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What Are The Types of Weeds?

Food Forest Abundance Education

Permaculture design is all about working with, not against, nature. So instead of waging war against weeds like many farmers and gardeners do, why don’t you learn more about them and how they can benefit your soil?

Weeds are highly-adaptable and perform many vital functions for any healthy ecosystem. From conditioning the soil to become more fertile to attracting beneficial insects and organisms, weeds can end up being a gardener’s best friend.

However, all weeds will perform different functions in your garden, so it’s important to learn how to distinguish between the different types and their utilizations. 

Here are the four main categories of weeds that we’ll discuss below:

1. Weeds that decompact the soil

2. Weeds that retain soil

3. Weeds that harvest trace elements

4. Weeds that fix nitrogen

Soil Decompaction Weeds

Some weeds have a long root that drills down into the soil. These taproots may go as far as a foot or more, searching for water and nutrients below the topsoil.

If you see these types of weeds, it’s an indication that your soil is compacted and is often a sign of soil heavy in clay. Allow these weeds to do their work, and they’ll aid you in your efforts to condition the soil for planting.

Besides the physical act of breaking up compacted soil, plants with long taproots act as dynamic accumulators. This means they can access nutrients that other plants can’t reach. They draw these nutrients towards the surface so that other plants and microorganisms can also benefit. 

Common Weeds in This Category

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major)

Burdock (Arctium)

Soil Retention Weeds

In contrast to weeds with long taproots, some weeds have a network of shallow roots that spread out along the surface. As a result, these weeds are excellent at providing ground cover and protecting the soil from erosion.

In times of heavy rain, they hold the soil in place and prevent it from being washed away. In times of drought, they protect the earth from the sun and provide a place for insects and other organisms to thrive. 

These types of weeds can quickly overrun a garden if you’re not careful. But as long as you don’t let them choke out your vegetables, they are an essential part of a vibrant permaculture ecosystem.

Common Weeds in This Category

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Element Harvesting Weeds

Most weeds are adept at surviving in harsh environments. That’s why they’re often the first plants to crop up in areas of soil disturbance or infertility.

If you allow them to flourish, they can help accumulate trace elements in the soil. Over time, this will restore fertility to the damaged soil and encourage the growth of more nutrient-demanding plants.

Common Weeds in This Category

Fern (Tracheophyta)

Thistle (Cirsium)

Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)

Burdock (Arctium)

Nitrogen-Fixing Weeds

Nitrogen is an essential component of your garden. Without nitrogen, plants are unable to grow. While nitrogen is abundant as a gas in the air, most plants can’t use nitrogen in this form. 

That’s where nitrogen-fixing plants come in. They have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that allows them to draw in nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots. Then, when the plant dies and decomposes, it releases this nitrogen into the soil for other plants to benefit from.

Common Weeds in This Category

White Clover (Trifolium repens)

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

In Conclusion

If you see any of these weeds in your garden, think twice before uprooting them. Consider the role they’re playing in their current environment. Are they beneficial or detrimental? If you can find a way to co-exist, they’ll provide a range of benefits that will help your garden thrive.

Food Forest Abundance

Food Forest Abundance

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