Top Tips for a Weed Free Garden
How to keep your garden clear of undesirables!
Weeding may seem like a tedious job, but without it our gardens would soon become overrun with undesirables. A weed is any plant growing where it shouldn't be. There are no set weeds, as a plant that one gardener might class as a weed might be treasured by another. Dandelions, for example are a pest for many gardeners, but I actually reserve as special spot in my garden for them to grow, as my pet tortoises love to nibble on them. All plants have a role to play, so don't immediately disregard unexpected plants that crop up, sometimes these can be a wonderful surprise. Other times however, weeds can become a nuisance for several reasons. They can often look unsightly, and they also take up water and other nutrients, leaving less available for your other plants. Weeds in the lawn can block light to your grass causing it to turn brown. A climbing weed can even kill a tree if left to its own devices. So, you've got weeds that need to be removed – but what's the best method?
Contrary to popular belief, having a weed-free garden isn't as arduous as it may seem. Firstly, remember that prevention is the best cure. To prevent unwanted weeds from sprouting in the first place, we may use one of the following techniques:
Ground cover plants are great because they cover up any bare patches of soil where weeds might otherwise grow, as well as being an attractive addition to your beds and borders. A great hardy and low-maintenance ground cover plant is the Vinca Major/Minor (Periwinkle), which is an evergreen plant that is frost tolerant and also produces pretty purple flowers through spring and autumn. Herbs such as creeping rosemary and thyme also work well and are great for gardeners who like to grow their own produce.
Another way to cover the bare soil between plants is by using mulch. Mulch is a material such as bark chips or garden compost which is spread in a thick layer over your soil to suppress weeds as well as add nutrients to your soil and insulate over winter. Mulch materials such as slate chips can also help to give your garden a very polished look. Remove all large perennial weeds before you start, and then spread your mulch material a few inches thick over any bare soil. Some weed seeds might be blown in and sprout up if you have used biodegradable mulch, but these will be easy to remove from the loose soil. For added protection against weeds you can also lay down some weed barrier fabric down underneath your mulch layer.
Whilst using ground cover plants and mulch to suppress weeds is often very effective, you will probably still find that a few weeds manage to pop up where you don’t want them. So, the next thing to do is find a fast and effective way of removal that will hopefully save you any long back-breaking afternoons. I recommend the following techniques for removing stubborn weeds:
In your beds and borders
After wet weather, weeds are best pulled out using a handheld corkscrew weeder or daisy grubber, and a regular kitchen fork is great for pulling out the last thin tendrils of chickweed. During dry spells, use a hoe (long handled or hand held) to chop weeds off at the soil line, after which they should hopefully dry out and die. For really determined weeds that have cropped up through a layer of mulch, use a long handled weeding knife to slice the weed from the root and then fill in any gaps left in the mulch.
In your lawn
Larger weeds in the lawn are often easily eradicated by regular mowing, but mat and creeping varieties of weed such as clover and moss will escape unharmed. To avoid using a chemical weed killer, you can use a scarifying rake to thoroughly rake through the lawn and draw the weeds and moss up, dragging the stems upwards ready to be cut by the mower afterwards.
In between your paving stones
Weeds sprout between your paving stones when the sand there gets washed away, and they can be tricky to remove. Brush your paving stones regularly to disturb any weed seeds that have settled there to prevent them from growing. To remove any that have made their home there, scrape them out vigorously using a weeding knife, making sure you get out as much of the root system as possible. You can then pour boiling water over the stones to ensure any remaining weeds are killed.
Once you’ve removed weeds you want to make sure they won’t come back to haunt you. Tossing them on your compost heap might seem like a good idea, but the weed seeds may germinate in the compost, or be spread back onto your garden later. Dispose of them properly by burning them or putting them in your garden waste bin. Or why not find an intriguing new use for your weeds? Dandelion leaves are great in salads and pestos, and you can even make wine from the flowers. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered!"