Pros And Cons Of Growing Weeds In The Garden

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Ah, to weed or not to weed, that is the question. Weeds are ever present in nearly all landscapes in some form or other. They're also the bane of most gardeners, myself included at one time. But are there legitimate reasons to let weeds stay where they are or should you get rid of them altogether? This is a personal issue and one that will likely include a number of differing opinions, all of which are welcome (just be nice).

So journey with us as both Shelley and I explore this topic and present our own views on the pros and cons of weeds in the garden.

Reasons to Let Weeds Stay in Gardens

(Nikki's viewpoint) Personally, I like weeds - at least I do now for the most part. I will admit that I used to nearly kill myself as I continuously pulled them up, only to have them pop right back up somewhere else. It seemed like a losing battle and got to the point where I questioned why I was even trying. But turns out that was a good thing.

I started to learn more about the weeds I constantly battled to no avail. And I learned that there were more pros to growing weeds than there was luck in defeating them. After much exploration, I finally decided not to fight them but invite them into my garden instead. Here's my reasons for why you should let weeds grow.

  • Great for wildlife. I am a wildlife gardener and welcome all sorts of critters and insects into the garden. Allowing some of the weeds to grow helps encourage their presence. In fact, many weeds attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. Some birds and small animals also feed on these plants. Creating a wildlife weed garden will be much appreciated.
  • They're useful. A number of weeds are actually useful herbs. That's right. Many are edible or can be used medicinally to treat all manner of things. I was so intrigued by this that I wanted to learn more, so I signed up for classes in herbalism. Now I have yet another reason to grow weeds in the garden. I'm able to use many of them in teas (stinging nettle, white clover, chickweed), as poultices for healing (wild yarrow, plantain), or even in salads (dandelions, curly dock/sorrel, purslane) where their beneficial properties come in handy.
  • Wonderful as groundcovers. Got an area that needs to fill in quickly? Weeds can do just that! After all, they're known for their vigorous growth, right. So why not take advantage of this and grow some of the more well-behaved weeds as an attractive groundcover. This can also be helpful for controlling erosion, especially on slopes. I like creeping Charlie, and it's another one of those useful edible herbs too.
  • Require little care. As vigorous growers, which we can likely all attest to, those weeds won't require all your time and attention growing in the garden quite like they do when you choose to pull or eradicate them. Sun, shade, wet, dry, or wherever, they will grow all on their own!
  • Provide clues about soil. If you pay attention to areas of the landscape where you notice weeds growing, they can actually tell you about the soil conditions there. This is helpful in combatting them IF that is what you choose to do, but naturally. For example, poor soils with low fertility are often home to weeds like mugwort or crabgrass. If you improve the soil in these areas, you can more easily limit their growth. That being said, in areas of the garden where everything else fails, these could be great additions - Mugwort deters pesky insects, while crabgrass has edible seeds that are nutritious. Others, like clover (which fixes nitrogen), can improve soil by adding nutrients where needed.
  • Attractive additions. Some weeds are not just attractive to beneficial insects and wildlife but can be beautiful to us as well. There are many weeds (like English daisies, dandelions, wild violets, and chicory) that have pretty flowers. Others offer interesting foliage such as many types of thistles. If it's something different, you can bet I'm into it.

Why You Should Get Rid of Weeds

(Shelley's viewpoint) While not necessarily fond of weeds, I feel there's merit in some of their uses. That being said, I would rather not allow weed in my garden. And here's why:

  • They're unsightly.When we garden,we have a vision of what our developing garden should look like, whether it be well-manicured flower beds or neat tidy rows of healthy-looking vegetables. Weeds are never factored into our vision and for good reason. Weeds make our gardens look less appealing, messy and unrefined. 
  • They can flare up your allergies. If you want to minimize the amount of achooing you do, it may be in your best interest to keep allergy inducing weeds such as ragweed, pigweed, lamb'squarters, tumbleweed and sagebrush out of your garden. You want to be able to enjoy gardening without a wad of tissues in your pockets and itchy, red watering eyes.
  • They can compromise your cultivated plants. Weeds compete with your garden plants for the same water, light and nutrients. Weeds have an edge because they have more aggressive root systems. What this means is that your vegetables, annuals and perennials will not thrive to their potential, or in the worst-case scenario, die altogether due to being crowded out by weeds or weakened to the point they are susceptible to pests and disease.
  • Death. Did I mention your plants could die? That's right. And not only because of being outcompeted by weeds for food and water. Weeds are known to be carriers of plant virus diseases, not to mention that pests, such as whiteflies and spider mites, are attracted like magnets to the lush canopies that weeds have to offer. All the more reason why you should get rid of weeds.
  • Unpleasant Gardening Experience. Some weeds have stickers, thorns or other unpleasant characteristics that are not fun to have contact with and put a damper on the gardening experience. I remember one time getting a mass of burs tangled up in my hair - not a fond memory. Let's also talk about harvest.Harvest is the pivotal point of the gardening season when you acquire the fruits of your hard labor. It's something to look forward to.Weeds can take the joy out of harvesting, especially when it comes to low growing leafy crops. It is time-consuming and cumbersome to pick and parcel out weeds that are mixed in with your intended yield.

There are just as many reasons to pull weeds as to let them stay. The decision to keep or pull weeds is purely personal and depends on your outlook. Weeds can be regarded as something hideous or things of beauty. They can be viewed as a hindrance or something helpful. There really is no wrong or right way of dealing with weeds. 

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.