Good Weeds 

All plants fix carbon, hold the soil together and provide food and habitat for animals. But some plants can give a little more while also being easier to manage in the garden. 

There are plenty of plants already widely acknowledged as good ground covers and companion plants and are worth seeking out but unless you live in a barren dessert there will always be plants around you already that will make good companions, ground covers and living mulch for your garden of herbs, veggies, fruit trees and ornamentals. 

It is not then so important to know specifics about plants species, which ones exactly to have in the garden. Rather get to know the characteristics of plants that might be helpful to you or not at all helpful.

Do they grow fast and quickly smother the garden? Do they have bulbs, corms, crowns, nuts, rhizomes, runners and tubers in the ground that would make them difficult to remove? Do they have spines, thorns, prickles or sticky seeds or set seed all year long? Do they attract highly irritating hairy caterpillars? These are traits in a plant you might wish to avoid.

For plants you might wish to encourage then you might look for slow growing plants or plants that grow and flower and set seed in a specific season. They can be cut for mulch before they drop their seed.

Plants called legumes that fix large amounts of nitrogen in root nodules are also popular. Just learn to identify what legumes generally look like. They are often, but not always, trifoliate, (having three leaves together like clover) and usually have a pea flower. There will always be wild legumes in your local environment.

Plants that produce large amounts of leaf matter are also a good choice. The more leaf litter raining to the ground the better. Leaves are important worm food. Worms drag leaves into their burrows.

Some plants produce florets of leaves along their branches or large fluffy flowering heads. The more organic matter they produce the better.

Flowers too are very important. Leaves bring grazing animals and flowers bring pollinating insects to balance the garden. The pollinators help set seed and fruit in the garden and will also attract predators that help keep the grazing insect populations at manageable levels.

And by encouraging local plants as ground covers we are looking after local insects and their dependant predators which are unique to the area, so helping to protect local bio-diversity.

Some plants may be hard to work out as they may not prove to be unpleasant till right at the very end of their life cycle when they are dead and completely dry. Only then might that beautiful soft fur turn out to be irritating, prickly hairs. Or all those seeds turn out to be very sticky. So when introducing plants that you do not know to the garden, you might just keep them confined and close to you so that you can observe them. If it turns out they show signs of being a nuisance plant, it won’t be so hard to remove them.

Prostrate plants are a prize in the garden. They keep their heads down and stay out of the way allowing your veggies and herbs to grow without hindering them. When you have clovers or similar ground covers growing around your veggies you will find that your greens will have so much less grit and dirt on them when you pick them. You may not even need to wash them before eating.

Prostrate plants can also make a nice low maintenance lawn.

Some weeds are edible and have medicinal properties as well.

And I must admit that one persons weed is another persons, ornamental, vegetable or herb. And a plant that is a vigorous, large and fast growing plant in the tropics may be a small, slow growing ornamental curiosity in a colder climate. So in the end it will be up to you.

So just look around you and when you see plants you like, carefully weed around them. And drop those removed weeds as mulch around and even on the plants you favor. Your chosen ground covers will quickly swallow them up. And collect a few seeds and plant them around the garden wherever you need some extra cover. 

The point to all this is that it is essential to cover the whole Earth with a diversity of plants and animals in order to maintain a healthy and productive ecosystem. 

Above, showy rattlebox or rattlepod (crotalaria spectabilis).  Legume, fixes nitrogen in the soil. Found throughout Australia and S.E. Asian region.

Above, sunn hemp (crotalaria junceaIt is a legume fixing nitrogen, has few branches especially when grown together, it blocks out the sun and suppresses weeds, and makes heaps of mulch. It's flowers attract bees and butterfly's.

Above and right, some wild plants, weeds (blumea), of Northern Thailand. They add foliage and flowers to the garden, attract insects and provide mulch. 

Above, unknown legume . Recognize wild legumes by their pea flower. 

Above, easy to grow, a common amaranthus (celosia argentea) has an extra large flowering mass that adds color and bio-mass to the garden. 

Above, malvaceae, a wild annual hibiscus native to Northern Thailand.  

Above, tick clover, (desmodium triflorum).

Right, Spanish clover (desmodium heterophyllum). 

These prostrate ground covers and legumes make  ideal living mulch for lawns, pasture and  crops.  

Found right round the tropical world, wild plants like these can make a beautiful patchwork lawn, fix nitrogen under the fruit trees and need little care. 

These tick-trefoils produce high amounts of antixenotic allomones which repel many insect pests and allelopathic compounds which kill weeds. 

These are not the only plants good for living mulch but they are some of the best in the tropics and they give a good idea of what to look for.

Every region and climate zone will have its own versions of these plants to fill the same niches.

They are waiting for you to make the most of them.

