The weeds are trying to tell you something: Are you listening?

As a gardener, I have battled many weeds.  I’ve been paid to battle tenacious weeds like quack grass and thistle.  I have struggled as an organic gardener not to give in when someone tells me “Round-up would get rid of that.”  However, now that I am entering a more permaculture/sustainable frame of mind, I am realizing that the weeds are not the problem at all, they are just a symptom.

Nature ALWAYS has a plan.  When we go and disturb nature, it has a plan to get back on the road to a climax eco-system.  We have two choices: to battle mother nature’s plan, or to just go along, and try to tweak as we go.

I want you to picture a mature forest.  Think of the large trees above your head, blocking much of the sun.  Think of the wildflowers and shrubs, and the cool, spongy soil.  See all the leaf litter on the floor?  Notice how there are no weeds?

A mature poplar forest with healthy understory. Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

A mature poplar forest with healthy understory. Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

Now I want you to picture this forest being removed to put in a new shopping centre.  (I know, it’s not pleasant.)  Picture the earth movers coming in, stripping the trees and the top soil, and leaving a barren wasteland of subsoil.

Earth movers. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons.

Earth movers. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons.

Don’t worry, Mother Nature has a plan to get this scene back to the lovely mature forest. First she starts with weeds known as the Fast Carbon Pathway weeds: including Canada Thistle, Pigweed, Stinkweed and the like.
(Here is a link that explains the Fast Carbon pathway in more detail: C4 Carbon Fixation)

Basically, what you need to know is that these weeds create millions of seeds, they can lie dormant for years, and they germinate and grow incredibly quickly.  If you’ve ever tilled a garden and left it fallow, you will know what I mean by these weeds.

Tip #1: If you see a lot of these types of weeds, this means you have disturbed your soil too much.  Limit or Eliminate tilling and digging, and add a layer of organic mulch on top.  If you’re following nature’s plan: Add a cover crop like buckwheat to add organic material and prevent weed growth.

A covercrop of buckwheat will add organic material to the soil, as well as providing nectar for bees.

A cover crop of buckwheat will add organic material to the soil, as well as providing nectar for bees.

Mother Nature knows that these weeds will grow quickly, and add lots of organic material to the soil.  They will gather up the nutrients from the disturbed soil and transform it into a form that the microbes will use.

However, with all this traffic, the soil has become really compacted.  The clay is exposed to the sun, so it’s drying out and turning into something like concrete.  Most plants find it very hard for their roots to penetrate this kind of soil.
In come the weeds that most people know about: Dandelions and Canada Thistle.  Their strong deep taps roots can penetrate even the hardest soil, and they will seek the nutrients far below the surface, while creating “compost channels” and airspaces around their roots.

Dandelions galore! Image taken from Creative Commons.

Dandelions galore! Image taken from Creative Commons.

Tip #2: If you see a lot of dandelions and thistle, this means your soil is compacted.  You’ll want to aerate the soil, and add more organic material.  If you are following nature’s plan, you can use Daikon radishes or even carrots as your useful and tasty replacement.

Once nature has moved in to cover and enrich the soil, and aerate the compacted soil, it can move on to more complicated and longer lived plants like wildflowers and shrubs.  Eventually, the organic material in the soil will build up enough so that trees grow.  Soil biology tells us that there is more lifeforms beneath the soil than there are above the soil, and these micro-organisms generally fall into a ratio of bacteria vs fungus.  A newly disturbed eco-system would likely have a balance of 100 bacteria to every fungus.  100:1.  This happens because all that tilling and earth moving has destroyed the delicate hyphae network of the fungus.  In a mature forest, the balance is more like 1:100, meaning that there is one bacteria for every 100 fungi.  (Why did the mushroom always get invited to the party?  Because he was a fun-gi!”

weeds in Calgary

Quack Grass: showing the rhizomes. Picture courtesy of Creative Commons

However, there are some weeds that thrive even in relatively rich soil, and are harder to get rid of.  These include the weeds with rhizomes such as quack grass, and the escaped perennial known as creeping bellflower.  These plants survive most attempts to get rid of them because every little piece of root left behind will grow into a new plant.  Many gardeners battle these weeds for many years without winning.

Tip#3: Rhizomes are easier to remove in rich, loose soil.  Improving your soil and adding a thick layer of mulch will cause the rhizomes to be in the upper soil layer, where they are easier to pull out.

If you are following Nature’s plan, allow leaves and other garden waste to stay where they are.  A blanket of leaves breaks down into wonderful rich mulch.  (Note: Always remove diseased leaves to avoid further infestation.)

Happy Crocus in a bed of leaf litter.

Happy Crocus in a bed of leaf litter.

I hope these tips will help you grow a healthy beautiful garden and have more time to enjoy the garden too!
What tenacious weed have you been battling?


Posted Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 under Flower Garden, Gardening ideas, Quick tips, Uncategorized, Vegetable Garden.