"Weeds" as Soil Indicators

The types of “weeds” that grow seemingly spontaneously in your garden are telling you valuable information about your soil and microclimate if you care to listen. There are certain “weeds” that appear when the soil has been degraded to rehabilitate the soil back to life, or simply as a protectant cover when we leave the soil bare, and open to the elements. These unappreciated plants do all the hard work to make their home eventually no longer suitable for themselves. To add insult to injury we call these plants weeds, and pull, spray, and curse them. Many times they are doing something good.


If you have hard compacted soil, expect “weeds” with strong taproots to show up to bust up the compaction. Weeds like dandelions, plantain, and chicory.

If you have a wet area that is not draining well, expect plants that like those conditions like sedges and goldenrod.

If your soil pH is acidic, plants like mullein, sorrel, dock, dandelion, plantain, and wild strawberry thrive. If your soil pH is alkaline, plants like salad burnet, goosefoot, wild carrot, and true chamomile thrive.


If your soil is fertile, plants like lambsquarters, chickweed, henbit, chicory, and purslane thrive. These plants are favorites amongst chickens. If you are able to move them around, their own fertility will help to grow the plants they like to eat.

A Young Purslane Plant

If your soil is infertile, plants like wild radish, wild carrot, parsnip, clovers, mugwort, and daisies will thrive.

Dutch White Clover

If your soil is loose, you will tend to get “weeds” that have a fibrous root system.

Snap Peas

These indicators can be used to your advantage. Maybe you notice that your soil is infertile. Beans and peas thrive in infertile soil. On the other hand if your soil is fertile, grow peppers, corn, and tomatoes that thrive in fertile conditions. If you have terrible problems with acid soil, grow tons of blueberries.

Keyhole Garden

The important thing to understand is that if you leave an area uncovered or damaged, something will grow there to fix the damage. It is a good idea to choose wisely so you can put a beneficial element into your garden that is already adapted to the soil. If suited to the microclimate, this element will dominate the space, and keep the “weeds” at bay.

~ Phil Williams

Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com.  His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/weeds-as-soil-indicators/