7 Ways to Reuse Weeds in the Garden
In this article, gardening expert Kaleigh Brillon shows you the silver lining of weeds: they make great fertilizer that’s completely free to use and will make a world of difference for your soil health.
Weeds are nothing but trouble! Or are they? These greens pop up everywhere you don’t want them and can really put a damper on your time outside. But rather than waste all your time and energy getting rid of plants you dislike, you can reuse them.
We all know how useful plants can be. Since weeds are just plants you don’t want, they must have some benefit, right? There are many ways you can make them earn their keep. The best part of turning these nuisances into something useful is that they’re a fairly reliable resource that tends to stick around, for better or worse.
Let’s talk about how you can reuse weeds in the garden. There are plenty of ways to make them useful outdoors. Surprisingly enough, some are even delicious on the dinner plate!
Green Matter Compost
Composting requires two kinds of matter: “greens” and “browns.” Green matter has more nitrogen and decomposes quickly, whereas brown matter is more carbon-rich and decomposes slowly. If you collect kitchen scraps to compost or add green weedy leaves to a compost pile, you add green matter.
You can reuse weeds by composting them while they’re green to enrich your compost pile with nitrogen. It’s a great method to use if you don’t always have green matter to add to the compost pile. Let them grow freely in part of your yard so you can have a fresh supply when you need it.
To add to your compost, chop them down with shears or use a reel mower that doesn’t have a bag attached to it. Rake up the freshly cut greens and add them to the pile.
Only add plants that are free of seed heads and rhizomes. Seed heads will distribute seeds wherever you put the compost. Rhizomes can sprout new shoots and spread where they’re planted. Cut young weeds that haven’t flowered yet, and make sure those with rhizomes are fully dead. Consistent mowing ensures weeds like dandelions or chickweed don’t keep re-seeding in your garden.
Brown Matter Compost
You need brown matter in a compost pile to provide carbon. Brown matter often tends to be literally brown: dead leaves, withered plants, dried grass clippings, and woody tree prunings all count, along with cardboard and paper. If you don’t have enough leaves or cardboard boxes to fuel your pile, you can use weeds as a near-constant supply.
Cut them down as you would for green matter, making sure there aren’t any seed heads that will drop and sprout in the compost pile. You’ll also want to make sure there aren’t any diseased plants. Lay the plants out in the sun to dry for two weeks. This will give the plants plenty of time to die and dry out. Once the plants are brown and crispy, you can add them to the compost pile.
Any weed can be used for brown matter, and so can your lawn. After you mow the yard, leave the grass clippings in a pile to dry. A well-cared-for lawn will keep growing throughout the growing season and provide a steady supply of clippings to compost.
Improve the Soil
If you don’t have a compost pile or lean towards lazier gardening methods (it happens!), you can still reuse weeds to improve your soil with a chop-and-drop method. This method works great for weedy areas you’d like to turn into gardening space or if your existing beds have gotten too weedy.
All you need to do is chop down the weeds and leave them on the ground before they develop seed heads. Easy, right? Weeds are deceptively helpful; even though we don’t want them, they’ve been improving the soil since they sprouted. Their roots aerate the soil, which helps underground life thrive, and in turn, they can benefit other plants growing there. Once you chop and leave them behind to decompose, you add another layer of nutrients to fuel microbial growth and fertility in the soil.
The best way to chop and drop is with a stirrup hoe (sometimes called an action hoe). It’s a long-handled tool with a blade meant for scraping, and it’s perfect for making clean cuts at the base. Run the hoe over them at the base of the soil, ensuring that the roots stay in the ground. Removing the roots that aerate your soil is counterproductive and won’t help you in the long run. Spread the chopped greens over the area you cut them so they can start to break down.
You can easily turn your weedy area into a no-dig garden bed for the ultimate no-hassle weed removal method. First, you chop and drop your weeds and spread them over the soil. Then, cover them with compost, a layer of cardboard, and more compost. Wait a couple of months for things to break down. Voila! You have a no-dig garden primed and ready to use.
One caution here: if the weed can root from even a tiny cutting, do not chop and drop those. This includes species like Bermuda grass or English ivy. Even the smallest little piece of these plants can develop roots and grow back, so it’s best to remove plants with that tendency from the garden entirely.
