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Why ignoring pesky weeds is not an option

Columbine seeds are some of those that can spring up in the garden unannounced and uninvited. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Columbine seeds are some of those that can spring up in the garden unannounced and uninvited. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

The vegetables are looking healthy, mixed ornamental borders are alive with colour, and soft fruit beds are almost ready to deliver. The only problem, and it’s a constant one, is weeds.

Their rate of growth always seems to surpass that of cultivated plants so ignoring their presence is not an option. They compete with your chosen crop for space, food and moisture, but more seriously, provide a home for garden pests and encourage diseases.

The weed type present will vary according to the nature of the soil and what species are flourishing in neighbouring gardens. It’s possible to predict the majority of weed types that will appear in our vegetable beds each year.

Chickweed, groundsel, shepherd’s purse and sow thistle are bankers. The strawberry patch would be a haven for creeping buttercup and willow herb without action, while the threat of couch grass and ground elder invasion is constant in ornamental borders.

Shepherd’s purse plays host to flea beetle and cabbage root fly. Thistles are home to beet fly and bean aphids. Ground-covering chickweed forms a damp mass, which encourages diseases such as botrytis. Reason enough to hoe or hand-weed between vegetable rows.

“Where do these weeds come from?” This is a question I’m often asked, especially when something different springs up. They will have been deposited by one of several dispersal agents.

Seeds of rosebay willow herb, dandelion and thistle will float in on the breeze. Burdock and cleavers are attached to the coats of animals and are delivered as they pass through the garden.

Birds are often responsible for the sudden appearance of upmarket and unusual weeds. Cotoneaster, holly, rose and leycesteria seeds pass through their gullets before ejection with a spot of organic fertiliser. Seeds attached to mud on a bird’s feet will travel for miles, and the result can be spectacular.

Some years ago, I was invited to identify a plant in a garden overlooking Budle Bay near Bamburgh. An identical specimen sprang up in a Lesbury garden last year. It looks like something from a horror movie, with a pungent smell and spiked seed capsule. Formerly called datura, it’s now referred to as Brugmansia stramonium, but despite the name change all parts remain poisonous.

Buying specimens from a charitable plant stall or accepting one as a gift from the garden of an acquaintance can be fraught with difficulty. Who knows what seeds lurk in the soil or compost within that pot? Think Trojan Horse and beware of friends bearing gifts.