Metro-East Living

Weeds can be a garden helper

Q: My neighbor told me to let my weeds grow in the garden, that they can help fertilize the soil. I think he does not like to weed his vegetable garden. Is any of what he is saying true?

N. E. of Caseyville

A: Ask him to identify the weeds. If any of them are dandelions (Taraxacum vulgare), stinging nettle (Urtica urens), corn chamomile (Anthemis arvensis), dock (Rumex obtusifolius), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and plantains (Plantago species), he may be in agreement with some crop specialists. They have found that dandelions can accumulate large amounts of magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphate, iron and copper, which are nutrients necessary for plant growth although the plant itself does not need that much copper to function properly.

Stinging nettle’s benefits have been known for many years. Some gardeners would collect stinging nettle foliage, boil it and, after the solution cooled down, they would pour it over their vegetable plants. It contains sulfur, nitrogen, calcium, potassium and iron. Corn chamomile plants contain calcium and potassium, which are good for fruiting plants. Dock stores iron, calcium, potassium and phosphate. Yarrow accumulates all of the big three nutrients plants need — nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. Plantain accumulates sulfur, calcium, manganese and iron.

Some plant scientists even recommend planting some of these together in an area for a beneficial cover crop. You might want to recommend this to the neighbor and see if he will try this type of cover crop. There is a book, “Weeds of the North Central States,” which will help identify these plants.

Q: What are some of the beneficial insects? How do they help our gardens and flower beds?

G.E. of Belleville

A: Ordinarily, we think of the insects that feed on the troublesome insects that eat our plants as “beneficial insects” or the predators. But other beneficial insects will pollinate the flowers to produce fruits, which many of us depend upon the honeybees to do. With the problems hurting the honeybees now, we are finding other insects, such as those in the wasp family and fly family, that also can help polllinate. Even others are considered parasites as they lay eggs on the problem insects that feed on our wanted plants. These developing larvae eat the problem insects.

The lightning bug are good because they feeds on the larvae of slugs and snails. At night, they give a light signal to attract a mate. Later, the female lays eggs on the slug or snail. In the evening, you can actually see how big a population of lightning bugs or fireflies is. The developing larvae also glow (some people call them glowworms) when they are feeding on these slugs. With the recent rains, you will notice the number of fireflies increasing in a few weeks. They are around wet areas because the slugs need moisture to produce the layer of slime to help them breath.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to

Do it now

  • Cuttings can be made from indoor plants and should root very quickly.
  • Feed the iris with bone meal once they have finished blooming.