Soil Health Indicator
Weeds are annoying when they pop up, but they’re a good indicator of what’s happening in the soil. If you can’t get lavender to grow in a certain bed in your garden, but wood sorrel thrives there, it’s a sign that the soil is acidic and the bed is shady. Prune away large shrubs or trees to allow more sunlight to hit the site, or amend the soil to make it alkaline, and then you should be able to grow lavender there.
Rather than throw away every weed disdainfully, learn to reuse them as an indicator of your garden’s health. Dandelions seem to pop up everywhere, but if they’re growing more in one area than the others, it’s a sign that the soil is of poor quality. It’s likely low in calcium and organic matter, which can indicate why many other plants probably aren’t growing where the dandelions are.
If you take the time to learn how they grow, you’ll start seeing them as helpful tools rather than ugly hindrances, even if they are ugly and hindering you. This can be a simple way to test your soil when you don’t have the resources to do it otherwise.
Soil Moisture Indicator
Soil health isn’t the only thing weeds can give you clues about. They can also show you how moist or dry the soil is. It’s more straightforward than soil health since you can actually see evidence of moisture—seeing calcium isn’t so easy!
Checking soil moisture usually requires some digging, whether it’s your entire finger into the ground or using a shovel. Both are inconvenient since one leaves you with dirt under your nails for a while, and the other requires disturbing the soil and potentially accidentally uprooting some plants.
Weeds can make the process much simpler. Find a weed with a deep taproot, like a dandelion or stinging nettle. Pull it out of the ground (with gloves!), making an effort to get it all in one piece. If the root comes out clean, the soil is likely dry. If the root has dirt all over it, it’s moist.
A rogue weed or two may pop up in your garden from time to time, and this is a good way to put it to use. Let it get big enough to grow a deep root but not large enough to flower or produce seeds, and then pull it out when you’re unsure about if you need to water or not. It’s a plant-friendly method since it won’t disturb nearby roots of other plants unless it has a complicated web of lateral roots intertwined with your other plants. Deep, single-taproot varieties are best for this method.
Unless you grow a backyard full of unique greens, you might forget that the world is full of edible leaves of all kinds. Look beyond the packaged romaine and kale, and you’ll see plenty of greens in your backyard, including those you want to throw out but could reuse instead!
Many types are not only edible but also delicious. You can reuse weeds in a variety of dishes! sauté them like kale, throw them into soups like spinach, or make an earthy salad with an eclectic mix of greens you’ll only find in fancy restaurants. Below is a list of edible types you might find in your garden, but it’s certainly not a complete list.
|Common Name||Scientific Name|
|Common mallow||Malva neglecta|
|Curly dock||Rumex crispus|
|Lamb’s quarters||Chenopodium album|
|Stinging nettle||Urtica dioica|
|Wood sorrel||Oxalis montana|
As with any other plant, always research before serving you and your guests the weeds that popped up overnight. Some plants, like dandelions and purslane, are completely edible, while others have toxic seeds or plant parts you shouldn’t eat.
Munching on edible weeds can be a great way to take control of the plants that are trying to control your garden. You may even find yourself looking for weeds if you enjoy them.
Are you in the mood for weed soup? Then you might want to search for a recipe because you won’t want to eat this one. This “soup” recipe takes about two weeks and involves reusing rotting weeds. Yeah, it’s not appetizing for humans, but it’s amazing for plants!
If the chop-and-drop method doesn’t work for you or you’re not quite ready to fertilize your plants, use your weeds to make a liquid fertilizer. Put your freshly cut weeds in a bucket and chop them into small pieces. Fill the bucket with water and add a little compost as an inoculant. Let it sit for at least two weeks so you can get all the nutrients out of the weeds.
When your weedy-nutrient infusion is ready, use one part of fertilizer to ten parts of water. A little goes a long way, and diluting it will prevent you from overfertilizing your plants. Since a bucket will make plenty of fertilizer, keep it covered when you’re not using it so it doesn’t become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other things that love stagnant swamp-like conditions. (Not a great way to describe a “soup,” is it?)
With so many ways to reuse weeds in the garden, you may never see them as true weeds again. They’re free fertilizer up for grabs that can greatly benefit the plants you want to keep, so you might as well put them to good use. Plan how you will put the plants to work next time you must clear out a weed-infested flower bed. If you can’t make up your mind, try them all.