Wednesday 21 August 2019

Hand weeding

Pete has lovely Julie's help to remove his weeds (and to design and plant his borders)
I think it a mortal sin to let weeds grow large, shed seed and be yanked out together with good soil and placed in the bin. One way traffic out of the garden. I despise the penance paid when such people (I will not call them gardeners) seek to replace such denudation by buying dubious stuff at the garden centre.

I feel sorry for those who through lack of knowledge, prejudice or impatience fail to eliminate perennial weeds such as couch, ground elder and convolvulus and are for ever fruitlessly pulling or scratching away.

I admire those gardeners who have achieved a nirvana where a casual walk round the garden and the odd stoop to pull out a weed gives a shot of serotonin and is all that is needed to keep the garden completely weed free. It will be a small loved garden where no weeds are allowed to seed. Pure joy to love your plants and nurture every wanted self sown flower.

I preach that weed control should be varied and all appropriate methods should be melded together. Each weed has it’s own strengths and vulnerabilities. Ring the changes. Many of you will not share my penchant for using glyphosate which for me is essential for the several acres that I garden and be surprised to hear that I frequently hand weed.

Even a spade might be enrolled (in truth I am dividing an alstroemeria)
I want to talk about this today. I might stray into mentioning a few aids to merely hand pulling but shall ignore valuable cultural practices such as forking out or hoeing. As to digging it might have a place to bury none-perennial weeds on such as allotments, or to dig holes for ceremonial weed burial in a relative’s garden.
I firmly believe that to dig over borders is yet another sin.

Hand weeding

The nicer of my two problem epilobiums
It is almost impossible to pull out established perennial weeds. Hand weeding is more suitable for annuals and short lived seed sown perennials such as my own nemesis that pink wind born invader epilobium.

Brenda's wellies see little weeding
I use the word ‘hand’ rather flexibly. Sometimes it will be my instep or heal. Should I stumble on a patch of about-to-seed hairy bittercress I will scrape my boot over them. The result is the same as if I severed them at ground level with a hoe - and yes, some weeds need to come out completely but most true annuals will be killed by root detachment.

This is all you need to pull out this sowthistle

My cacti grown in garden soil sometimes need hand  weeding with the help of my secateurs to grip them
For those weeds where the root needs to come out grasp the weed firmly and low and gently tug vertically taking care not to snap them.
For tap rooted plants such as dandelion and docks you can loosen them with a spade and grasping the root/stem juncture  pull them out cleanly.

I am cavalier about any to-hand aids to weeding. I will enrol my secateurs to grasp a weed nestling in a pot of prickly cactus. Of course I will wear gloves if I pull out a large nettle or as recently soft thistles growing in my colourful annual display. I am quite prepared to bend further if cutting back with my hedge trimmer or shears to take out an intruder.

My own penchant is to fling the weed over the garden sometimes flamboyantly to the back of the border. In normal dry conditions it will shrivel and die and its goodness will return to the soil. Do not equate this with sweeping dust under the rug in the kitchen. Recycling is good and if the slugs like my scattered weeds that suits me fine (decaying vegetation is more tasty to slugs than are your plants). I prefer slugs and snails to eat scattered weeds rather than my hostas.

It takes only a day or four for the weed to disappear. I doubt if tidy people like my dear friend Peter can bring themselves to do it. You can always take them for compost but oh what a chore.
People fear the weeds will re-root or continue to seed as they die. If the weeds are such that they still have substantial root, or the weather is wet you are probably doing it wrong or at the wrong time. Just use your gumption. If hand weeding is your only method of weeding then you need to do it often or my method of disposal are just too untidy.

