It’s that time of the year when the gardeners amongst us emerge to tackle neglected green patches. We prune, trim, plant, mow, and clip. And weed. Many of us curse (and relish) removing weeds that have flourished in winter.
Yet, contrary to popular belief, not all weeds are evil. A weed is just a plant growing in a place where it is unwanted. In fact, many of your stubborn garden weeds can have benefits.
Here’s the ‘dirt’ on why many garden-variety weeds can be happily left in the ground, under control.
1. They create homes for wildlife
Lots of weeds create habitat. In fact, some native species are starting to adapt to, and even rely on, weeds for a food source and place to live. For example, coprosma (shiny leaf - once planted) along the Bondi-Bronte coastal walk provides a great habitat for fairy wrens. In regards to these specific weeds, Waverley Council establishes other adjoining areas of native plants before removing them.
Weeds can also be good habitat for our chief pollinators - insects. Aside from helping plants seed and grow, these tiny critters are also an important protein source for birds and skinks.
2. We can eat them!
Keen naturalist and forager Diego Bonetto says that “the best benefit you could harness is the fact that many of them are edibles.” People often forage for food in weedy areas, and they can provide a nutritious addition to your meal. Bonetto runs hands-on workshops on this topic in Sydney. A well-known local example is nasturtium that grows all through Bronte.
Dandelion leaves are great for salads, warrigal greens (edible and native) are often used in curries. Bonetto: “We don’t need to hate them, just eat them.
3. They prevent soil erosion and bring diversity
Roots of weeds hold the soil together, preventing erosion and loss of precious topsoil for good plant growth. Weeds can tell a lot about the condition of your soil, “like dandelions tell you that the soil is acidic, or chickweed, that grows where the soil is rich, moist and loose,” says Netto.
They also add to the plant diversity in the neighbourhood, a key ingredient for a healthy place.
If you have to remove weeds:
- Do so slowly, in small patches, and replace the weeds with a native plant where possible (e.g. something that provides dense cover).
- Allow new plantings to establish before moving on to the next patch. “Once your garden is set for what you want, the desired plants will outcompete all others,” Bonetto explains.
- Manual removal is most effective (and better for our health and the environment) compared to destructive chemical herbicides. Even the 'natural' herbicides destroy insect habitat.
- Put the weeds in your green garden waste bin, or your ‘hot’ compost.
- Visit www.sydneyweeds.org.au/all-about-weeds/weed-identification/
- Visit Wilds Edible Database
- Read: The Weed Forager’s Handbook – Eat That Weed
- Contact: The friendly staff at Randwick Community Nursery, or Sam McGuinness, Urban Ecology Coordinator at Sam.McGuinness@waverley.nsw.gov.au
Thanks for making caring for our green spaces second nature.
As published in The Beast magazine, November 2017
Photo credit: Chris Chen