Above, puha, sow thistle (sonchus oleraceus). Leaves are edible with protein, vitamin C and minerals. Young leaves similar to lettuce and eaten fresh in salads, older leaves may be cooked as a green.

Sow thistle makes a good ground cover and green manure plant in the garden. Easily harvested by hand and fed to chickens or used for mulch. Aphids feed on it which means it attracts lady birds to the garden and the flowers attract hoverfly's that catch caterpillars.    

Below, a black and white crow butterfly feeds on the sap of a new holland rattle pod. 

Above, showy rattepod grows up to one meter tall. Attracts and feeds the black leopard butterfly and the black and white crow butterfly and acts as host to their caterpillars. Also attracts native bee's which are superior orchard pollinators. Makes dense foliage, excellent green manure plant.

Above, curara pea, (c.trichotoma) excellent for native bees. Also known as 'rattlepods', the crotalaria family make excellent green manure and ground cover plants. They are ideal plants for slash and mulch agriculture in the organic orchard. Cut for mulch when flowers begin to appear for maximum release of nitrogen from the roots. Allow some to set seed and collect them for spreading around the garden and anywhere extra ground cover is needed. Otherwise allow them to grow as they support a rich ecology of native bees, pollinating insects and other animals beneficial to the garden and the environment as a whole. 

Crotalaria are moderately toxic to livestock but only eaten by them when feed is in short supply. 

Above, below and left, thickhead, (crassocephallum crepidoides) makes an excellent green manure plant. Has a strong positive influence on seedlings growing around it and can be considered an important companion plant. 

Above and left, clustered blumea (blumea glomerata). This plant is very thin on top with no leaves and only these bright yellow flowers on velvet purple stems.

Above, desmodium discolor, legume. Wild growing legumes make a free ground cover, fix nitrogen, add color, and attract pollinating insects and their predators. 

Left, flowers bring pollinating insects to the garden and plants afford shelter for their predators, below. 

Left, a spider using a white clover flower (trifolium repensas bait, waits for the next unlucky insect. 

Below, payang payang (desmodium pulchellum) has an extra abundance of foliage bio-mass and has many uses in Chinese herbal medicine.

Above, a wild plant of Northern Thailand that feels like a lambs ear. Plants like these look good in the garden and help build the soil. 

Above and left, yellow wood sorrel or sour grass, (oxalis corniculata). This plant comes up for free, right round the tropical world and makes a beautiful ground cover. It is edible with a lemony flavor and has medicinal properties. Use in salads, teas and soups. 

Above, alyce clover, (alysicarpus vaginalis) another prostrate legume that fixes nitrogen and improves lawn and pasture.  

Above, sow thistle, (sonchus oleraceus). Young flower buds are also edible.

Above, puha (s. oleraceus), sow thistle (sow as in mother pig) or milk thistle is edible with medicinal properties. As its common names suggest it is given to cattle and pigs when feeding their young to assist milk yield. Also given to chickens to give their eggs a richer, darker yolk. Livestock relish it. 

Above, there are many forms of rattle pods around the world. This little one is the winged rattlepod (crotalaria bialata) found in Northern Thailand. It is about 30 to 40 cm tall and has leaflets along it's stems.

Above, a grass that produces a large, soft seed head. 

Above, Brazilian Buttonflower (Centratherum punctatum). Comes up for free, attractive, grows low, has citrus scented foliage, attracts bees.

Above, hairy rattlepod (crotalaria calycinathis unusual little rattle pod has hairy flower sepals that close around the flower and forming seed pod. 

Above, this fluffy brush is the seed head of a prostrate legume, rabits tail (uraria lagopoides). North Thailand. Plants that form seed this way may hold their seed for some time. When ever the plant is disturbed by wind or rain or animals, seeds may be dropped or even flung away from the plant. Some fluff may stick to animal fur taking seed with it. Heavy rain can hammer the seed head into the ground and the seeds still inside can grow right there protected and fed by mulch provided by the mother plant. Plants look after their children.

Above, hairy indigo (indigofera hirsuta), the seed pods and leaves of another low growing family of legumes. Similar to creeping idigo (i. spicata) but taller and hairy.

Above, a bee does its work delivering pollen to a button flower. 

Above, a wild legume 1 to 2 m tall filling in space under the mango trees. Similar habit to pigeon pea. Just comes up for free in Northern Thailand. 

Above, an amaranthus (celosia argentea) flower head filled with seed. 

Above, another small naturalized legume filling in the field. 

Above, the classic trifoliate leaves of an annual legume. 

Above, rattle pod (crotalaria pallida).

Above, rattle pods (crotalaria) slowly drying from green to brown

Above, weeds cut down and used for mulch but best to cut them down before their seed matures.

Above, crassocephalum rubens is a beautiful little thing from Africa finding its way around the world. This one is in Northern Thailand. Edible in soups and sauces. Eat with caution, can sting the mouth. Medicinal herb.

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