A Weed is Just a Weed, or Is It? Weed Your Garden Day, June 13

In a world where we celebrate just about everything — including National Dress Up Your Pet Day, National Underwear Day, and National Procrastination Day (which no one seems to get around to celebrating) — weeds go largely unheralded, mostly for good reason.

They are considered the bane of many gardeners’ existence, a problem to be eradicated rather than something to be revered.

It’s no surprise then, that the one day devoted to weeds is earmarked for their destruction: June 13, Weed Your Garden Day. 

Sure, regular weeding is an essential (and sometimes backbreaking) task in any garden. But the effort pays off with far-ranging benefits.   

  • Improves the health of your plants by reducing competition for water, nutrients, and sunlight. 
  • Enhances the overall appearance of your garden. While some weeds can be quite beautiful, with interesting flowers or foliage, many are unappealing and generally detract from a garden’s overall design plan. 
  • Keeps new weeds from cropping up. Many weeds are prolific reproducers and spread easily through seeds or other means. Like other nuisances, weeds can be difficult to control. Before you know it, they’ve taken over your garden.

With apparently so little to recommend them, you might be ready to grab your hand trowel or scuffle hoe and head out the door. Before you do, though, think about this: what makes a weed a weed? And do they have any benefits in the total scheme of things?

The answers may surprise you.

Eye of the beholder

In the world of gardening, a weed isn’t necessarily a type of plant. Rather, it’s better described as a wayward plant — one that’s considered undesirable in a particular situation or location.

A tomato plant belongs in your vegetable garden, but if it pops up uninvited in your flower bed, it becomes an unwanted weed. A wildflower growing in your lawn might be a weed while the same flower is right at home in a wildflower meadow.

In our Texas neighborhood, some people regularly mow over the wild-growing pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) while others travel to the state’s Hill Country to see them flourishing during their short season alongside bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush.

Even plants you originally cultivated can be considered weeds if they grow, well, like a weed. Ivy vines climbing a trellis are one thing, but when they invade your flowerbeds or climb onto trees or structures, they fall into the undesirable category. Grass encroaching on your flowerbeds or vegetable patches? That is pretty weedlike, too.

One person’s treasure

Despite there being no National Weed Appreciation Day, weeds do serve a purpose in supporting a healthy ecosystem. 

  • They provide food and shelter for insects, birds, and small animals.
  • They can improve soil health. Some weeds, like clover or vetch, have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria called Rhizobia. These bacteria fix nitrogen from the air and convert it into a usable form for plants. This enriches the soil for other plants growing nearby, promoting overall plant health.
  • Weeds with strong root systems help anchor the soil and prevent erosion from wind and water. This is particularly important on slopes or exposed areas.
  • On the other hand, weeds with taproots, like dandelions, can loosen compacted soil, improving aeration and drainage for other plants. 
  • When weeds die and decompose, they increase organic matter in the soil, helping it retain moisture and nutrients. This organic matter also helps bind soil particles together, creating a more stable structure that encourages air and water infiltration, preventing compaction and promoting the healthy root growth of all plants in the garden. 

Nature’s alarm bell

For gardeners, the presence of weeds is like a persistent and pesky natural alarm bell, alerting you to the possibility of problems with the underlying soil condition. If you see horsetail, it may suggest your soil is acidic or not draining well. Adding lime or improving drainage can be beneficial. Crabgrass everywhere? It might mean you have too much nitrogen in your soil. Cutting back on nitrogen fertilizer application can help. 

And don’t forget: Many weeds are actually edible. Dandelions, purslane, and chickweed are just a few examples of weeds that can be incorporated into salads or cooked.

Hmm. Maybe this should be a double-duty observance: You can appreciate (and eat) your weeds and get rid of them, too. 

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