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."
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,
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.
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.
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.
The plants can be categorized as follows:
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 ,
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
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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