Thursday 7 March 2013

Ring the changes with weed control

 Is it a weed? Only if it’s in the wrong place!

My students would yawn whenever I talked about weeds. Weeding is just a chore. It’s not a sexy subject like design or propagation. To me, sound weed control is fundamental to successful gardening. “Take care of the weeds and the plants will grow themselves” is my favourite cliche´ and on the darker side, “nature abhors a vacuum, and left to her own, will fill bare soil with weeds!” 

You might by now associate me with using glyphosate all of the time. Out of necessity in my cemetery gardens and on the village plot this is true! What I do at home is different, I use every method of weed control in the book (and not in the book). Repeatedly using the same method of weed control every time, creates an ecology that will allow specific unwanted plants to thrive. In my glyphosate-sprayed gardens, epilobiums are a menace because they are resistant.
                     Epilobium. Blows in on the wind and  my worst weed

My old foreman Alec Fox, called rotavators ‘chickweed cultivators’. He was referring to how this weed loves damaged ‘fluffed up’ soil and very significantly how any deep cultivation brings buried weed seed from below.

‘Little and often' should be the rule for weeding. Tackle weeds from seed when they are small, better, very small. Do not remove them, let them dessicate and die and contribute to recycling nature’s organic matter. If you keep on top of the job and never let weeds set seed, (to some extent we all fail), weed control becomes easier and easier as the years pass. 

A lady once told me she just loved to tackle an overgrown patch and transform it. This is completely wrong! Whilst she is having her fun, the rest of the garden is ‘going to pot’. My own philosophy is that if I have weeded, I do not want people to say “ Roger what a good job”. I do not even want them to notice. I prefer “it looks rather scruffy with those dead weeds left on the surface!” Gardens are best managed for the long term, not for the day.

There are two distinct components of weed control. One is the control of established perennial weeds, the other is tackling weeds that come from seed. Elimination of perennial weeds, I have discussed in my glyphosate posts. Best get rid of them before you start planting. If you have couch, convolvulus and ground elder among your herbaceous plants you are in big trouble. A lady once asked me how to get rid of perennial weeds in her overgrown borders filled with rare and expensive plants. I gave her a few tips, but really I was thinking “I would not start here”.

 Ring the changes. This weed is somewhat resistant to glyphosate. Try chopping it out now
I get rather cross when almost universally, books and experts refer to the second component of weed control as ‘annual weeds’. Nonsense, weeds from seed might be annual, biennial or perennial. The potential methods of control will be all the same - provided you tackle them when they are still small.

Hairy bittercress. Grows all year round. It’s very tasty to eat!
       Thale cress. In summer can germinate and set seed within 14 days!

Tools and methods for controlling ‘weeds-from seed’
I am not proud, I will use any method available. I will ignore the ridicule! It’s important to maintain vigilance all year round. Weeds such as hairy bitter cress, annual meadow grass  cleavers and a myriad more, germinate and grow at any time of year.
  • Hand-weeding. The most accurate method for weeds in difficult places. Throw them on the ground to dessicate and die. In my own case, I know that if in wet weather they regrow I will get them with the Roundup next time!
  • The dutch hoe. You can recognise a good gardener by his gleaming hoe. Its a joy to skim off weed on a dry summer day. On a dry windy day it’s even more successful, but perhaps less of a joy!
  • Any hoe! The onion hoe is particularly good for working among small plants - picture from marshalls

  • The spade! To skim or scrape, or even insert vertically to ease out a dandelion or dock, but not to dig. 
  • A wire lawn scarifier. Particularly useful for liverwort and moss. In the right place I love these weeds but they can also be a curse.
  • Your boot! A gentle scrape on settled none-dug-soil - even if frozen - will break the neck of the bittercress or separate a rosette of epilobium from the ground.
  • Anything to hand.
  • Secateurs, very useful to flick out a weed growing between cacti
  • Garden shears, when cutting back herbaceous perennials bend over a bit extra to hook out a weed
  • A knife.
  • A garden fork
  • A rake - anything!
  • A knapsack sprayer. It is truly amazing how accurate you can spray glyphosate if you are careful. Spraying is the only easy way to get rid of established perennial weeds.
  • A hand sprayer. It is surprisingly how effectively you can apply glyphosate this way.

Cleavers (goose-grass or sticky Willy) is very sneaky germinating in late Autumn

Spraying techniques are particularly useful in autumn and winter. The weeds are more accessible and when the soil is wet, weeds detached by mechanical means are liable to regrow. 

 Moss. Is it a weed? Stick a latin label on it and visitors will love it




  1. You've given my worst weed a name - thank you. Epibolium - I only ever new the name Willow herb.
    I find an old wallpaper scrapper does a good job of getting down in between the large stones that edge some of my borders - a particular haven for moss on the shadier side of the garden.

    1. Yes, particularly as it comes in on the wind when you think you are rid of it! I once wrote in an obscure magazine about it blowing in from 'weedy neighbours' and it was reprinted in a local newspaper! I was irately asked who were those neighbours. I believe rose bay willow herb is a species of chamerion and is related to epilobium.

  2. Maybe you won't approve but we are starting to use weed control fabric more on the plot. Last year we used it on our carrot bed. the carrots were sown in slits in the fabric. This way we didn't need to weed as much and so didn't need to remove the enviromesh as much.

    1. Hi Sue, why should I disapprove I am a great fan of mulching.
      I tend to sow my own carrots under fleece (for carrot fly control) and have to be firm with myself to not let weeds seed underneath

  3. I'm a hand-weeder myself, but mainly because my plot is small enough to make this a smallish task. And I definitely subscribe to the little-and-often approach: get them when they are small, and before they set seed to perpetuate the problem!

  4. Thanks Mark,
    I think we might both also mention what a pleasure it is weeding when you are in control.
    And hand-weeding brings you into such intimate contact with your plants- to see them closely to admire or to observe if anything is going wrong-like an unwanted snail!

  5. Hello Roger, my first visit here, what an interesting blog you have!
    My garden is 11 years old and the first few years I used liner and bark chippings in all the flower beds. The plants soon grew out of their allocated slits and the liner eventually got a bit tatty from frequent planting and moving plants so a few years ago I took the whole thing up and lay new bark everywhere, but without a liner. I top it up every other year and I can’t say I do much weeding at all. I keep on-top with dead heading and the few weeds that grow on the bark, like clover and ivy gets nipped out as soon as they emerge. I often get comments about my ‘nice and tidy’ garden, but in reality I have made it like this to save myself the work.

  6. We are on the same wavelength Helene. You might like my recent post on mulching with gravel where I discuss liners.

  7. You have changed the way I think about weed control. I wonder, why I didn't think in this direction. I am both shocked and amazed.

  8. Indeed weed control is the key to successful gardening. I love the tools section of your post. Usually I just use my hands to get the weeds out. Needless to say it's not very effective. I think its time for me to invest in some proper weeding tools.
    Weed Killer For Grass

  9. There are a few different ways to do this. You can cover some portion of the nursery with a hard surface for example chunks or rock. Weed Seeda


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