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How to weed out the weeds
They might be called weeds, but they are actually pretty tough creatures. And if you let them grow freely you could have a problem for months and even years to come. But how do you know which ones are really bad, and which weeds are relatively harmless? Well, that’s where this guide can help.
Just follow these simple tips to get the upper hand on weeds:
- Act quickly. Tackle weeds as soon as they appear, and try not to let them flower as this means they’re bedding in for the long haul.
- Cover vacant ground with mulches and groundcover plants – this will stop weeds growing in the first place.
- If you’re going to use chemicals, make sure it’s a weed killer that’s glyphosate-based – it’s better for the soil and the wildlife.
- Put the roots of any weeds that have flowered in the dustbin, otherwise, they’ll find a way back to your garden.
- If you don’t have much time, make sure you remove flowering weeds first to prevent them from setting seed.
Get to know your enemy
Which weeds prove to be troublesome in your garden will depend on where you live, your soil and how you go about controlling them. Here are the top six annual weeds to look out for:
Chickweed (Stellaria Media)
Forms a low-spreading carpet once settled in with horizontal stems rooting as they grow. Seeds are very long-lasting in the soil. Remove with a hoe or by hand and pick up the seedlings.
Cleavers (Galium Aparine)
Once established, these ‘sticky’ stemmed plants are difficult to untangle from border plants and the seeds will attach themselves to your clothing to be transported around the garden. Remove with a hoe or by hand when young.
Fat Hen (Chenopodium Album)
The young plants can set seeds within weeks, showering the soil with seeds – a real nightmare. Remove with a hoe or by hand as soon as you see them.
Groundsel (Senecio Vulgaris)
Quick growing, this weed produces several generations each year – even during mild spells in winter. Remove with a hoe or by hand on a warm day.
Hairy Bitter Cress (Cardamine Hirsuta)
These ones grow really quickly and spread by flinging their seeds from spring-loaded seedpods. Remove with a hoe or by hand as soon as possible.
Red Dead Nettle (Lamium Purpureum)
Looks a bit like nettle and flourishes during spring and autumn. They can grow up to 15cm high before they flower. Remove with a hoe or by hand when possible.
Top six perennial weeds
Unlike the previous six above, these weeds don’t spread their seeds. Instead, they grow well in the spring and summer, die back during winter, and then return to exactly the same place next year. That’s actually what perennial means – eternal growing.
Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus Repens)
One of these plants can spread and cover over 4sq metres in a single year. Remove with a hoe or by hand as soon as possible to stop it from growing everywhere.
Creeping Thistle (Cirsium Arvense)
A prickly little devil, this weed is best dealt with young. Remove with a hoe or by hand and don’t let it settle in. Use a systemic weed killer as a last resort.
Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)
Easy to spot this weed should be dug out in spring. Remove with a hoe or by hand and make sure you get rid of the whole taproot, otherwise, it will grow back.
Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius)
Big green leaves make this one easy to spot. Remove with a hoe or by hand and make sure you get rid of the whole taproot, otherwise, it will grow back.
Greater Bindweed (Calystegia Silvatica)
Bindweed becomes a problem once settled in because its two stems will smother border plants. You can weaken the plant by digging up the established roots – but if you don’t get it all it will grow back. Remove with a hoe or by hand. Use a systemic weed killer in really bad cases.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)
These are a real pain for you and your garden, this weed will appear in spring and autumn. Remove by digging it up and make sure you wear gloves.
Some other problem weeds to look out for:
Bramble (Rubus Fruticosus)
Brambles are easy to remove by hand when young, but get big and mean once established. The best way to get rid of them is to cut the stems down with secateurs and pile them on top of the roots. Then set fire to them – this will kill off any remaining weeds. In the autumn remove the clump of weakened, burnt roots. As a last resort, brambles can be tackled by repeat applications of a systemic weed killer, but you’ll still have to remove and dispose of the remains.
Couch Grass (Elytrigia Repens)
Dig out the weeds by hand, taking care to remove all the wiry bits. They can reach several metres long so be painstaking about it. Couch Grass can be controlled by systemic weed killer, just be careful not to get it on any plants you want to keep.
Ground Elder (Aegopodium Podagraria)
This weed spreads really quickly. Once settled in it forms a dense knee-high blanket of foliage that smothers all neighbouring plants. It’s near impossible to dig out because the soil is filled with roots that will re-grow if any are not removed. Constantly cutting back can weaken it over time, but it will take several years and a lot of hard work. As a last resort, use a systemic weed killer and reapply as necessary.
Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense)
A problem for any garden on damp soil. It is incredibly deep rooting (reaching down several metres) so digging it out is impossible. You can weaken it by regularly hoeing it and trimming it back. The best way to get rid of them is weed-proof mulches – although they can take several years to work. As a last resort, use a systemic weed killer and reapply as necessary.
Controlling weeds around the garden
Here are some of the best ways to deal with weeds in certain parts of your garden.
Not many weeds can survive constant mowing and competition from grass. However, if the lawn is not growing strongly or is damaged in some way, weeds can become established. Individual weeds can be dug out using a trowel, or dab-on lawn weed killer. If the problem is more widespread, treat the whole lawn with a special lawn weed & feed.
Paths and patios
An old kitchen knife or a special weeding tool works best for removing individual weeds from between paving stones. Alternatively, use a dab-on weed treatment. Patches of weeds in gravel can be controlled with a path weed killer.
Beds and borders
Hoeing and hand weeding will control most weeds if caught early. You could also use a dab-on weed treatment for bigger individual ones. To prevent new weeds from sprouting up, put a layer of mulch (like composted bark) about 7cm deep over the entire flowerbed.
If you’ve got bulbs growing among the shrubs you will have to follow the advice for ‘Beds and borders’ above. However, if you have shrubberies filled with woody plants, you can try putting down a fabric such as mulch matting or old carpet to control the weeds.
Don’t forget to keep your hoe sharp at all times.