© Royal Horticultural Society Lindley Library
Bindweed is difficult
Coltís-foot is part
of the daisy family
The definition of a weed, according to
agriculture colleges, can be anything from
various different mosses and algae to a variety
of plants or even a tree. A weed, according
to Ian Le Gros, superintendent of the Queen
Motherís Garden at RHS Garden, Hyde
Hall, can be anything that grows, but is
sited in a place where it isnít wanted.
The most important thing about a plant
or weed is its position. Are you happy with
it growing where it is, does it fit in with the
flowers around it or do you want to move it
to a more suitable location, or eradicate it?
There are several ways to get rid of them,
depending on the type. Digging them up is
an option, although you need to be careful
as to when you do this as you could find that
their seeds scatter during the operation, and
you have propagated them by mistake. If
you donít mind using weed killers it is always
worth asking your local garden centre on
which is the current, most effective one on
The contact variety, burning off the top
part that you can see, is only effective on
annual weeds. If you can, it is best to try and
kill annuals before they flower and seed, as
unfortunately within this range there are
also ephemerals that have a life cycle from
germination to seed of about six weeks.
Translocating weed killers are used on
perennial weeds that have a robust root
system, or tap roots which tend to be very
difficult to eradicate by hand-pulling or
digging. These act by moving through the
plant, including the root system, causing
damage, and eventually killing it.
Some weeds, however, such as
Bindweed (Calystegia silvatica) may take
more than one application, with the most
effective treatment being applied late
summer when it is in flower.
Spring is the best time to clear the garden
of weeds. When the weed seedlings emerge,
this also tells you that it is time to sow seeds
for outdoor displays as the soil is warm
enough for germination.
Mulches, which can be either organic
or mineral, can then be applied over the soil
surface to smother any potential weeds from
germinating. Although you will still have
some, they will be easier to pull out.
Organic materials that can be used for
mulching purposes are compost, composted
bark, well-composted woodchips or spent
mushroom compost. Mineral mulches such
as grits, pebbles or stones should be washed
for horticultural use to get rid of salts which
could burn, damage or kill the plants.
Fortunately, bags bought from nurseries
are already washed.
The type of mulch is decided through
aesthetic considerations, and the density and
size of the plants in the borders. Large shrub
and tree borders can be mulched with quite
chunky bark chips, whereas intense, densely
planted herbaceous borders should be
mulched with fine composted bark or
Where perennial weeds are a problem,
you can use sheet mulches made from
nursery fabrics or compost sacks, cut open
and reversed, so that the black side is
showing, and then covered with a more
aesthetically pleasing mulch. Only do this
as a last resort, as sheet mulches can be
detrimental to the soil underneath.
On the good side, it is worth remembering
that many weeds are beneficial to the wildlife
in the garden. Happy weeding!
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