Tuesday, 5 July 2016


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A weed is defined any wild plant that grows in an unwanted place, especially in a garden or field where it prevents the cultivated plants from growing freely. However weeds can include any unwanted vigorous cultivated plants that have spread or set seed in your border.  

That doesn't always help when weeding the garden as we can be reluctant to remove plants we do not normally categorise as weeds. One of the biggest complaints about gardeners is that they have a lack of understanding of which plants are unwanted and have removed precious plants along with the weeds. 

There are some typical British weeds that grow in gardens that can be easily identified and will enable you to decide which plant to remove and which to keep.  These include annual weeds such as chickweed, growing and setting seed in a single year and are easy to remove by manual cultivation techniques such as hoeing.  Perennial weeds such as dandelions have a life cycle beyond a year and are tougher to eradicate, often requiring digging out of chemical control.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
With its distinctive toothed leaves that give it its names dandelion (teeth of lion), this rosette shaped weed has distinctive yellow flowers followed by dandelion clocks. Dandelions have a long tap root from which new plants can grow.  Larger weeds will require chemical control with glyphosate but smaller weeds can be removed with a trowel if the long tap root is removed too.

Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense)
Creeping thistle loves grassland and uncultivated soil.  It can quickly spread and once established it can be difficult to eradicate permanently. Spreading by creeping roots and airborne seeds, repeated digging out of roots reduces the problem but chemical control will provide a quicker solution.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)
This annual weeds quickly spreads out and smoothers other seedlings.  Thriving in rich soils it sets seed quickly.  Remove it promptly by hand or using a hoe.

Shepherds purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
This annual weed forms a rosette, sending up characteristic heart-shaped seed pods after white flowers. Remove potential plants as soon as you see them and remove seed heads as soon as you spot them as seeds can live for up to 30 years in the soil.

Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)
This annual weed produces seeds all year round, which are spread by the wind.  Although hoeing seedlings is effective, remove larger uprooted plants as these can still set seeds that germinate. 

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica
This perennial nettle is usually considered to be weeds, although if you have the space to leave some, they can be an excellent source of food and habitat for butterflies such as the red admiral, peacock and small tortoiseshell.  Stinging nettles thrive in loose, newly cultivated soil, especially where phosphate levels are high.  Cut down in mid-summer before flowering to prevent setting of seed and remove by cultivation or chemical control.

Annual Nettle (Urtica urens)
Smaller than its larger big brother the stinging nettle, this nettle favours rich, fertile soil such as well-manured vegetable gardens. If you remove by hand, wear gloves to avoid stings.

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
This annual weed is low growing but can spread significantly in borders. Short flower stems can propel seeds several feet away do remove the plant as soon as you spot it. 
Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)
This weed quickly swamps other plants with its climbing, twisting stems and has distinctive white trumpet flowers.  Pull by hand to remove from other plants and then treat with glyphosate.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)
This weed is invasive, and I mean invasive.  Japanese knotweed used to be such a concern it was once a notifiable weed, but is now much more common and that status has been removed.  It can take up to five years to eradicate this plant with chemical control. Luckily enough, this plant is herbaceous and dies down in the winter and is infertile, spreading by underground rhizomes only.
Do not cut, mow or spread any of the weed as new plants can grow from just a few millimetres of plant material.  Instead treat chemically with glyphosate in midsummer and then again in the autumn, as the stems are dying down.

Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria)
Ground elder sends out underground rhizomes, which wind around garden flowers and strangle them. Gently pull the underground stems to remove from the soil, repeating if necessary, or apply a glyphosate-based weed killer. 

Field horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Similar to its water loving cousin Mares tail, this weed can spread rapidly in compacted soil and is difficult to control. Although digging out will weaken the plant large areas require chemical control.

This prickly weed has sharp thorns which are a nuisance. Bramble bushes have long, thorny, arching shoots and root easily. They send up long, arching canes that do not flower or set fruit until the second year of growth. Cut back hard and dig out roots or treat with a chemical.

Willow herb (Epilobium)
This common annual weed sets seed in the border quickly. However it is easy to pull up by hand, which is best done before the pink flowers set seed.

How to remove moss
Common British weeds
Giant Hogweed

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