One of the first recommendations a new gardener is given is to have your soil tested. I’ll agree that soil pH is important. If it’s really out of whack, your plants won’t be able to access nutrients, no matter how much compost or fertilizer you pour on. But there are plenty of ways to read your soil without adding amendments of any kind.
First and most obviously, if things are growing well, your soil is probably fine. If plants are struggling, it could be pH, it could be fertility or it could be the fact that you haven’t watered in 2 weeks. If you want more information, read your weeds.
Let’s start by accepting the fact that we all have weeds. There’s no shame. Weeds can actually tell you a lot about your site. I’m not talking about the isolated weed, but a proliferation or concentration of a particular weed can give you clear clues about the condition of your soil.
- Believe it or not, clover, which adds nitrogen to the soil, tends to pop up in lawns with a low amount of nitrogen.
- Knotweed and spurge, not to mention the ragweed shown here, gravitate toward soils with poor drainage.
As for pH:
- knotweed, plantain and sorrel indicate acidic soil while
- chicory, chickweed and Queen Anne’s lace signal alkaline soil
There’s more good information on reading weeds at these 2 sites: