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Weed Removal   Weed Prevention   Weedkillers

Invasive Garden Plants   Weed Seedlings   Herbal Remedies   Weeds as Food

"Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing 'Oh how wonderful' and sitting in the shade,
While better men than we go out, and start their working lives
By grubbing weeds from garden paths with broken dinner knives."

Rudyard Kipling

It is said that there are two certainties in life, death and taxes, but to gardeners surely there are three, death, taxes and WEEDS. A common phrase is that weeds are simply plants which are growing in the wrong place or more ornamental plants behaving badly, but when they trespass in our flowerbeds or vegetable patch, they cause no end of annoyance. They are usually the native plants which are best adapted to the environment where they grow, so can easily out-compete our more delicate ornamental plants. The seeds they produce can lie dormant in the soil for many years, germinating when it is cultivated, or imported with 'new' topsoil. Even in a "wild" garden the native plants must be controlled to give the more pleasing effect we seek.
As you will see if you browse through the monographs on individual weeds, the plants which cause such a nuisance of themselves have many useful attributes as well. There are culinary and medicinal properties in most of them and some are not native, having been introduced for these uses and have become naturalised. Although the descriptions here may not be called a complete guide for foragers of wild food, they will give some information and ideas as to what might be available.

As weeds compete with garden plants for space, water, light and nutrients, we must constantly thwart nature and eradicate them or they will swamp the preferred specimens. They can also be alternate hosts for pests and diseases, eg. Chickweed supports Whitefly, Red Spider Mite and Cucumber Mosaic Virus, and Groundsel carries Rust.
In commercial growing the emphasis is on the seedling stage as they are more susceptible to herbicides, will not have damaged the crop yet, nor attracted any diseases or pests. Organic growers can hoe or grub their crops and by continually cultivating fallow ground the reservoir of weed seeds will be reduced when the germinating seedlings are turned under.

Many people regard weeding as the the "ironing" of garden work, but the sight of a newly weeded border is very rewarding. When Robert Louis Stevenson, the nineteenth century author of Treasure Island, went to live on Samoa in the South Pacific, he took to gardening and wrote "I would rather do a good hours work weeding than write two pages of my best; nothing is so interesting as weeding". You need only read the poem The Glory of the Garden partially quoted at the top of this page to realise that Rudyard Kipling also had a love for gardens.

It can be quite exhausting so perhaps better done in small episodes rather than epic crusades. The exercise is said to be as good as a session at the gym - all the bending, stretching and balancing needed to pick your way around the borders. Half an hour digging burns about 150 calories and although jogging for the same period would burn about 240 calories, gardening is much gentler with less risk of the long-term damage running can cause. The BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers) organises sessions of clearing overgrown areas called the Green Gym. The participants warm up with a few exercises then move on to pruning, tidying and uprooting weeds like Himalayan Balsam, Rhododendron ponticum or Japanese Knotweed. The cost of losing 30 pounds in weight using special diets and attending slimming clubs can be up to 4,500, so 'garden exercise' can keep you fit and save loads of money too, especially if the product of your effort is a supply of fresh vegetables.
Recent research by two Texas universities has also shown that tending the garden exercises the brain as well, so gardeners are more organised, feel more optimistic and feel they have a better quality of life than non-gardeners. A study by University College London found that gardening for just twenty minutes a week can enhance mood and reduce mental stress. In addition the sound of the wind in the trees and the trickling of water reduces the levels of cortisol the stress hormone, so lowers blood pressure. Many people take 'phones or orther devices to listen to music, audio books or podcasts, but these distractions can interrupt the mental processes and prevent the more beneficial therepy that gardening can induce - mindfulness in the garden.

Weeding is a very 'low-tech' job, the only tools required are a hand fork, a garden fork for larger specimens, and a bucket to collect the debris. Luxury extras are a kneeling pad and a pair of gloves. The finer, nitrile coated gloves provide good protection and the partial cover is more breathable than completely impermeable ones. For colder times PVC foam coated thermal gloves like the ones used for handling frozen food keep the hands warm. An online search using the terms 'nitrile gloves' or 'thermal gloves' will return many examples.