Hairy bittercress will not seed in the lawn
(Don’t tell anyone but if it is wet my (few) hand pulled weeds sometimes are deposited on a hard surface, on my lawn or even suspended and hidden in a plant clump! I do drop most pulled weed in a clear space in the border and if they do regrow will be easily nobbled when I spray or hoe next time) 

I know to many of you my untidy methods sound ridiculous and indeed if you are tackling a border full of seeding large weeds when wet conditions prevail they jolly well are. If so just remember they should go to compost and not to the municipal bin! (And if I might say as a cynic, permit you to recycle all those weed seeds when you spread your compost)

When I need to hand weed

Goosegrass is not a grass!

Scramblers such as cleavers. Sometimes in Bolton Percy churchyard or in my own garden creeping over the wall from the farm field I find Galium aparine. You might know it as goose grass, sticky Willy, velcro plant or a profane name of your own. They are fun to pullout, stick together and drag out their brothers and sisters. Only if already seeding do you need to cart them away.

Too many to hand pull

Epilobiums. 75% of my time spent on weed control is spent on this pretty and evil invader. Having eliminated most of the other weeds they just take their place. Their weedy credentials are impressive. Here is their portfolio.
1. Arrive in the air in copious quantities August to October. If any of your gardens flood as mine does it floats in on the water!

2. Germinates profusely at literally any time of the year.
3. Grows in most insidious spaces in all manor of soils and in all conditions from wet to dry.
4.It floats on the air into the middle of your plant clumps where it thrives and right through the summer pops out as if from nowhere
5. It is partly resistant to glyphosate and its overwintering tight mats of shining rosettes almost completely so.

Shiny epilobium hides in the foxglove

If you don't pull epilobium out cleanly the stump proliferates  likes this one

6. If not hand weeded or hoed out cleanly it regenerates into straggly difficult to control irritating snippets. (It is a joy to cleanly pull out in Summer: the tight rosettes in Winter are best hoed undercutting a little more than severance at ground level. In this case in wet weather they might take a few weeks to die, but they do).
7.It is perennial
You might gather I don’t like this willow herb relative and have written about it here


Nettles get into insidious places
Although nettles are best controlled with herbicide they are partly resistant and if you are using glyphosate you need a dose at the top end of the concentration spectrum. Even in a  garden where you think they have completely gone, wayward seeds pop up and establish in the most awkward places. I often need to get my gloves and to delve into the middle of a shrub or herbaceous perennial.

The only way to get rid of this sow thistle is to pull it out
The world is not ready to hear of my obsession with pulling up grass weeds in my lawn. I might sum up courage in my next post on my series on lawns. What I think is more useful is to suggest that if you are sowing a new lawn and hope to create a sward made up of the grass that you actually sow - a fairly rare achievement - then at first germination weed grasses are pretty obvious and should be pulled out.

This fat hen needs yanking out
In the round for me hand weeding is a spontaneous, generally unplanned action as I walk round the garden. It is pretty frequent and occurs at times at least once a day! It is only for those weeds in insidious and annoying places and those I know are difficult by my routine methods or ones that have been missed that threaten to seed. One year’s seeding really is seven years weeding.

The phantom weeder
Other articles
No links today but I have written before about almost all the weeds named in this article and can be found by inserting their names in my search box. I have also done major articles on perennial weeds such as equisetum, brambles and ground elder. You might want to check out my statement about slugs and hoeing

Saturday 10 August 2019

Planting density - how close should my plants be put together

I sometimes plant in bold clumps (or unrestricted they become so)
I am indebted to Noel Kingsbury who has written a very fine post entitled ‘Mind the Gap’. He writes as a gardener and professional landscaper. In his case he looks at herbaceous perennials but I would like today to consider woody plants too.
Noel observes that although common planting densities for herbaceous perennials might these days may be 7 to 9 plants per square meter that even these  might be extended. We have evolved from Victorian grand isolation of ‘specimen plants’

I would like to have bold drifts of this one but on my soil dictamnus is somewhat miffy
As a gardener when I consider planting densely I think of the budget. As a Yorkshireman my garden has generally been extended one at a time!
I feel the urge to write a post about how easy it is to bulk up bought plants very quickly in improvised nurseries (buy big plants and divide them) - but not today!

