Don’t Pull These 5 “Weeds” — They’re Actually Amazing Cover Crops!

Dandelions, clover, plantain, chickweed and lamb’s quarters are super accumulators of nutrients that fertilize, protect and condition the soil, while attracting beneficial insects!

lamb’s quarters

Weeds are nature’s way of healing itself when the soil has been laid bare. They protect, fertilize and condition the soil. They also attract beneficial garden insects. On her blog Tenth Acre Farm, author of The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People, Amy Stross lists four reasons most of the weeds we tirelessly try to pull up or poison are better left in the ground:

1. Weeds protect soil

Weeds are fast growing, so they can quickly cover bare ground to protect it. Their roots hold soil together and keep it from eroding away in the wind or rain. Their presence can indicate the need for mulch to protect soil.

2. Weeds fertilize soil

The long roots of many weeds bring vital nutrients from the subsoil up to their leaves. As the weed leaves die, they make a healing medicine (fertilizer) for damaged topsoil. Their presence can indicate the need to enrich your soil with amendments such as worm castings or compost.

3. Weeds condition soil

Decaying roots—especially deep taproots—add organic matter to the soil. They provide channels for rain and air to penetrate. Decaying roots also create tunnels for worms and other beneficial soil microbes, preparing the way for a “no-till” garden.

4. Weeds attract beneficial insects

Weeds are usually quick to sprout, but relatively short-lived. For this reason, they flower frequently in order to set seed for the next generation. The flowering and their dense foliage attracts beneficial insects looking for habitat or nectar.

The following five weeds not only provide all of the above benefits, but are nutritious edibles and powerful medicinals:

1. Broadleaf Plantain

Plantain pops up where soil is compacted and accumulates nutrients including calcium, sulfur, magnesium, manganese, iron, and silicon from the subsoil and brings it up to the topsoil.

It’s been used for millennia as a powerful medicine for all kinds of illness and injury.

2. Chickweed

Chickweed shows up in disturbed soil such as garden beds and highly tilled areas, indicating low fertility.

It accumulates potassium and phosphorus from the subsoil and attracts pollinator insects.

Chickweed has edible, lettuce-like greens and medicinal properties.

3. Lamb’s Quarters

The presence of lamb’s quarters is common in old farm fields, where chemical fertilizers were used in excess. Over time, these “weeds” will improve the  soil quality.

Their deep roots accumulate nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and manganese, while loosening the soil.

They have highly nutritious edible leaves that sell to local chefs for a high price.

4. White Clover

White clover voluntarily shows up in nitrogen-lacking, dry fields and lawns that cover hard-pan clay soil. Lawns where grass clippings are routinely carted away over time become lacking in nitrogen.

White clover is a nitrogen fixer, meaning it can transfer airborne nitrogen into the soil to be used by neighboring crops. It also accumulates phosphorus from the subsoil.

It attracts ladybugs, minute pirate bugs, and pollinators looking for nectar. It provides shelter for parasitoid wasps, spiders, and ground beetles, and is a preferred egg-laying site for lacewings.

White clover flowers are edible.

White clover is often used as a permanent ground cover in orchards to protect shallow fruit tree roots, and in the pathways of vegetable gardens to fertilize nearby soil.

5. Dandelion

Dandelion is one of the most common and arguably the most beneficial of all weeds. It often shows up in hard-pan clay soils, whether in gardens, old fields, or lawns.

Its deep roots accumulate potassium, phosphorus, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, and silicon while loosening the soil.

It attracts ladybugs, pollinators, parasitoid wasps and lacewings.

Dandelion has edible leaves, roots, and flowers with highly medicinal properties.

If you have a persistent weed that isn’t listed here, resources such as Gaia’s Garden or Edible Forest Gardens may be able to instruct you on their benefits.





6 responses to “Don’t Pull These 5 “Weeds” — They’re Actually Amazing Cover Crops!”

  1. mila Avatar

    Thanx! Keep up the good work!

  2. Wanda Boomhower Avatar
    Wanda Boomhower

    Thank you… this is decent and helpful information!

  3. Tina Hollis Avatar
    Tina Hollis

    Thankyou! Im going to plant some of these amongst my winter crops.

  4. Lynne Clark Avatar
    Lynne Clark

    Good to Know!

  5. Kristy Avatar

    Broadleaf plantain is great for bug bites!


      What do you do, put it on the bite?
      Can you eat them?