Weeds are the bane of so many gardeners’ lives. But before you pull them out, take a moment to consider what prompted these particular weeds to grow at this time and in this place. They have the potential to tell you an awful lot about your garden.
For instance, the first weeds of the growing season are a visual cue that soil temperatures have warmed up from their winter lows. The weeds are letting you into a valuable secret: Now’s the time to begin sowing, starting with the earliest hardy crops.
Weeds and Soil Type
Weeds can also tell you a lot about the condition and health of your soil. In effect they are nature’s soil test; understand the clues and you can amend your soil appropriately to achieve optimum fertility and structure. With that in mind, here are some common soil types and the types of weeds you are likely to find growing in them.
Wet, poorly drained soil
Docks, goldenrod, chickweed, sedges and horsetail are all indicators that your soil is not as well-drained as it could be. Try digging in plenty of organic matter to gradually open up the soil and build structure. If the soil remains wet well beyond the start of the growing season it will take longer to warm up. Raised beds can help to improve drainage in these circumstances.
Hard, compacted soil
Bindweed, knotweed, plantain and dandelion do well in compacted soils. Chickweed may also thrive. Apply plenty of organic matter to keep the soil covered. End-of-season green manures will send out roots deep into the soil to help break it up in time for next spring.
Heavy clay soil
Plantain, nettles and couch grass or quack grass thrive in heavier clay soils. Clay soils aren’t in themselves ‘bad’, and can be high in nutrients. Their tendency to become saturated in winter then hard-baked in summer is a hindrance but this can be overcome with sustained applications of organic matter to gradually build that all-important soil structure.
Free-draining, sandy soil
Drier, sandy soils are typically given away by the usual suspects of sorrel, yarrow, Queen Anne’s lace and thistles. Confusingly, nettles may also thrive in these conditions, but while nettles indicate a nutrient-rich soil, yarrow, sorrel and Queen Anne’s lace are indicative of poorer soils. Barrowloads of well-rotted organic matter should help to increase humus levels, fertility and the soil’s ability to hold onto moisture for longer.
Sorrel, plantain, nettles, dandelion, mullein and ox-eye daisies grow best in acidic soils. Their presence serves as a reminder to add lime for crops such as brassicas that prefer more alkaline conditions. It is advisable to take an accurate measure of soil pH, so you can gauge exactly how much lime to add.
Soil with a pH greater than 7.0 is alkaline. Weeds that grow best in these conditions include Queen Anne’s lace, chickweed and chicory. Again, adding well-rotted organic matter such as compost will help. Compost helps to lower the pH, buffer the soil against future swings in pH and, of course, it will improve its nutrient content.
Those blessed with rich, fertile soil are likely to see the widest range of weeds, including purslane, pigweed or lamb’s quarters, groundsel, knapweed, purslane, chickweed, henbit or deadnettle. You’ll probably have more weeding to do because of this, but take heart in the knowledge that your soil offers all the good things your crops are likely to need to thrive!
What are the most common weeds in your garden? Let us know in the comments section below.