Nature's Notes: Start thinking of weeds as soil's friend

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By Marion and Rich Patterson

Weeds lack human friends. They are the most persecuted of all plants. Yet, ironically, they provide enormous benefits to people and the environment. Weeds deserve admiration and respect.

Cut a finger and the human body undergoes an amazing healing process. Within a few weeks all traces of a minor wound vanish. Physicians help the body heal deep cuts by stitching the wound together. Weeds are “Mother Nature’s stitches.”

Weeds quickly sprout in bare soil and grow like fury, reducing erosion while softening and adding organic matter to the ground. Most are temporary residents that gradually decline as slower more stable species replace them. Crab grass is an example.

If a dog digs up a patch of lawn, a mole heaps up a pile of dirt, or human digging leaves soil bare a fascinating process begins. Crab grass may struggle to live in dense turf and can’t stand heavy shade, but it loves bare sunny soil and appears like magic. It quickly covers bare earth with temporary greenery until slower growing, but more stable and desirable, grasses gradually rout it. Many yard and garden weeds are similar. They quickly clothe bare soil yet struggle to thrive in places with thick growths of stable plants.

Perhaps the wisest lawn weed strategy is to simply enjoy watching them heal the ground’s wounds and, eventually, yield to other species.

Marion Patterson is an instructor at Kirkwood. Rich Patterson is the former executive director of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids.

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