Dandelions on the prowl: Listen to Your Weeds

Believe it or not, weeds can actually be a huge benefit, at least when you are looking for a place to start a garden. Weeds are opportunists, taking advantage of any vacant soil to make their home (just think of how well this strategy has benefited the dandelion).

Although they seem to grow everywhere, dandelions prefer fertile, often heavy soil. Likewise, other weeds favor certain kinds of soil. For instance, acidic soil can encourage the growth of crabgrass, plantains, sheep sorrel, and horsetails. Alkaline soil (also called sweet or basic soil) is favored by chamomile and goosefoot. Fertile, near-neutral soils can provide a nurturing environment for redroot pigweed, chickweed, dandelions, and wild mustard. Even if you can’t tell one weed from another, you can find out important information by looking at them closely.

If a vacant garden area has few weeds taking advantage of the opening, the soil is likely to need plenty of work. If weeds are growing, but only sparsely, and they have short, stunted stems and discolored leaves, the area may have a nutrient deficiency, and a soil test is in order. If, in newly tilled soil, weeds sprout up quickly in certain areas and more slowly in others, the weedy areas are likely to be moister and better for seed germination. Now that you’ve learned the basics of soil preparation, let’s take a look at how to decide what plants will be utilized in your garden.