New gardeners often think of weeding as one of the very worst gardening chores. But a change in attitude may be all that is required to think differently about this job. With a permaculture approach, weeding can be a lot less work, and when you think about it in the right way, can even become a rather enjoyable element of gardening.
Think About What ‘Weeds’ Really Are
Weeds are plants growing where we do not want them to grow. But plants called “weeds” are often merely plants which thrive where we live and are ideally suited to the growing conditions we provide.
The wild plants that pop up in our gardens tell us a lot about the conditions in our growing areas. They can tell us what the soil is like and give us clues about which will be the right plants for the right places.
Before we weed, we should ask ourselves whether we really want to get rid of those particular plants. You may well find that a plant you thought of as a weed is actually a beneficial addition to your garden. You might not need to get rid of it at all.
Knowing the difference between beneficial wild plants in your garden and problematic weeds can mean that there is less work to do. For example, if you think you need to get rid of those dandelions or other wildflowers in your lawn, think again. They enhance the ecology and bring a range of benefits.
Of course, there are certain invasive weeds that we do need to remove, and we will need to do some weeding in certain parts of our gardens, such as annual vegetable plots. But often, we can leave weeds in other parts of our spaces and let nature reign.
Reducing Weed Growth in Specific Growing Areas
In areas like vegetable gardens, some weeding will typically be required. But you can reduce the growth of unwanted weeds by:
- Taking a no-dig approach, as digging or tilling can bring weed seeds to the surface;
- Planting relatively densely, using companion plants, and adding ground-cover plants in beds and borders (carefully chosen plants can make the most of a space without overly increasing competition);
- Using organic mulches to cover bare soil between plants; this can suppress weed growth to an extent, while also reducing moisture loss and adding fertility (just make sure that you avoid using mulches full of weed seeds—certain manures, for example, can cause weeds to proliferate).
The Philosophy of Casual Weeding
Even when you plant densely and use organic mulch, there is usually still some weeding to do. Areas that do require some weeding, such as vegetable beds, can seem overwhelming, especially to new gardeners. But I find that if you weed little and often, doing some “casual weeding” as you pass by, this prevents any potential competition problems from getting out of hand.
Casual weeding involves pulling weeds as you pass—every time you see them as you go about other jobs in your garden. This approach means that the job won’t seem as much of a massive chore and you can keep on top of things without having to set aside a lot more time.
Viewing Weeds as a Useful Resource
It is important to remember that while we may not want weeds to grow in a particular location, they can still be a useful resource. Many weeds are good at gathering specific nutrients from the soil, and we can use this characteristic to our advantage.
Annual weeds can be chopped and dropped on the surface of the soil to return their nutrients to the soil as they break down; this allows them to be taken up by nearby crops and other plants we want.
But you might also consider gathering up weeds and adding them to a composting system, or using them to make a liquid organic plant feed for your crops. I like to add weeds to a lidded container of water and steep them there, then strain the liquid to give crops a boost.
Weeding as Harvesting
Remember, there are many common “weeds” which can also be considered edible crops in their own right. Eating the weeds adds an additional element to your homegrown diet. And when you are harvesting weeds to eat rather than simply pulling them out of the ground to get rid of them, this also makes weeding seem like less of a chore.