Weeds and Weed Prevention
WEEDS AND PREVENTION
Weeds are basically any plants growing in the wrong place. Fast-growing native plants that spread quickly from seed, such as groundsel, or by rampant underground, like bindweed, are the commonest sorts. Some cultivated plants, however, can become a problem when they establish themselves too well. For the first few years after you dig up an uncultivated plot, you’ll get couch grass and tough perennial weeds reappearing unless you take drastic action. Seeds can stay in the ground, waiting for their chance to germinate for years and years: they don’t all grow at the same time, but come up a few at a time. That’s why weeds are so successful.
The best way to deal with perennial weeds, other than prevention, is to dig them out with the root intact and throw them away, or burn them. Perennial weeds have roots which stay in theduring the winter and come up again every year unless you get them out. Even if you chop off the tops, they just grow again.
- Ground elder
- Couch grass
Digging without chopping roots is therefore the key, but easier said than done, with bindweed and couch grass in particular. Hoeing or using a rotovator just encourages all the little bits of root to grow even better.
Annual weeds include:
- Fat hen
- Shepherd’s purse
These are more easily dealt with before seeding, although you need to keep an eye open for two or three ‘harvests’ a year.
Mulching is a much quicker option than regular hand weeding or hoeing. Annual mulching involves spreading a thick layer of organic material between plants each spring. For long-lasting results, especially on small areas, for instance a small front garden, or area round a water feature, cover the soil in a weed-proof membrane. You can plant through this and, hopefully, virtually eliminate weeding for good.
- LOOSE MULCHES A mulch round plants in spring smothers germinating seeds and helps to seal in moisture, so that plants don’t dry out so quickly in summer. It also provides insulation to roots, preventing overheating in summer and frost damage in winter. Worms pull the material down into the soil, helping to steadily improve it. In early spring the soil should be moist, well weeded and loosened with a fork. Spread 2.5-5 cm (1-2 in) of mulch between shrubs and perennials, tucking under overhanging shrubs for maximum coverage.
- COMPOSTED BARK CHIPPINGS are a good, green alternative when you want a very natural-looking mulch. These chippings have been ground up and left to partly decompose and don’t hold as much water as peat. Cocoa shells are decorative and appear to repel slugs, snails and cats. It smells of chocolate but is, unfortunately, expensive and breaks down quickly, so needs reapplying each year.
- CHUNKY BARK CHIPPINGS are longer lasting, although quite expensive in England. We use these in our French garden as they are very cheap and readily available from the local supermarket. The local pine forests must do well out of the deal. The mulch smells lovely, but only the larger pieces are birdproof, so be prepared to sweep up paths after a good few beaks have rifled through it. The best grades last up to five years.
- GRAVEL is decorative and long lasting, but doesn’t suit every planting style. Unless you put a membrane of plastic down and an edging first, it is likely to disappear into flowerbeds. Even then, earthworms will raise casts between the stones and seedlings of weeds will flourish. Cats don’t seem to mind it either, unfortunately. As long as you’re prepared to weed and rake, it’s a long-lasting mulch.
For cutting down on regular chores, synthetic mulches are a good idea. They form a weedproof barrier and are usually made of perforated or woven material that lets rain and air through, but not weeds. They don’t look good, so you need to cover them with chippings or gravel.
- Black polythene sheeting is the cheapest, but you must make holes once it is laid by stabbing with a garden fork. It tears easily and often shows through covering material if you walk on it.
- Perforated or slitted plastic costs more, but still rucks up and tears easily.
- Spun landscape fabric is stronger and durable. It needs anchoring down well.
- Woven fabric is the heaviest quality, more like matting, and the most expensive. It won’t tear, and if you change your mind about where to mulch, you can take it up and move it. It will last for years as it doesn’t rot.
PLANTING THROUGH MULCHING SHEETS
Place the sheet on the prepared soil and anchor it down. Stand the plants, still in pots, on the sheet and arrange them how you want them, before cutting the sheet. Cut a cross in the fabric where you want each plant to go. Peel back the corners, put in the plant and tuck the corners of the sheet back round the neck of the plant. Cover with chippings when planting is finished.