Noel’s methods not only give speedy establishment of a new garden feature but he argues it is more visually acceptable to almost completely cover the ground and is ecological sounder. Some of his friends let annuals seed themselves and intertwine and so do I.

Quick results with annuals
It is particularly important if you are planting herbaceous plants densely you have tackled the perennial weeds. If your ground is invaded with such as ground elder, bindweed and couch you will never get rid of them if intermingled within a dense canopy.

Geranium macrorrhizum (under the tree trunk) provides superb ground cover
These hostas suppress weeds from seed too
On the other hand if you have an established perennial weed free complete plant canopy then weed control becomes much easier as most seedling weeds fail to establish. Indeed you can considerably ease your garden management if you plant areas of more vigorous recognised ‘ground cover plants’. My all time favourite for this is Geranium macrorrhizum.

Peter's borders are densely planted too
When I look round my garden I have fairly dense planting albeit achieved after several years of endeavour. It’s best to fill the borders and relinquish bare soil. 

I have varying styles. My herbaceous borders in Summer are almost impenetrable masses of perennial plants. My mixed borders are more or less isolated shrub and tree plantings with herbaceous underplanting and self sown annuals and short lived perennials. 

You can walk in and around
At times there are bare gaps where bulbs seasonally appear. Some perennials have a short season and they die down at different times. I like where possible to utilise such space more than once in the year and for example clumps of hyacinths are replaced as dormant dahlias appear in their place.

You can walk between the plants in Bolton Percy cemetery garden
Elsewhere I have several ‘walk in’ features mainly gravel mulched where the above principles also apply but there are more high-light requiring flat drifts of herbaceous and alpines in transient open spaces. Where clumped together surrounded by empty spaces there is less competition for water than in a completely dense planting. This is a design consideration in low rainfall places.

Planted as one small pot I have had to reconsider the border design as my tree heather has grown
In my ‘acid border’ shrubs such as azaleas scramble together and are under invaded by low growing plants and shrubs such as heathers. Noel would be horrified that my heathers over the years have been planted one at a time. Those of you with a more generous nature will plant 3, 5 or 7 (if you are fussy about odd numbers). Noel will probably plant hundreds.

Rather unruly
There are a few other places where my shrubs mass together to make elegant competing compositions - and Brenda walks round and declares she cannot define their individual outline and gets out the secateurs or orders me to prune out some branches. Indeed exuberant competitors do need adjudication - and that includes both of us too.

If a cold Winter kills my six year old bottle brush it leaves an empty space
The question is how we get from an empty garden to one of pleasing easy maintained maturity. It can take years and the best gardens develop organically. I never paper planned mine.

Woody plantings
It is inevitable if you are planting slow growing shrubs that will take years to mature that you will plant quite densely to achieve immediate effect. If you move in to  an already existing garden do not strip everything away and start again. Leave existing plant structures for temporary shelter and beauty. You might find you keep some for ever. Wait to assess existing dormant plants.

Some of your shrubs at planting time might be more vigorous than what you eventually require. I have never quite understood the value of nurse planting where such plantings might protect slow growing neighbours.If you are not careful they are more likely to outgrow them. 
It is inevitable however that some of your shrubs will be slow growing and take several years to achieve their grandeur and might start off with more vigorous neighbours.
I don’t discourage dense planting for the short term but do encourage close monitoring and eventual thinning out by removal or reduction by pruning.

Love in a mist all over the place
A domestic problem I still have is that my plantings are littered with (in my view) beautiful annuals such as nigella, euphorbia and corydalis but that Brenda regards them as undisciplined intrusions. They do of course need careful management. I just bite my tongue when they are pulled out prematurely!

Somewhat undisciplined
They say not to put large plants in narrow borders but I do not agree
Noel's blog gave me the idea to write about design today

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