Letting Weeds Go Wild

I am looking at my meadow and waiting with baited breath to see the first few sprouts of growth, which should be happening any day now. You know what I do see? I see the tiny tufts of grass sprinkled across the dirt. I see the little thistle-y weed near the edge that my rototiller didn’t get. There’s something resembling chickweed near the retaining wall that’s enjoying the fact that I took out all of its neighbors.

And you know what? It’s okay. I have to keep telling myself this, but truly, it’s fine. You’ve probably already thought about this before, but we’re really the only species that considers certain plants to be weeds. In her blog, Laurie Neverman writes, “This is one of the first things I noticed when I started paying attention to weeds – they’re just as alive with activity as intentionally planted flowers. A bee doesn’t care whether a flower is planted or wild. Other beneficial insects … use wild plants for food and shelter. Weeds also provide pollen and nectar for our pollinators early and late in the season.” Sounds like a no-brainer, and that part about them providing food in the early season is really important. Dandelions are one of the first sources of food for bees in the early spring. And yet, with all this said, I still have a hard time seeing a dandelion as anything more than a pest.

I know they’re food. I know they could even be a part of my own diet. But I’ve been conditioned to thinking of them as an uninvited guest on my lawn, and it’s a hard judgement to let go of, even after I’ve decided to denounce turf grass and rewild my parents’ space. I haven’t bothered to learn the names of the spiky leaves that were stubborn or evasive enough to stick around after my tilling efforts. But I don’t need to learn about them to appreciate what they’re doing for the ecosystem I’m trying to restore.

I’ll say it once and then never again because I’m sure you already understand this : we have to rethink weeds. That’s not to say that we won’t stop them from seeding later this year, or that if they spread too quickly, we won’t tame them or pluck them out completely. I spent money on flowers for the pollinators, and a thistle-y plant that’s gotten a free pass to live in my meadow doesn’t just get to take over. It’s a special relationship; I’m letting these weeds “go wild” because of the benefits that they have to the soil and insects, but I’m not growing 800 square feet of creeping thistle.

So I encourage you to be sensitive to the weed population in your meadow. Many of them produce flowers that are just as pretty as the ones you planted. And hey, you didn’t even have to go through the trouble of planting these.

If the bees don’t care, maybe we shouldn’t either.

One thought on “Letting Weeds Go Wild

  1. Fun fact: Dandelions weren’t considered a weed until the 20th century and “lawn culture.” Before then, they were actively cultivated by lots of different cultures as an incredibly useful herb. According to Wikipedia, a lot of the negativity around dandelions came from marketing by herbicide companies – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taraxacum#History

    Keep an eye out for noxious weeds, though. You’ll want to pull those before they can spread seeds. You can look up your state’s Invasive Plant Council to see a list of species that are considered a threat to local flora. I downloaded an app called Picture This (https://www.picturethisai.com/), which is a pretty decent free plant identification tool. I use it to figure out the name of the plant (sometimes I also need to do an online search to confirm), and then check it against the IPC database.


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