When tackling your weeds it is important to know their growing habits so that you can follow the appropriate treatment. As with all living things they have an official or scientific name and it is better to use this when consulting about them as the common name can vary from region to region.
The plants can be categorized as follows:

  • Annual - germinate and mature in one season and die away leaving a supply of seed to germinate in the autumn or the following season(s), eg. Cleavers, Groundsel. It is important that they are removed before they can produce their seed.

  • Biennial - take two growing seasons to mature enough to produce seed, then die away. In the first season they germinate in early summer and most form a rosette of leaves at soil level, developing a long taproot. In the second season they produce an upright stem which flowers and sets seed. They are more easily removed in the first year by uprooting or treating with a contact herbicide at the seedling stage, but a systemic or translocated agent is more likely to be successful. If the flowering stem is prevented from growing the plant may become perennial, it is the production of seed which causes it to die naturally - ie. the plant is monocarpic. This can be seen with Thistles and Ragwort when they grow in regularly cut grass; the growing point of the basal rosette is below the sweep of the mower blades.

  • Perennial - form a storage system in their roots or stems and live for many seasons. They are the most difficult to remove as they have a number of methods to ensure their survival. First they can flower and produce seed for many seasons without dying away, and as with Annuals and Biennials, these are dispersed by various means to reach new ground as well as the surrounding area.
    The other big advantage they have is that they can regenerate if the topgrowth is removed by grazing animals or fire, or when the herbaceous perennials die away naturally to survive adverse conditions such as drought or winter frosts. This perenniating system takes a number of forms, usually it is underground as fleshy roots, stems or leaves (as in the case of bulbs). So when eliminating these plants the underground parts have to be removed or destroyed to prevent regrowth. Some have roots or underground stems which creep around , eg. Bindweed, Ground-elder. Others spread over the surface using rooting stems or runners, eg. Creeping Buttercup.
  • The Annual and Biennial plants are known as monocarpic as they die after producing seeds, whereas Perennials can have many seasons of seed production. Many of the monocarpic weeds can mature in a matter of weeks and produce seed, if the growing conditions are favourable, allowing them to have several generations in a season. These are known as Ephemeral plants due to this transient behaviour. Examples are Chickweed, Thale Cress and Hairy Bittercress, which are usually categorised as Annuals, although the latter can be a Biennial if it germinates in the autumn. Also it is the production of seed which triggers their demise, so if the flowers are delayed by adverse conditions or removed, eg. by mowing, the plant will remain for longer. The ephemerals are most common in disturbed or regularly cultivated soil.
    Care should be taken when disposing of the uprooted weeds. The perenniating parts can infest a compost heap unless it heats up to a high enough temperature to kill them. Also any seed attached to the topgrowth will be carried to any ground enriched with the finished compost. This sort of material can be rotted separately in a container filed with water. After a few weeks the liquid can be diluted for use as a fertilizer and the solids added to the compost - the mixture is quite smelly but harmless. Alternatively the recycling facilities of local councils can treat such material, but not Japanese Knotweed which is a special case requiring a license.

    Using the information on this site

    The two pages Weed Removal and Weed Prevention give methods on the treatment of the weeds after they have been identified. There are links to monographs for weed plants listed as they may appear in growth habit on the right of this page which as well as pictures for identification, include details about them and methods of eradication. Some of the plants described are not strictly weeds, but they are included as they can occasionally appear and since not planted by the gardener may need to be identified, but could be allowed to remain if they are not invasive.
    Usually it is the leaves of the weed which are seen at first so try the Weed Leaf or Weed Seedling pages first to identify the weed you are after. If the flowers are present go to the Weed Flower page and try to find it there. If you know the botanical name check this list.
    Examples of herbicides to use are included, but usually they can be treated without resorting to chemicals. A squirt of Glyphosate is usually the best solution for deep-rooted perennial weeds growing in awkward places where digging would be difficult, like paths or around the roots of established plants and hedges. Also when removing persistent weeds like Ground-elder spraying the regrowth speeds up the process of eradication.
    The recent scare with the selective herbicide Aminopyralid is explained on the Weedkiller page.

