Oh joy! It’s raining again and the weeds are sky-high!
Its June, it’s raining and the weeds are madly growing. They are the Formula 1 cars of the plant world, zooming ahead into pole position while your specially-bought-and-cared for plants often lurk sulking in the background.
And how quickly this seems to happen! In April your garden looks great, daffodils flowering, then tulips or maybe bluebells.....you go away over a bank holiday or two and ta da! it's all turned to dandelions and couch grass.
So this blog gives you some ideas about what you can do to prevent - or at least reduce - this problem, and tips on how to get things back on track.
There are three basic approaches to the art and science of keeping weeds under control; prevention, prioritisation and toleration.
It makes sense to stop the weeds in their tracks before they even germinate.
• Mulch your borders. Applying a thick layer of mulch, at least 3 to 5 cm deep, helps exclude light from the soil surface. This means that weed seeds find it much harder to germinate in the first place. Use organic matter from your compost bin, buy in compost or chipped bark if you need to, or even mulch with slate chippings or gravel.
• Don’t dig unless you have to….. Did you know that each square metre of garden soil may have as many as 50,000 dormant weed seeds? If you turn the soil over, some of these will receive enough light and air to begin the germination process. So don’t do it unless you have to!
• .…but if putting new plants in always clean the ground thoroughly first.
• Zap weeds before they seed. Try and cut down annual weeds (or any plants in the garden that seed prolifically) before the flowers set seed and you will reduce your weed seeds by many thousands the following year! I like seeing blue forget-me-nots flowering unexpectedly in different places in my garden. But I don't want the garden completely overrun with them next year, so I pull up the plants as soon as they have flowered.
Focus on the worst offenders. Most of us are busy people; when we get the chance to get into our gardens we want to relax, not be hunting for every emerging weed. So decide which areas of the garden are most important to you – perhaps by the front path where visitors walk, or around your favourite seat. Concentrate your efforts on dealing effectively with weeds in these areas and don’t worry about it not all being perfect.
• Pull up the whole weed. Including all the roots. Many perennial weeds (those that die down in the autumn and come back each spring) will come back very quickly from even the tiniest piece of root. Creeping Buttercup and convolvulus are so good at this that you should dig up a clump of earth around the roots and lift the whole thing into your bin for disposal. Never put perennial weeds into your compost bin; they will simply use it as an opportunity to propagate themselves!
• Use the easy method…. On warm summer days you can more comfortably get rid of small annual weed plants by hoeing them off with a long-handled ‘Dutch’ hoe. They will soon wither in the sun – and you will save your back and knees a lot of discomfort.
• .…but be thorough There are some garden weeds that are very difficult to get rid of. In such cases you may have to resort to chemicals. You can minimize your use of chemicals by making sure that you apply them only in the dosage and at the time of year recommended, and always follow the instructions carefully. Never spray chemicals near a water course and always choose a wind-free day.
I prefer to use a glyphosate-based weedkiller, as this chemical will generally kill the whole plant and not just the top growth. Plants such as brambles will need several applications over the spring and summer. For weeds that have got really embedded into your borders you could try using a glyphosate-based gel which is painted onto the leaves, so allowing you to spot-weed without damage to other plants. This is particularly useful for dealing with bindweed.
The RHS has a downloadable leaflet listing all the the weedkillers currently available to gardeners, and which products are best for what job, at http://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/pdfs/weedkiller-for-home-gardeners.
• Deal quickly with the garden invaders! If you find that you have Japanese knotweed or Himalayan Balsam in your garden you need to make these a priority for weed control. These incredibly tough, foreign invaders are difficult to eradicate and can spread quickly. It’s illegal to knowingly contribute to the spread of Japanese knotweed in the wild because it’s so invasive and outcompetes our native plants. The RHS has help with identification of these two thugs, and more detailed advice about dealing successfully with them. For Japanese knotweed at http://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=218 and for Himalayan Balsam at http://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=480. There is also useful advice on .GOV.
Last - and not least - if you can’t change them then you can decide to tolerate them! Lawns can still look lovely with patches of clover and vetch. Nettles are essential foods for some butterflies, field mice, blackbirds and thrushes love blackberries, and goldfinches eat seeds from teasels and grasses in summer. The golden flowers of creeping lesser celandine really glow in spring sunshine – and they retreat back into the ground altogether by mid-summer.
So take a more relaxed, less critical approach; you’ll have more time to enjoy your garden - and you’ll be doing your bit for wildlife too!
If you need help with identifying your weeds there’s a useful pictorial guide at http://www.gardenwithoutdoors.org.uk/?q=weed_guide.