by Mechelle Kneidenger, 2012 CGLT apprentice

Topic: weeds in the garden

“A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson


To understand what makes a weed a weed and what we can learn from the weeds in the garden.  A weed is simply a plant that is unwanted in the garden, because it creates competition for our veggie plants. But they’re not all bad! We can learn about our soil by observing the weeds that grow in it, and weeds can even help make a healthier garden.


When we walk outside, what kinds of plants do we see? Trees, grass, blackberry brambles. What plants would we consider weeds? Why?

The term “weed” is a human idea. Three things come to mind that make a weed a weed: Plant, place, and perception. In their natural habitat, wildflowers and herbs not only provide beauty but function in many useful ways. They can be a source of food for insects and animals (including us)! They can enrich the earth, loosen hard-packed soils, and help prevent erosion. However, when they invade cultivated areas they often interfere with the desired crop by appropriating space, sunlight, moisture, and soil nutrients. Weeds may also harbor and spread insect and fungus pests.

What are some “weeds” in the garden that we might consider beautiful or useful when they’re outside the garden?

Plant, place and perception: Weed plants are usually very opportunistic and able to spread quickly (ex: shotweed). They are usually only considered weeds when they are in a garden or landscape. Our perception of weeds is shaped by whether or not they are hindering the growth of our preferred plants.

Activity: Weed transplant! 

Dig two weed plants (chickweed) from the same area in the garden (be sure to get the roots as well), place one plant into a pot of soil that has not been enhanced (woodland topsoil), and place the other plant into a pot of compost. Watch what happens! What does this indicate about the compost? Why might this knowledge be useful to the gardener?

Dig one comfrey plant from the garden, and transplant it into a pot. Watch how big it grows, and see how many uses it has for the garden and for humans (comfrey tea as fertilizer, medicinal uses, ability to mine nutrients from deep in the soil and bring them to the surface).

Materials needed: 

  • 1 large comfrey plant with root for show and tell
  • 3 pots for each class
  • 1 bucket compost
  • 1 bucket woodland soil
  • 1 bucket potting soil for comfrey plant
  • gloves
  • trowels


  • Weed
  • Opportunistic
  • Erosion
  • Transplant

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