    Not all of the physical manifestations which appear in the garden are dealt with in the weed section of this site. The mushroom-like growths are fruiting bodies of some plant diseases so are mentioned elsewhere, or they can be attached to Mycorrhizal Fungi which are beneficial to plants. Some of the listed weeds may not be counted as such in other publications, but from a gardening point of view they are a nuisance so are included, ie. Moss, Lichen, Liverwort and Algae.
    Even the weeds have their good sides as they are important nectar and pollen sources for insects, eg. Dandelions, Thistles and Ragwort. They can be present at crucial times of the year when the larval stages need food or when there are few other sources of nectar available, eg. Dandelions in early spring and Ivy which has flowers in the later part of the year.

    There are some weeds such as Broad-leaved Willowherb and Dandelion which have wind-blown seed and will always return, but most can be eradicated with vigilance and following the correct method of removal. If the really troublesome ones such as Couchgrass, Ground-elder, Horsetail and Bindweed are absent then count yourself lucky and ensure they never arrive. Also it would appear that we are suffering from "Antipodean Revenge", we sent them our criminals and missfits during the Transportation of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, but now we have Least Yellow Sorrel, New Zealand Bittercress, New Zealand Willowherb, New Zealand Pigmyweed and Pirri-pirri-burr to contend with as well as pests like New Zealand and Australian Flatworms.

    Weed Removal   Weed Prevention   Weedkillers

    Invasive Garden Plants   Weed Seedlings   Herbal Remedies   Weeds as Food

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    Try these links first to identify some common weed leaves

    or Weed Flowers

    Below is a list of weeds by common name and growth habit:-
    (the most common garden weeds are in bold red)
    Autumn Hawkbit
    Hairy Bittercress
    Wavy Bittercress
    New Zealand Bittercress
    Thale Cress
    Creeping Buttercup
    Meadow Buttercup
    Long-headed Poppy
    Welsh Poppy
    Ribwort Plantain
    Shepherd's Purse
    Ramsons (Wild Garlic)
    Common Whitlowgrass

    Blue-green Algae
    Greater Stitchwort
    Bog Stitchwort
    White Clover
    Red Clover
    Common Mouse-ear
    Colt's Foot
    Common Dog-violet
    Purple Dog-violet
    Variegated Yellow Archangel
    Dog Lichen
    Common Field Speedwell
    Germander Speedwell
    Ivy-leaved Speedwell
    Slender Speedwell
    Thyme-leaved Speedwell
    Ivy-leaved Toadflax
    Cornfield Knotgrass
    Northern Knotgrass
    Lesser Trefoil
    Lesser Celandine
    New Zealand Willowherb
    Pimpernel, Scarlet
    Pimpernel, Yellow
    Common Sorrel
    Sheep's Sorrel
    Trailing Tormentil
    Tuberous Comfrey
    Wood Sorrel
    Winter Heliotrope
    Least Yellow Sorrel
    Creeping Wood Sorrel
    Broad-leaved Dock
    Corn Spurry
    Cow Parsley
    Creeping Thistle
    Spear Thistle
    Marsh Thistle
    Lesser Burdock
    Dames Violet
    Enchanter's Nightshade
    Fat Hen
    Common Figwort
    Field forget-me-not
    True Forget-me-not
    Common Fumitory
    Garlic Mustard
    Black Mustard
    Hedge Mustard
    Common Hogweed
    Giant Hogweed
    Green Alkanet
    Russian Comfrey
    Common Teasel
    Herb Robert
    Hedge Woundwort
    Marsh Woundwort
    Himalayan Balsam
    Japanese Knotweed
    Giant or Shakhalin Knotweed
    Marsh Cudweed
    Stinging Nettle
    Common Hemp-nettle
    Petty Spurge
    Purple Loosestrife
    Oilseed Rape
    Common Spotted Orchid
    Tree Seedlings
    Red Valerian
    Oxford Ragwort
    Smooth Sow-thistle
    Perennial Sow-thistle
    Smooth Sow-thistle
    Wall Lettuce
    Broad-leaved Willowherb
    Hoary Willowherb
    Marsh Willowherb
    Great Willowherb
    Rosebay Willowherb
    Short-fruited Willowherb
    Annual Meadow-grass
    Hybrid Bluebells
    Soft Rush
    Field Wood-rush
    Three-cornered Leek
    Yorkshire Fog
    Hedge Bindweed
    Black Bindweed
    Field Bindweed
    Birdsfoot Trefoil
    Meadow Vetchling
    Bush Vetch
    Common Vetch
    Tufted Vetch