Weeds: Friends or Enemies?

Are weeds a frequent uninvited guest around your landscape? Maybe you have an abundant colony of crabgrass or dandelions thriving in the lawn. Perhaps you suffer from the unrelenting vines of morning glory or ivy slowly taking over the garden. Whatever the case, all of these seemingly bothersome weeds are actually telling you something about the health of your landscape. Take, for instance, a lawn that is lush with clover.

The reason for its presence is not to annoy or even mock you. Instead, it is merely is assessing the quality of your soil. Typically, the presence of clover in your lawn indicates a low level of nitrogen in the soil. By looking closely at the weeds growing in your garden and the surrounding landscape, you can maintain the soil’s quality more effectively; thus, producing a healthier environment in which lawn and garden plants will thrive.

Weeds are an all too common occurrence in both lawns and gardens. A weed is known simply as ‘a plant in the wrong place.’ Unfortunately, many weeds can be aggressive to the point of literally taking over such as dodder, ivy, or kudzu. These weeds have been known to take over other plants as well as surrounding buildings. Generally, invasive weeds are well worth the trouble of removal; however, some weeds can be quite attractive in the garden.

Some of these include Joe-pye weed, with its tall stems of vanilla-scented, rose-colored flower clusters; wild chicory, with its brilliant blue flowers; hawkweed, which has daisy-like blooms on fuzzy stems; and Queen Anne’s lace, with lacy white, umbrella-shaped flower heads. Of course, which weed goes and which weed stays depends on the individual gardener; and irregardless of which type might exist in a given area, they all have a useful role to play when it comes to indicating soil conditions.

For example, there are numerous weeds that are commonly found growing in poor soil. Some of these include yarrow, ragweed, dandelion, thistle, crabgrass, plantain, fennel, clover, and sheep sorrel. Plantains, red sorrel, daisy, wild carrot (Queen Anne’s lace), mugwort, and mullein are good indicators of low fertility soil. If the garden consists of wet, poorly drained soil, it’s highly probable to find weeds such as spotted spurge, knotweed, moss, bindweed, and sedge. Moist, poorly drained soils are also dwelling sites for bluegrass, chickweed, crabgrass, goosegrass, ground ivy, speedwells, and violets.

Fertile soil is most often home to pigweed, foxtails, chickweed, chicory, horehound, and lamb’s quarter. Dandelions are commonly found in well-drained, humus soil. In fact, they can actually produce humus as well, which is beneficial to the soil. Plants favoring dry soils include mustard, carpetweed, sandbur, Russian thistle, yarrow, and speedwell. Acidic soils are usually a result of insufficient oxygen. Acidic soils can spawn hawkweed, sorrel, cress, moss, plantain, knotweed, and daisy; while chickweed, spotted spurge, Queen Anne’s lace, and chicory find comfort in more alkaline soils.

Finally, if the soil in your garden is hard or heavy, you’re likely to find weeds such as plantain, horse nettle, and quack grass growing in the area. Compacted soils are frequented by bluegrass, Bermuda grass, chickweed, goosegrass, knotweed, mouse-ear chickweed, mustard, penny cress, morning glory, or quack grass. Some weeds favor manure or composted soils that are rich in organic matter. These include lamb’s quarters, mallows, chickweed, plantain or thistles.

When there are large populations of weeds within the lawn, it is usually an indication of improper turf selection, poor culture, insect pest or disease invasion, excessive traffic, or an unfavorable growth environment. The presence of specific weeds in a lawn can make it easier to identify and fix common problems. Lawn areas with bare grass or moss may indicate the possibility of heavy shade or poor drainage. Chickweed, ground ivy, and violets are other plants that may be commonly seen in areas of intense shade. Excessive moisture in the soil can be indicated by horsetail or nutsedge, while yarrow commonly indicates soil that is too dry for grass. Some lawn weeds are not choosy about where they take up residence. Dandelions and quack grass can be found just about anywhere in spite of soil conditions.

Weeds can be our enemies, overtaking our lawns and gardens. They can aggravate us to no end. Yet, weeds can also be our friends, giving valuable clues to our soil’s health. Good or bad, they are here for a reason-weeds are nature’s band-aid, healing injured landscapes.

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