Gardening Tips for Seedy Characters: Weeds

Editor’s Note: The Spectator is reaching into Michelle Smith’s gardening column archive for some tips about weeds which apply as much today as when they were written in April 2017.


What to do this week

Let’s talk a bit about garden weeds. The particular weeds you struggle with in your garden can tell you a lot about what is going on with your soil. For example, if you have so many dandelions it seems they are out-competing everything, you very likely have low calcium. Dandelions are high in calcium because they are very good at scrounging it even if there is little in the soil. This makes it even harder for other plants to get what they need because the dandelions are taking it all. Low calcium often goes along with acidic and clay soil, so, it is time to lime your garden. This will not get rid of your dandelions, if that is your worry, but it will add enough calcium so that other plants can get some too.

There are other weeds that will indicate you have very heavy and wet soil, and you really need to do something serious about your drainage. The three most common red flag weeds to indicate poor drainage are coltsfoot, buttercup and plantain. Coltsfoot should start to flower very soon. People often think coltsfoot is dandelion because it has a similar yellow rayed flower. Coltsfoot is also called “the sun before the father” because, unlike dandelion, you will see the flower before any leaves develop. If you get a lot of coltsfoot, or buttercup and plantain, you have anaerobic soil. You are going to have to do some work to get more organic matter (compost/manure) into your soil to lighten it up so your plants can get some air. You might even have to dig a little ditch to divert rainwater away from your garden.

There are some weeds that indicate you are doing things right and have healthy soil. If you have healthy lamb’s quarters (which are delicious, by the way) this means your soil fertility is quite high and you have good organic matter. Lamb’s quarters are related to beets, and that is why they are tasty. You can eat your weeds! If you do notice that your lamb’s quarters this year are a little yellow, pale and stunted, you will want to do something about your soil fertility and improve your organic matter.

Another indicator weed that is also edible is sheep sorrel. It indicates that your soil is very acidic and needs lime. Usually you don’t have to fuss about your soil acidity too much. If you have good organic matter, your plants will manage; however, some things, like sheep sorrel, are an indication that you do have to take some action. But, since you can eat sheep sorrel, while you are fixing your soil you can make delicious sheep sorrel soup!

This information on weeds, along with Gardening Tips from previous weeks, should have you well on your way to getting your soil ready for planting. I will continue weekly with information about the sort of things you should be attending to as the year unfolds. I would like to invite you to use the Letters to the Editor function here on The Cape Breton Spectator to let me know if, in addition to my plans, you would like me to cover any topic in particular. Also feel free to write in if you have questions you would like me to try to answer. Together we will definitely make better gardens!


Weed photos courtesy of Nova Scotia Weed Identification Guide.

Featured image: Dandelions by Xchen11, own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons



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Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.