What Your Weeds Say About Your Soil

©. Ivan Marjanovic

Here's how to "read" your weeds for hints about what's going on in your garden.

Let's talk about the weeds. To put it simply, most people hate them. They are often seen as persistent, pesky invaders that need to DIE, DIE, DIE. When did we get so mean about plants? (Actually, around the same time that chemical companies stopped making things for wars and started turning their sights on made-up domestic threats, like dandelions, but that's another story altogether.)

Weeds are just plants that happen to want to live where a human thinks they shouldn't. Now of course, invasive species are problematic, and for a farmer growing crops that are being harmed by weeds, I get it. But I love the perseverance and pluck of common garden weeds. Consider a dandelion earnestly striving to thrive in a sidewalk crack – it is pure inspiration.

Weeds actually do a lot of good. As Acadia Tucker notes on Stone Pier Press, they cover and enliven soil, and they nurture it too. And not only that, but they can tell us a lot about what's going on in our gardens. In fact, by studying the weeds in your garden, you can get a really good idea about what's going on in the soil. It's almost like Mother Nature providing a codebook for soil conditions.

Tucker points out the following "signals":

Weeds that like soggy soil: Dock, horsetails, chickweed, sedge, willows
Weeds that like compacted soil: Chicory, knotweed, dandelion, bindweed
Weeds that like acidic soil: Plantain, sorrel, stinging nettle
Weeds that like basic soil: Queen Anne’s lace, chicory, peppergrass, chickweed
Weeds that like fertile soil: Foxtail, chicory, purslane, lambsquarters
Weeds that like dry and sandy soil: Sorrel, thistle, yarrow, nettle
Weeds that like heavy clay soil: Plantain, nettle, quack grass

Tucker recommends buying a field guide to weeds in your region, and I couldn't agree more. There is a lot to learn from weeds – more than just how to kill them. Many offer unique wildlife habitat or provide other benefits; while many are edible and delicious.