Getting to grips with garden weeds

Columbine seeds get everywhere, even if it is pretty. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Columbine seeds get everywhere, even if it is pretty. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
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Plant growth has really taken off thanks to the rise in temperature and a drop of rain, but we need more to sustain it.

Runner beans have shot almost a metre up the canes, herbaceous perennials have smothered supports, and weeds have emerged to exercise their growing rights.

Run-of-the-mill annual weeds, such as groundsel and chickweed, are easily cleared via hoeing and raking or hand-weeding. But their tenacity in regenerating so quickly from seed in the soil ensures a presence throughout the year.

Developing sow thistle and willow herb that arrived by air several months ago are easy to pull, roots and all, in the early stages. Sometimes, however, they grow alongside a tall ornamental plant with similar foliage and cast seed before being noticed.

But these are minor problems compared to those we face in dealing with so-called pernicious perennial weeds.

Dock, dandelion and thistle have solid roots, every piece of which must be removed. Seeds of the latter two float in on the late summer breeze and there’s little we can do by way of defence, save remain alert.

Couch grass (Agropyron repens) and ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) are in a different league. Their roots march unseen beneath the soil, giving rise to shoots that suddenly break the surface.

Use a garden fork to loosen the soil and follow the roots, lifting as you go. When they invade an herbaceous perennial wait until winter dormancy, lift the whole plant onto a plastic sheet and divide it into sections. Replant only after removing every piece of weed.

The easy option for clearing garden pathways and weeds is to select a herbicide. If you wish to avoid using chemicals, try laying a fabric and gravel mulch.

Ground cover plants offer another natural way, but not all are suitable.