RDC News Make a point of visiting us weekly!        Tell a friend about us. Growing Stuff  Articles:   21. Why Weed To return to front ‘Growing Stuff’ page, please CLICK HERE

21. Why Weed?

I have watched with interest over the years the way my plot happily grows weeds. It struggles at times to grow decent vegetables and bright flowers, but it never struggles when it comes to weeds. I just did a quick Google search putting in “What is a weed?” and up came the simple answer, “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.” Good old Wikipedia starts out, “a plant in the wrong place” and justifies that by adding,  “Taxonomically, the term "weed" has no botanical significance, because a plant that is a weed in one context is not a weed when growing in a situation where it is in fact wanted, and where one species of plant is a valuable crop plant, another species in the same genus might be a serious weed, such as a wild bramble growing among cultivated loganberries.”

Now as you know if you’ve read these ‘Growing Stuff’ pages before, they are intended for those of us who are either beginners or amateurs and so do not expect me, in this article, to name lots of complicated sounding names of weeds.  We’re going to try to keep it much more simple but, hopefully, still helpful.  

The fact is that there are some weeds that produce very pretty flowers but whereas your young child may think that the yellow flower of the Dandelion is very pretty, left to themselves Dandelions will turn to a white feathery seed dispenser and before you know what is happening Dandelions are all you are growing!  Good if you keep rabbits I seem to remember but otherwise disastrous. That, to my way of thinking is what marks weeds out – they will grow where nothing else will! All they need is a little bit of sunshine and plenty of rain and they will be all over the place.

So why write about weeds? Well they are what all gardeners contend with and we’ve never covered the subject before. Part of gardening is becoming aware of certain features of the whole thing, and weeds are certainly something you will encounter.

There are some simple basics about weeds which, we suggest, is all you need. For instance, some weeds stay very near to the surface of the soil and are therefore pretty easy to remove, which others send down seriously deep roots and so the only way to really get rid of them is to dig deep and try and remove every trace of tap root or wandering roots. You don’t need me to tell you fancy names, you’ll come across them and know them quickly enough.  

Grass is a simple example of a varied intruder that comes in a variety of forms. If you are growing ornamental grasses in your garden it is not uncommon to find them seeding and thus growing in other locations where you do not want them.  You would do well to get them out before they really take hold in their now location. Ordinary lawn grass can seed and spread but mostly it tends to be in dense clumps that don’t go deep, but you will need to dig deeper than the clump to remove it. Then there is what is called ‘couch grass’ which has a big root system and the only way to get rid of it is to dig deep and often, but you can win!

Get to your weeds before they start flowering because flowers soon turn to seed and seeds spread the weed. Some weeds develop as a singular plant, such as the dandelion or there is also groundsel (biggish leaves, round buds that open to yellow flowers) and some of them can be easily pulled out after a good rainfall. Some of them are more difficult to grab and pull up and so you need to use a knife or narrow trowel to get down to the bottom of the root. Other weeds are very much surface coverers and come out with a hoe but make sure you do it before they turn to seed.

I didn’t realise it until I started writing this article but I am actually someone who prefers not to use chemicals but here’s a quick coverage if you want to go down that path.   Glyphosate is a chemical weed-killer which travels to roots and kills off the whole plant rather than just the tops and you can get it either as a spray or as a stick. The RHS website (worth a visit) categorizes weed-killers as ‘Contact’ weed-killers which kill the part of plant touched, or ‘Systemic’ which moves in the sap stream so as to kill roots, leaves and stems, and ‘Residual’ which enters plants through the roots. The simple way to find out which is which is spend some minutes in your favourite Garden Centre browsing the shelves and reading what the cans or bottles or packets say.

What do you do with your weeds when you’ve got them out of the ground? Sounds obvious but basically you want to get rid of them in such a way that they don’t come back at you so, for example, if you put them on a compost heap you need to ensure that the heap gets sufficiently hot to burn up and destroy any seeds within the weed clump. Burning on a bonfire is another approach, dumping in your yellow/green bin is another way that hands them on to the Council for their scientific recycling process to completely destroy them.

As a long-term strategy, either completely dig out all your weed types (especially deep rooting ones like couch grass) and then use a hoe at regular intervals before weeds again get a chance grow and flower OR deep dig and turn all surface material over into a trench at least twelve inches deep, trusting that darkness, worms, moles, and moisture will deal with them and not let them grow again.  If you want to use chemical weed-killers check the packet to see what it says about how it will influence how soon you can use that soil and what you can plant in it.

A final warning: some weeds do genuinely look pretty with lovely flowers but don’t be fooled; if you leave them to grow they will probably take over your garden or plot and here’s the rub, you will become an antisocial neighbour whose weed seeds fly over the fence and take over next doors’ plot as well. Seriously antisocial.