Stinging nettles are a very familiar plant to many of us. We are very familiar with their nasty sting, and the way in which these weeds seem to sneak their way between plants to catch the unwary gardener.
But most people are less aware of just how useful these weeds can be.
Why Stinging Nettles Are Not Something To Get Rid Of Entirely
Stinging nettles are actually something to be embraced in your garden. They:
Are a delicious, healthy edible plant. (You can cook and eat nettles in any recipe where you would usually use spinach or other greens.)
Or as a rennet substitute in cheese making.
The stings you receive from these plants actually boost your immune system.
They are environmental indicators – telling us that fertility is good where they grow.
When wilted, they are a good additional food source for chickens and other livestock.
You can use nettles as a source of plant fibre to make yarn and fabric.
They also make a useful natural dye.
Stinging nettles are also great for use in natural cleaning and beauty products. You can use them in soap making, and to make a good natural hair rinse, for example.
You can also use nettles to make a nitrogen rich liquid plant feed for your crops. And to help speed up decomposition in a composting system.
As you can see from the above, nettles are a surprisingly useful plant. If you have a zero tolerance approach and rip them out whenever they appear, you will be missing out. Your garden will be healthier and stronger if you leave some in place. So do not be too quick to weed out stinging nettles wherever they appear.
Of course, nettles are not desirable in all areas of your garden. There are times when they pop up in areas where you do not want them to grow. If left unchecked in annual beds, for example, they can quickly outcompete more valued crops. So how do you get rid of stinging nettles when they grow where you do not want them to grow?
How To Get Rid of Nettles From Garden Beds
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix when it comes to getting rid of stinging nettles from garden beds. Nettles propagate by seed, but also spring up from underground rhizomes. Nettles can regrow from the smallest section of these rhizomes, and the horizontal root systems can spread 5ft or more in a single season. So eradicating them entirely is not only undesirable but also usually an impossibility.
The only way to get rid of stinging nettles from garden beds in an organic garden is to remove them (carefully) by hand. Obviously, you need to wear gloves in order to do so.
But when you consider nettles as the useful plant they are, you can consider this work as harvesting rather than weeding. The best way to stay on top of the problem is to use the nettles that grow in your garden in one of the ways described above. Pick them to eat, or use in another way, before they set seed. And where they grow where they are not wanted, try to remove as much rhizome as possible too.
Take a no dig approach, and do not till or dig beds with nettles, as this can spread them further. Don’t place nettles into a compost heap. Add them to water to make a liquid feed or compost activator instead. Otherwise, nettles can pop up wherever you spread your compost.
Nettles in garden beds can be an annoying issue. But by rethinking your attitude to these plants, you won’t mind the work as much. And you will begin to see them as a boon rather than an irritation in your garden. Keep some nettles around and your garden won’t suffer. In fact, the ecosystem will be all the richer for including this useful and versatile plant.
What do you think of the nettles in your garden? What do you do with the plants you weed out? And what benefits have you seen by letting some grow? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.