What The Weeds In Your Yard Can Tell You About Your Soil Quality

Garden 8

What do you do when you see a weed in the garden? Jump in and frantically hack away with a hoe? Throw up your hands in despair? Learn something?

Take a look at the most reliable weedy indicators and what they reveal about your soil.


You should expect your site suffering from swampy conditions if you happen to see dock, foxtails, horsetail, and willows some time during the year. Other weeds thriving in wet soil include: goldenrod, Joe-Pye weed, oxeye daisy, poison hemlock, rushes, and sedges.

So, what can you grow in these conditions? What about a nice garden full of plants that like wet feet? These include pussy willow and curly willow. These will flourish good and provide many materials for flower arrangements. It is also possible to grow Japanese iris, Siberian iris, yellow flag, ligularia, cardinal flower, or turtlehead.


The signs of compacted soil are chicory and bindweed. This is the reason why you usually see blue flowers of chicory in the highways. You can also see chicory in gardens where beds have been emptied, or left, or where the soil has been worked when it’s wet.

You should plant a cover crop of white lupines and sweet clover if your weeds indicate compacted soil. Since their roots are strong as those of pesky chicory, it is easier for them to break up the soil, and replenish the nitrogen levels in the soil.

A hard crust on your soil doesn’t deter quackgrass or the mustard family weeds. If you have weedy mustard flourishing in your garden, you should pull it up and plant it closely to brassica crops like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and choy instead. These can easily push through crusty soil.  In order to aerate and lighten crusty and compacted soil, add some compost. Work your soil only when it’s dry in order to prevent future problems.


Dandelions, mullein, sorrel, stinging nettle (shown above), and wild pansy all thrive in “sour” acidic soil.

If you see these pests in your garden, you should grow plants that like their soil on the tart side, like hydrangeas, blueberries, rhododendrons, or azaleas. And in your veggie garden: endive, rhubarb, shallots, potatoes, and watermelon, and remember to tolerate the soil with a pH under 5.0.

If you would want to grow plants that thrive in more neutral soil, increase the soil’s pH by applying dolomitic limestone. Follow the lab recommendations and do a soil test in order to determine how much lime to use. Wood ashes can also increase the soil’s pH but no more than 35 pounds per 1, 000 square feet. Compost is always good. Add enough to increase your pH to 6.5 or 6.8.


Campion, field peppergrass, nodding thistle (shown above), salad burnet, scarlet pimpernel, and stinkweed all indicate a “sweet” alkaline soil.

Ornamentals that are good in alkaline soil are: lilacs, Persian candytuft, dianthus, baby’s breath, helianthemum, dame’s rocket, lavender, and mountain pinks. Some edibles can also tolerate a little sweet soil such as: asparagus, broccoli, beets, muskmelons, lettuce, onions, and spinach.

If you want to lower the pH of your alkaline soil, add peat moss or elemental sulfur at a rate suggested by soil test results. Or, again, simply add compost regularly to bring the pH closer to neutral.


There are signs that show your soil has poor fertility, and these include: Biennial wormwood, common mullein, daisies, mugwort, wild carrot, wild parsnip, and wild radish.

Fortunately, many perennials actually flower better when the amount of food in the soil is on the lean side. Here are included: achillea, antennaria, artemisia, asclepias, centranthus, cerastium, coreopsis, echinops, eryngium, gaillardia, salvia, santolina, solidago, and stachys. The edible ones are: beans (and other legumes), beets, carrots, parsnips, peas, radishes, sage, and thyme tolerate soil that’s low in fertility.

In order to improve the fertility and quality of your soil the first thing you should do is have your soil tested. If the test reveals major deficiencies, correct them with organic fertilizers such as fish meal (for nitrogen), bonemeal (for phosphorus), and greensand (for potassium).


Fertile soil will often make its richness known by supporting happy and vigorous colonies of chickweed, henbit, and lamb’s-quarter. Moreover, a flush of redroot pigweed indicates an abundance of nitrogen in the soil, while knapweed and red clover reveal an excess of potassium. Spot lots of purslane and mustard? They are probably telling you that your soil is rich in phosphorus.

In order to make your soil as fertile as you can, plant heavy feeders, such as corn, broccoli, lettuce, melons, squash, tomatoes, and peppers.

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