Don’t Mind the Weeds

Growing up in Central Texas, the summers were hot and dry. I experienced my fair share of summer heat, given that my first job (one that I held for many years) was cutting grass. While I have many memorable experiences from mowing and trimming lawns – one might be surprised at the type of stuff lawn maintenance workers run into – one thing I never understood was certain customers’ obsession with weeding out every last dandelion, spurge, and purslane (pun entirely intended). And no, I’m not saying this just because it was extra work for me!

Weeds, generally speaking, can be used to benefit one’s lawn or garden.  While there exists the stereotype of weeds being “invasive” and “aggressive” (think of a lawn overrun by weeds that outcompeted the Saint Augustine or Bermuda grass), I believe this notion is overblown.  Consider the following: many weeds are pioneer species, meaning they are the first to erupt from soils previously burned, charred, or otherwise harmed. Weeds add nutrients to the topsoil, and allow other plants to grow. This also helps reduce erosion.

When weeds die naturally, they decompose into something called humus (one “m” short of a tasty dip). This organic matter becomes a vital component to the soil, making it denser, and thus healthier in the beginning stages of soil development.

Some weeds also provide shelter and food to animals like pollinating insects.  Butterflies are known to lay eggs on different weed species, while bees make frequent stops.  In a world where insect populations are in decline, weeds fulfill an important ecological niche in helping to maintain environmental homeostasis.  These effects are felt throughout the ecosystem, all the way on up to humans.

Lastly, do weeds really look that bad on a lawn? I understand it is difficult to measure aesthetics, as everyone has their own preferences.  However, I would encourage lawn enthusiasts to think about weeds in terms of adding character lawn, not devaluing it. I would also encourage compromises when it comes to weeds. For example, if you want to show off your front lawn to neighbors, then keep weeds rooted in your backyard.


Written by Dax Emerson, Class of 2021

Photo by Viridi Green on Unsplash