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How to care for your garden: weeds


Around this time of year, the sights and smells of summer gardens begin to pose a real temptation those whose gardens might only contain paving slabs. But for the enthusiastic amateurs seeking to transform their outdoors into a prospering flower garden, there are some realities to come to terms with: one of which is weeding.


What’s lurking beneath the surface of your garden?

Weeding might seem like a constant uphill struggle for gardeners, but it actually becomes easier over time. There will always be weeding to- especially annual weeds, the seeds for which can creep into your garden over the year, but on the whole weeding is a cumulative effort- as you continue to diminish the size and strength of perennial weeds, your weeding efforts will become easier. Perennial weeds spread through deep & often complex root systems that allow them to survive for years beneath the ground. You’ll need to commit to years of monitoring and digging before you finally eliminate them- it’s all about causing as much damage to the root network as possible, because as long as the fronds remain beneath the surface, the weed itself will return again and again.


Weeding or mulching?

The two means of fighting weeds- weeding (extraction) or mulching, are equally popular with gardeners seeking to reduce the prominence of weeds in their garden or allotment. In truth the two methods are not so separate- as effective mulching must be followed by some degree of weed extraction. Yet if your garden is suffering from a particularly heavy infestation of weeds, mulching can be a low-effort way to reduce them, limit their growth and spread and make for much easier removal. Simply cover the area between your plants, either with compost, grass clippings or leaves, to keep sunlight from reaching the weeds below. This will stifle weed growth and reduce water loss from the soil, and the organic matter should decompose into the soil. Ensure you leave the developed plants you wish to keep clearly exposed- the mulch will fertilise them, kill weeds and insulate them during colder months. Bear in mind that while this procedure increases fertility, h if that’s your main goal you could also consider top dressing or even plant food water additives. The other method of mulching involves a less sightly strategy- covering the weed-affected area with cardboard or black plastic sheeting to completely deprive the plants beneath of sunlight. In time they’ll shrivel and die, allowing for much easier removal. Unlike mulching with organic matter this approach cuts off the plants beneath completely from water as well as sunlight, which understandably causes a degree of trauma to the soil and won’t insulate as well- so ensure you time your choice of which form of mulching to use according to the weather.  

While regular gardens and lawns might benefit from weed killers and additional chemical additives, those growing fruit and veg might prefer a more organic approach that kills weeds and stifles any spread of plants into undesirable areas of border or allotment- this is something organic mulch does very well, and in addition it offers a wide range of drainage, fertility and insulation control qualities.

By comparison weeding is a simpler task- you can pluck the weeds out by hand (always satisfying when successfully ousting a particularly unsightly specimen) or using tools like a fork, hoe, trowel, scissors or even a specialist purpose-built weed remover to uproot them. In the cases of annual weeds, lightly hoeing the area removed the stems from the roots and allows the dead heads to be removed easily, raked away or simply left to rot into the soil. With perennial weeds a more rigorous approach, aimed at removing the roots entirely from the soil, is needed to prevent the plant from regrowing or spreading. Lots of specialist tools are available for this task, although a simple garden fork is often the most popular.

Weeding with a fork, hand fork or trowel should be undertaken every day, or as often as possible to keep weeds down and should be across your garden- as any area where weeds can flourish can lead to spread across the rest of your garden. If you compost, remember to separate annual weeds from perennials, as the latter can take over your garden or even compost heap, are hard to extract and should be disposed of.

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