SONY DSCNettles are one of the most widespread and well-known plants in Britain. You might think of them as weeds or nasty things to avoid with bare legs, but they do have some uses in the garden (as well as for making paper, dyeing cloth and eating)!

The two types – the perennial or stinging nettle and the smaller annual nettle- grow everywhere and their main benefits in the garden are:

  • For attracting beneficial insects the perennial nettle supports some 107 different species, including hoverflies, lacewings, parasitic wasps and ladybirds- all great for natural pest control.

  • In the compost heap freshly cut nettles, especially young, soft growth, make an excellent compost activator, as they provide a good source of nitrogen for the bacteria that start the decomposition process.

  • Liquid plant food research in Sweden has shown that liquid made from nettles gathered in the spring has high mineral content and so if you have access to plenty of nettles at that time of year, you can harvest them and dry for use later in the season to make nettle plant feed. To do this soak 1 kilo of nettles in 10 litres of water for about 2 weeks stirring occasionally. It won’t smell too good, but it’s worth the pong! You then strain the liquid off and use it diluted 1 part nettle juice to 10 parts water. The Nettle remains can be added to the compost heap but won’t act as an activator.

Making Nettle Plant Food- image from Tracey the transitoner

Making Nettle Plant Food- image from Tracey the transitioner

The roots of the perennial nettle form a dense mat from which they regrow each year- I have lots on the edges of the wood next to Old School Garden and they are constantly trying to invade! If you want to use the foliage and still keep them growing, cut them back only twice a year- if you want to be rid of them cut them back 3 or 4 times a year, even so it will probably take a couple of years to clear them entirely!

Source: Garden Organic Master Composter Factsheet 6

Further information:

Nettles- Royal Horticultural Society

Perennial Nettle- Garden Organic

Annual Nettle Garden Organic

Top ten uses for Nettles- Daily Telegraph

Heal the burn

Old School Gardener

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