The arch-nemesis of any gardener, weeds are self-seeders that flourish depending on the condition of the soil and weather. Different weeds thrive in accordance with their surroundings and can often spread into unwanted locations in your garden. Knowing how to tackle these weeds is only half the battle – understanding how they grow will ensure you are able to keep them away from your garden for longer. Read below to learn how to spot certain types and their preferred growing conditions, alongside some key weed control tips.
A one-year life cycle that ends with seeds being set for the next generation.
Chickweed – A lover of rich soils, chickweed can smother other seedlings and spoil the appearance of garden borders. Before it flowers, weed by hand or dislodge using a hoe, shallowly working the soil.
Annual nettle – Smaller in size than perennial stinging nettles, annual nettles start growing almost immediately and quickly. Again – enjoys fertile soil and is common in spring and late summer. Wear gloves to weed by hand.
Shepherd’s purse – Small clumps of leaves grow all year round. Their heart-shaped seed pods can germinate even after 30 years of being dormant. Remove plants, seed heads and pods as soon as discovered.
Groundsel – Another weed that produces seeds all year round. Hoe seedlings and remove larger plants. Note that even when uprooted, these plants can still produce seeds that can germinate.
Hairy bittercress – Forming predominantly on the top of container plants and in borders, the flowers of these plants can propel seeds up to a metre. Remove as soon as spotted, but be careful to watch propelling seeds when weeding.
A life cycle longer than a year, the main root might need to be eradicated to prevent regrowth.
Ground elder – Underground stems grow underneath the soil’s surface, particularly around garden flowers. They can be removed by hand relatively easily, but this may need to be repeated regularly.
Field horsetail – Spreads rapidly in compacted soil. Regular hoeing can control its spread, but not entirely – try using mulch to reduce weed growth.
Hedge bindweed – Stems can twin together which can swamp shrubs and flowers in borders. Stick a pole of bamboo near a stem to encourage it to climb to separate it from your plants before tackling.
Japanese knotweed – Grows incredibly quickly and spreads out widely underground. Mulch can help, but the weedkiller glyphosate is effective: apply in midsummer, then six weeks later.
Dandelion – Often seen invading lawns and cracks in paving. They can be dug out by hand, but ensure to remove all the long taproots.
Leave It Alone!
Only cultivate your soil when necessary, for the most part, it is best to leave it alone. Logically, it might seem that using a tiller is an effective way of clearing weeds from the soil – yet this is not the case. Even slightly turning the soil will expose dormant seeds to sunlight, prompting weeds to sprout. If you notice an abundance of weeds with long taproots such as dandelions – steer clear of using a trowel or garden tools. Instead, try using a dandelion digger which due to its long, narrow shape causes minimum disturbance to the soil.
More Mulch Maketh Man
As organic mulch mainly consists of dead plant material, commonly compost, leaves or bark – it makes a good home for carabid beetles and crickets. This is advantageous for your garden, as these insects particularly enjoy eating the seeds of weeds as well as depriving them of light. It is worth being aware that there will be weed seeds in mulch, therefore a 2-3 inch shallow layer should be enough to block the sunlight to the weeds. Note that a heavy layer of mulch is the perfect breeding crowd and home for slugs and snails and can also suffocate your cherished plants. Replenish the mulch regularly, as soon as you notice any unwanted sprouting weeds before they take root. For a more long term solution, cover the soil’s surface with cardboard or biodegradable fabric and spread mulch over the top.
Rid After The Rain
The most opportune time to weed your beds is after it has rained. It makes pulling up weeds by hand so much easier, as the soil is damp. Attempting to pull up weeds when the soil is dry and hard is tiring work – and often roots snap off in the process which means that the weeds can regenerate. Using an old table fork or small gardening forks can be very useful in twisting out root tendrils. For bigger taproot weeds, try a fishtail weeder.
No Weeds Seed Please
Preventing seeds from growing and developing is a top weed control tip. Watch your beds closely to stop weeds from flowering or taking root. However, this will not completely ward off weeds but will minimise their spread.
Off With Their Heads!
Inevitably, there will be patches of weeds that defy your efforts. The best way to address this is to lop off their heads. Dead-heading annual and perennial weeds reduce re-seeding and exhaust the weed’s food reserves and root buds. Make use of a mower or weed trimmer to remove heads, but ensure to set the mower low on the ground to target not only tall weeds but also lower-growing ones. For even taller weeds such as poke or ragweed, you will need pruning loppers – or for thistles or brambles, we recommend using a string trimmer equipped with a blade attachment.
Mind The Gap
Tightly planted beds automatically prevent emerging weeds from growing, as the soil between plants is shaded from the sunlight. Incorporate this knowledge when you are designing the layout of your garden. Bear in mind that plants prone to foliar diseases such as bee balms and phloxes might need their space.
Water For Friends – Not Foes
Depriving weeds of water can reduce weed-seed germination by 50-70%. Placing soaker or drip hoses underneath mulch can act as an efficient irrigation system for your plant, leaving weeds thirsty. Be careful, however, as deeply rooted perennial weeds such as bindweed and nutsedge can thrive suddenly in moist areas.
Worst Case: Weedkillers
Using herbicides should be a last resort, but are sometimes the only way to deal with pesky perennial weeds. If you end up having to reach for the weedkiller then apply a good sense of judgement when using it and only after the above techniques do not work. Herbicides can kill useful, pollinating insects like bees, or pest controllers such as ladybirds. Some chemicals can also be potentially harmful to pets and if you don’t wear gloves when gardening, an irritant to the skin. The type of weedkiller used depends on the species of weed and also the timing of application. There are two main types of herbicides: pre-emergents and post-emergents. Pre-emergent weed killers prevent weeds from beginning to grow, and post-emergent herbicides target weeds that have already grown. Pre-emergent products can be applied after cultivation and post-emergent weed killers are more effective when the weeds are in the seedling stage, when they are most vulnerable.
Beside these strategies to maximise your garden’s potential, enriching soil with lots of organic matter will help. Fewer weed seeds germinate in soil that is made up of fresh compost or organic matter. Furthermore, adequate knowledge about the type of weed and how best to prevent and tackle them will stand your garden in good stead for the future.