For spring cleaning, get weeding
Like a perennial flower, the gardener emerges from indoor dormancy in winter out into the seasonal sunshine in spring.
Just as we spring clean our houses with feather dusters and furniture polish, we need to spring clean our gardens with hoes and rakes to get rid of the wicked weeds that have lain in wait over winter and give our chosen plants the best start for the season.
Know your weeds
Most weeds are best removed in spring before they’ve had time to establish. Yet, while it may be tempting to burst out into the garden like Rambo, it is better to take your time to find out what types of weeds you’re up against as different types require different removal methods.
Like other plants, weeds come as annuals, perennials and woody plants. Annual weeds have a lifecycle of one year, which finishes with them releasing seeds—an event you definitely want to avoid in the garden! Common and annoying annual weeds include chickweed, Urtica urens (annual nettles), Capsella bursa-pastoris (shepherds’ purse), Senecio vulgaris (groundsel) and Cardamine hirsute (hairy bittercress).
Perennial weeds live longer than a year and, like other plants, often die back in the winter to return again in spring. They usually have stronger and deeper roots than annuals and require more effort to remove. Examples of perennial weeds include Aegopodium podagraria (ground elder), Urtica dioca (perennial nettles), Cirsium arvense (creeping thistle), Taraxacum (dandelions), Bellis perennis (daisies), Rumex (docks), Oxalis and Elymus repens (couch grass).
Woody weeds are unwanted trees and shrubs and these can be transplanted into the garden by wind or animals. Hollies and horse chestnuts are common examples and like perennial weeds, they usually have strong, deep roots that can be difficult to remove.
Getting the job done
Before weeding, it’s a good idea to use a Border Hand Shrub Rake to remove any leaves and debris from the soil surface. This will make it easier to spot weeds and also to carry out the job of weeding itself.
The shallow roots of annual weeds can usually be easily dealt with by simply taking a Long Handled Dutch Hoe and working it beneath the weeds and lifting the roots out of the soil. Try not to hoe too deeply or you could bring dormant seeds to the surface. Annual weeds can also be removed by hand in most cases, but remember to wear gloves for protection, especially when handling nettles or thistles.
Perennial weeds can present more of a challenge. The roots are often deeper, much stronger and can sometimes regrow, particularly if, like Calystegia sepium (hedge bindweed), they grow from underground rhizomes and part of the rhizome is left in the soil. Simply pulling these by hand may not be enough, but with the help of some tougher tools, you can ensure your garden is weed-free with ease. Weeds with persistent roots, like docks, couch weed, creeping thistle and oxalis can be easily dug out using a Hand Trowel or fork. It is important to dig down and get the entire root or it may re-appear.
Easily recognisable by their distinctive foliage and bright yellow flowers, dandelions have an infamously long taproot, which can be difficult to remove. Simplify the process and use a Hand Corkscrew Weeder, screwing down around the centre of the weed and pulling back to remove it in its entirety. It’s the perfect tool to remove dandelions and other taproot weeds from lawns and borders. Daisies, another type of perennial weed but with a shorter root, can be easily removed with a Daisy Grubber—perfect for clearing the lawn of any stray weeds. This is a two-pronged tool, which should be forced into the ground below the weed, and then lifted to pull the entire plant out of the ground. It is a fast and efficient way of removing most other short-rooted weeds too!
For any weeds that appear in paving cracks, why not employ the use of a Weeding Knife and run it along the cracks, pulling out anything, including moss, that has begun to spring up. This works for both perennial and annual weeds alike.
Supress and control
After you have finished removing the weeds, you need to dispose of them carefully. Avoid throwing weeds into your compost heap, as they may come back to haunt you later on! Instead, leave them in the sun to dry out, as this will prevent them from re-growing or spreading seed. Burning weeds is a safer method, as it will kill the entire weed and the wood-ashes can be added to compost. If you have a particularly invasive weed, like Japanese knotweed, then you can contact your local council who will arrange to collect it for safe disposal.
To prevent weeds from returning, try supressing them with a weed matt, or apply an organic mulch, like composted wood chippings, wheat straw mulch or composted bark. These will smother any weeds that attempt to raise their heads and have the added benefit of protecting and providing nutrients to your plants.
So, there you have it—these top tips will see your garden set for spring, giving you a brilliant weed-free start to the season.