A Weedy Thing!

A Weedy Thing!

I wonder why we sometimes call people weedy in a disparaging way? Weedy with the meaning of lanky, spindly and physically weak. Then I thought about the weeds in my garden - many are tough, tap rooted so therefore hard to dislodge, and perennial. Such as thistles, nettles, dandelions, herb bennet and creeping cinquefoil. There are others that I am thankful I don’t have such as ground elder, horsetail, or foreign invaders such as Japanese knotweed which could be described as thugs! Hardly weak and weedy individuals!

I also have the annual weeds. Often more delicate such as the multitudinous self sown bittercress seedlings and groundsel. What they make up for in stature they do by other means - using runners and seed pod explosions - furtive and canny comes to mind but not weedy!

We describe any etiolated seedlings as weedy, those that have grown thin and too fast in a desperate grab for light. They are indeed more fragile than those that have sufficient light not to need to sprint for it. Is that because outdoors they grow that way if crowded out by ‘weeds’? 

In recent years gardeners have been encouraged to sow wildflowers to benefit the insects and pollinators. One customer complained that their wildflowers were weeds. Yes indeed, one person’s wildflower is another person's weed. It really is a difficult concept to rethink our attitude to wildflowers, where we will sow them and the ‘weeds’ that grow where we don’t want them.

With the move away from weed killers for the benefit of insects including natural predators and pollinators, there is a need to control rather than eradicate the unwanted plants in our gardens. We are otherwise fighting a losing battle, since they are well adapted to our climate. 

Then the dilemma - dandelions are good for the bees - providing an early food source - at what point do I deadhead them? Before or after flowering? Before and I deny the bees, after, requires constant vigilance, and if I don’t catch them in time, one year's seed quickly becomes seven years of unwanted plants.

There are also garden plants that we value that if left unchecked can turn into weeds. I have a pendulous sedge - not easy to dig out once established and because of the wet clay soil it thrives and reseeds very easily. Others such as ransoms, bluebells, horseradish, mints, hypericum and sisyrinchium can also become a nuisance either by self seeding or multiplying from bulbs and roots.

Where do I start tackling the most common weeds?

  • Tackle areas little by little especially if you have more than a small garden - no point in aching for days after unless you are about to go on holiday and can recover!
  • Take the opportunity to pull weeds while walking round your garden and admiring what’s coming through.
  • Weeds in flower are more noticeable so tackle the weeds that are easily seen before they seed.
  • Weeding is easier after rain. "Pull when wet, hoe when dry".
  • Bare hands? Soap under the fingernails? Gloves? Weed how you feel most comfortable but do protect yourself from thorny weeds and euphorbias and spurges as they have an irritating sap.
  • Take a break - to ease your back and shoulders, review what you have accomplished and enjoy the garden.

Identify your weed, classed as any undesirable or troublesome plant, growing where it is not wanted - a plant in the wrong place? There are now books, apps and various websites to help you identify the plants in your garden. eg RHS identifying common weeds https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/common-weeds


These are plants that exist from year to year. They often have tap roots, underground rhizomes which spread or creeping root or stem systems. e.g. dandelion, thistle, nettle, couch grass.

How to deal with Perennial weeds

Best done when the soil is lightly moist so that you can shake off excess soil. A fork is better than a spade as it is less likely to sever the roots as some of the roots left behind are adept at regrowing. A moist and friable solid also avoids the roots being broken from the weight of the soil and is easier to spot any roots left behind. It also means not losing as much soil if you use the council green waste bin.

Using a garden fork or hand fork, dig round the base of the plant to loosen the roots before lifting out of the ground. 

Disposal. As roots of some of these plants can regrow then my preferred option is for the green waste bin but if you have an effective hot compost bin then allow them to wilt first before putting in the bin.

Annuals and biennials

These have a life cycle within the growing season either germinating in autumn and overwintering or germinating in spring and summer. Many are hardy and survive the winter and will establish once the ground warms up in the spring. Examples are bittercress and speedwell, chickweed and scarlet pimpernel.


On a dry sunny day use a sharp hoe to sever the roots from the leaves. These can then be left on the surface to die or collected and put in the compost. If there are seed pods then you may want to collect and dispose of them separately.

Aiming the hoe just under the surface of the soil and using a backwards or forwards movement, the object is to separate the roots from the leaves. The leaves can be left on the surface to die although if they already have seed pods, then gathering them and putting them in your green waste would be a way of disposing without sowing all the seeds in the compost


There are some things that left to their own devices can quickly become thugs. These may create thickets as they can root from parts of the branch where it touches the ground - e.g. brambles. They may have roots that break easily and the parts left will form new plants - creeping thistle, nettle, bindweed, garden mint, horseradish and buttercups.

Many of these need consistent chopping back or where possible removing, roots and all. They need a consistent attack every few weeks to reduce the energy available in the roots. If left, the plant will be stronger and sturdier but if continually cut back you reduce the energy to the root and it will eventually give up.

Notifiable weeds.

There are some controlled weeds such as japanese knotweed that need to be disposed of in a controlled way. The RHS has some helpful links of this;                  https://www.rhs.org.uk/prevention-protection/invasive-non-native-plants , 


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