Suburban Sue

Catch it! Bin it! Kill it! A time compromised guide to weeding

When we moved into our house about twenty years ago we inherited a traditional square rectangle of lawn, surrounded by flower borders. The children were younger and this was a protected place to play. The issue of who mowed the lawn was somewhat of an issue.

Then along came the moles, at first a few and then suddenly overnight we seemed to have hundreds of mole hills. Unable to deal with this phenomenon we eventually decided to rotavate and revamp making a new border, raised vegetable beds and a chamomile lawn. I had come across chamomile lawns in my reading and thought it sounded a great idea to try and it involved no mowing!

When I took on more teaching, my camomile lawn got rather neglected. They are very labour intensive and not really suitable for extensive areas unless you have excellent preparation and a team of dedicated gardeners! Now, as then, I don’t have the time to be that dedicated, even if I had been furloughed.  So while weeding it is lovely, the scent of chamomile in the sunshine perfuming the air as you work, the hours required are not so lovely. 

So what to do? Most of what I was weeding were things like clover and buttercups which the bees really go for. The lawn’s third re-incarnation is less planned and more due to laissez faire it has become a wildflower area with hints of chamomile. 

That doesn’t mean though that I do not need to weed! Time and weeds wait for no woman. My damp clay soil is only usually fit for weeding in short spells between the claggy damp soil and the dry cracked earth. So I prioritise where to put my effort when the window of opportunity arises.

In my veg beds I can often hoe but with intercropping that can become problematic so I often find a quick hand weed can help and I minimise  damage to the plants I do want there.

In the borders I want damage limitation until I can get to a deep weed when the weather is right for uprooting the perennial weeds. 

In the ‘wildflower wilderness’ I want containment. So the runners from the buttercups do not invade the borders.

Prevention is better than cure! So often we don’t start from a place where it is easy to get on top of the weeds and feel like we’re fighting a losing battle. Is that just me? I use these as my weeding guidelines - quick and dirty. 

Quick - I start with damage limitation. The aim is to Catch it! Bin it! Kill it! 

What? - Seed heads. Why? Distribution Can be widespread, not only on my cat’s fur but through birds, wind, my family’s muddy shoes and other animals. Candidates are dandelions, buttercups, herb bennet and bittercress. They are all prolific seeders and need stopping before they sow the next generation.

Large dandelion style seed head from unknown plant  

Dirty - Rooting out the source of the seeds. The aim is to Hoe it or Haul it! 

Hoeing is effective on small, mostly annual weeds disconnecting them from their supplies and laying them out to die in the sun. 

Haul It! Going deep and dirty with the aid of a garden fork or hand fork to pull out the roots of the perennial weeds. Many prolific seeders have a way of disguising themselves as plants you do want. They are often perennial plants that come up each year and may also produce new plants by underground or overground creeping and reshooting or rooting. 

Spot the weed - bramble, sticky weed and herb bennet

Buttercups, for example,  have similar leaves to woodland geraniums. So I wait for the great yellow flower reveal, to see where they are hiding and then I know where to focus my energy for the Haul It method. So take note when you remove seed heads where the culprits lurk.

Yellow flower buttercup reveal in geranium

Timing is everything for these deeper rooted weeds. When the soil is too dry you risk leaving part of the root system to regrow, too wet and you are pulling up a claggy root system and taking out good soil from your border.

Disposal - if you have a hot compost heap then most weeds are dealt with there. I do not, so some I will green recycle and some compost. It all gets recycled to compost which can be used to enrich the garden.

Happy weeding!