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


  1. Enjoyed this post. My definition of a path: where you put the uprooted weeds to dry.

    1. good one Mal - actually you show excellent gardening nous

  2. Yeah...nothing, at least in my garden, can survive a good baking on an open patch...but also my garden is small. A good essay on weeding..10/10 again. A thick mulch, undisturbed, makes the ground softer and seedlings easily pull out. Although the garden is very small, a well branched evergreen Mahonia plant is the place to fling things including banana skins. I think this is where the grass snakes snooze...and do other things!

  3. Hand weeding also means that you are less likely to lose choice self seeders. By the way all the alstromerias are alive and well.

    1. Brenda picked some this morning Sue. They could do with some rain - much of the wet weather early this month dropped on you and hardly arrived here - just the wind and light drizzle

  4. I love your beautiful Cactus collection ! The weed that annoys me the most is a little yellow Oxalis that keeps popping up in amongst my Cacti in the greenhouse..this is SO difficult to eradicate ! .....grrrrrr ! :)

    1. I agree! In my case all the more so because as I grow them in soil which introduces seeds. (On second thoughts gardeners who used sterile compost seem to acquire them and suffer just as much)
      I try to scoop them out with as deep root as possible. Sometime it gets so bad I knock a plant out of its pot and detach them away.
      For those plants such as bulbs that go dormant outside in larger pots or those pots with easy surface access I carefully spray with glyphosate - which kills them quite well as long as they are intact


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