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Good Gardening: Weeds-- the good, the bad, and the bind weed

 Dandelions can be useful plants according to John Fischer.
John Fischer
Dandelions can be useful plants according to John Fischer.

Weeds are perhaps the most vexing and persistent part of a gardener's life.

But if you focus on the real trouble makers, and let other weeds help you, there will be more time for growing and eating vegetables. I just returned from a three week trip, and the weeds grew while I was gone. Fortunately the fastest growers are often the easiest to remove. And if you pull them out before they go to seed, they can make a fine mulch around your plants, or hit the compost pile without producing thousands of new weeds next year. The Nipplewort and purple deadnettle grew a foot while I was gone. They both pull out easily and have been hogging the ground so much that not a lot else has been able to sprout. Weeds can help dry your soil during a wet spring, and make it workable sooner than bare ground. When I pull up a batch of weeds, I throw it on top of an area that won't be planted for a few weeks, and the weeds underneath are deprived of light - killing them, or at least making the smothered weeds easier to pull later. I try to keep everything the garden produces in the yard to minimize outside inputs

Chemical companies have convinced us that dandelions are the devil incarnate, but they are actually very useful plants. The greens are a nice addition to winter salads, and the long taproot loosens the soil, and brings nutrients from deep underground.

The two weeds I will never eliminate are bind weed, and quack grass. If you're unlucky enough to have horsetails, you've got three problems. They both spread via underground runner roots, so flowers aren't necessary, and when you dig them up, even a little piece of missed root can turn into a whole new plant.

Even those ubiquitous weeds can be safely put back into the soil or compost once they have completely dried out. I usually have a pile or two drying on the driveway.

You will never eliminate weeds, but sometimes letting them get bigger before you pull them will reduce the overall workload.

John Fischer is a Master Gardener and Master Recycler and the host of KLCC's Good Gardening and Living Less Unsustainably.