in the compost pile, water again to settle the soil that remains. After watering, cover the garden with a thick layer of mulch to keep the moisture in and the weeds down. Smothering weeds is the most effective route to a tidy garden.
Now, after all that about neat gardens with no unwanted plants in them, I have to tell you that I don’t garden like that. I love reseeding plants, and I pretty much let them grow where they sprout. Pretty much, I said. I do remove large plants (like cosmos) from the vegetable patch, but I let others grow if they are not interfering.
Let some weeds grow – strategically!
This year, I have marigolds reseeding from last year’s planting. I’ve never had that happen before, so I am letting them grow out. I did, however, move a few that would have eventually gotten crowded out by the cucumber and winter squash plants. The ones I am leaving are scattered around the edges of the raised beds and in the lettuce patch.
I also let the purslane grow to add to salads (I’m a voracious salad eater!). As a groundcover, it shades the soil from the sun and keeps it cool. When it gets out of hand, it gets weeded. It can easily take over smaller plants.
My Russian Sage decided to sprout this year, and new growth was appearing outside the rock border of the garden. Instead of digging them out, I extended the boundary of that area of the garden about a foot to accommodate them.
Weeds as food
Some weeds are edible, such as purslane, a succulent groundcover. It adds a peppery flavor raw in salads, or it can be steamed like spinach, chard or kale. Purslane is very common here in New Mexico where I live, and as a hardy, widely spreading groundcover, it acts as mulch. It does especially well in dry years, like this one!
Lamb’s quarters is another ‘weed’. It, too, can be eaten raw or steamed like other leafy greens. The ever-famous dandelion is completely edible – roots, leaves and flowers can be eaten in salads, stir-fries and soups.
Weeds as home remedies
Other weeds are medicinal. All medicines are plant derivatives. Long before there were doctors and hospitals, sick people were given plant matter in various forms to facilitate healing. Science has turned those plants into pills now.
You can chew a piece of plantain and apply it to a bug bite or sting for immediate relief. White yarrow slows down bleeding and is helpful with digestive issues. Jewelweed can be crushed and applied to your skin where it rubbed against poison ivy. It will keep the rash to a minimum. Thankfully and ironically, jewelweed grows right alongside poison ivy!
“Weed” is a subjective term
Have you heard the saying a weed is a plant growing where you don’t want it? The term ‘weed’ is subjective. When a plant has a use to someone, it is not a weed. You have to determine what you want growing where, then remove the other plants. Dig them, pull them or chop them down. Use a little elbow grease! Please don’t use herbicides that kill all your plants and beneficial bugs. Garden organically always!