Discover Beneficial Weeds in the Garden

Contrary to their reputation, beneficial weeds under certain circumstances can be helpful in the garden by holding top-soil, pulling up water and nutrients, providing food, controlling insects and more.

| July/August 1987


Dandelions like rich soil, one of the good reasons they may have decided to grow in your garden.


Gardener, hold that hoe! Are there really beneficial weeds in the garden? Those wild volunteers do have their good points. 

Discover Beneficial Weeds in the Garden

In 1879, botanist William Beal decided to see how long weed seeds could remain viable. He buried 20 jars, each filled with 1,000 seeds. Then, every five years, he dug up a jar and planted its contents to see which kernels would still sprout. After he died in 1924, colleagues continued the work. In 1979, they watched some 100-year-old seeds germinate.

Add longevity to productivity (some weed plants can produce as many as 40,000 seeds), and you'll realize why, left unchecked, weeds will usually outcompete your garden vegetables for sunlight, nutrients and water. No wonder most gardeners have earned the weeder's merit badges of Calloused Palm and Hoe-er's Hunchback.

But weeds do have their good side. Under controlled circumstances, a number of beneficial weeds can greatly benefit our gardens. They hold top-soil, pull up water and nutrients, provide food, help control insects and more.

Then too, we often don't make the association between the beautiful wildflowers that erupt around us from spring through fall and the fact that most of them bloom on otherwise ordinary weeds. We should. To do otherwise would be like admiring butterflies but hating caterpillars.

So yes, for beauty and utility, weeds do have their good points. You'll probably always hack away at ones that crowd your crops. But when you think about all the good they can do, maybe you'll see them with a more benevolent eye, and selectively use those volunteer visitors to your garden's advantage.

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