Weeds are the gardener’s vital enemy! If there is one thing all gardeners put at the top of their most undesirable garden activities its weeding. Weeds over run our flower beds and have a persistence which makes the most patient gardener frustrated.
They turn gravel paths into green carpets and patios into jungles! Weeds have an amazing ability to overrun any man made environment. We will show you how to stop weeds growing in your garden.
What is a weed?
The definition of a weed is ‘a wild plant which is growing where it is not wanted and in direct competition with cultivated plants’.
The thing is in real terms the line between cultivated plants and weeds is an exceptionally narrow line which comes down to personal preference. Most typical garden weeds have been altered to take on the attributes of more favourable cultivated varieties. For instance polyanthus is selectively bred from common wildflowers primrose and oxlips. The fact is all cultivated plants have a wild relative or ‘weed’ from which they descend.
The point is our selective breeding of certain weeds have exaggerated characteristics’ such as form and colour over their more natural competitive behaviour. In addition cultivated plants are rarely native to local climates and conditions meaning they need constant care to survive and thrive. This is why weeds, if left unmanaged will always overtake your cultivated garden plants. It is simply a natural process of natural selection and ecological succession.
But how do we slow down this succession and natural selection. How can we stop weeds growing in our garden? Below we have laid out 14 main lines of attack when it comes to stopping weeds growing in your garden. If you arm yourself with these main ways of beating weeds you will make the chore of weeding a thing of the past.
Common misconceptions about weeds
Although there are many typical examples of garden weeds such as dandelion and nettle not all weeds are so easy to distinguish. A weed is an out of place plant by our own personal expectations of any given garden plot. For example Buddleia growing out of a crack in a garden wall is a weed. However if a Buddleia is placed in a planting scheme for attracting butterflies we start to notice the beauty and delicate nature of the shrub.
Humans have a very fickle attitude to nature and our acceptance and appreciation of many plants is intellectualised based on our understanding or misunderstanding of them. Many people dislike dandelions because they are persistent. But people who understand what amazing mineral accumulators and super foods they are encourage them!
Either way the reason many of us get so called ‘weeds’ is we have not told nature properly what we what and what we don’t want. This can be achieved by either working with nature or manipulate growing conditions which stop weeds growing in certain places. Most of these strategies are put forward below.
Don’t let weed seeds germinate
Many people don’t know the soil is full of dormant weed seeds waiting for a chance for enough light and moisture to sprout into life. Some weed seeds can be dormant for hundreds of years and be buried as deep as two feet in the soil.
This is why it is always beneficial to only disturb the top two inches of soil in your garden. Activities such as hoeing and no dig gardening help you to get rid of weeds at the surface and subsequently lower your risk of germinating more unwanted weeds. By constantly moving this top layer of soil you can disrupt the germination process leaving your plants weed free.
Mulch your garden to suffocate weeds
By mulching your beds with a two inch thick layer of mulch you will suppress any weeds trying to grow up from the soil. The mulch will also make it imposable for any weeds to germinate and put their roots down from the surface.
Mulching is a very healthy way of managing your gardens growing areas. The organic material in mulch will slowly decompose from the bottom feeding soil life. This process will give you healthier soil and encourage a better soil structure. This is also vital for stopping weeds there is a huge difference to pulling out a deep rooted weed in fluffy soil than heavy clay!
There are many different materials you can use for mulching your garden to prevent weeds. Some of these include course compost, straw, cardboard, wood chippings, hay and sawdust.
Landscaping your garden to deter weeds
Commonly weeds have the upper hand simply because the conditions are right for them. If you want to stop weeds growing in your garden you need to take away the correct conditions for them to grow. This usually means landscaping your garden with weeds in mind!
Make sure your growing areas are heavily mulched or well planted so weeds are crowded out. For extra weed tolerance bury weed suppressant membrane under the mulch to guarantee nothing can grow there. If you wish to add a new plant simply pull back the membrane and cut a whole.
Weeds in the garden lawn are a common problem but there are ways to make conditions less favourable. Try to make your lawn more favourable to grass than weeds. Do this by making sure none of the grass is too shaded and make sure your lawn is mown regularly.
Most weeds cannot take high frequency mowing like grass species can. If you mow your grass more you will have fewer weeds. Sometimes you will need to give your lawn a couple of treatments with products specific to lawn weeds. There are some links here below.
Gravel is a great surface which is cost effective, looks good and more ecological than most surfacing. Many gardeners dislike gravel as they claim weeds can be an issue. If you do have gravel make sure it is laid over a robust weed suppressant membrane. Most importantly make sure your gravel is at least 50mm deep.
When it comes to how to stop weeds growing in your garden your choice of paving is an important factor. One of the most frustrating weekend jobs is going around the paving with a knife slicing weeds out of the joints. What adds to the emotional turmoil is knowing you will be doing it all again in a few months time!
New patios and paving should be laid on a robust 100mm sub base of compacted mot to stop movement. Paving should be laid on a continuous wet 40mm 1;4 mortar bed to prevent movement. Correctly laid paving this way will stop cracking hence gaps for weeds to get a foot hold. The patio should then be pointed with a 3:1 plastering sand mortar mix. Patios built this way will never get weeds.
Block paving gets some bad press when it comes to weeds as many of our Buckinghamshire and Chiltern clients don’t want block paving due to the gaps. Block paving is one of the best surfaces for driveways as the gaps allow for slight movement when heavy traffic moves over it.
This is known as flexible construction and needed for heavy vehicular loads. We recommend every five years to pressure jet out all the old sand and apply a sweep in weed killer. Using new, fresh kiln dried sand fill in the rest of the driveway. This will ensure a long term weed free block paved surface.
Crowed out the weeds
One of the most effective ways to stop weeds growing in your garden is to simply crowed them out! Limiting the amount of bare soil in your garden will mean weeds will find it hard to establish. By having established flower beds and borders with shrubs and ground cover there is no room for weeds to get going.
Use weeds to beat weeds
One very unusual stratergy that I developed myself over the year is to use weeds against weeds. But what do I mean by that? Well many of the plants we refer to as weeds we do so because they have an aggressive or self seeding nature.
What I like to do is encourage either edible plants or beautiful plants with these qualities. I have mass sown areas of bare grown with vigorous self seeding edibles such as parsley, wild rocket and radicchio. I have also used flowering plants such as verbena, poppies, nasturtiums, and aquilegia to out compete the weeds.
Make use of your weeds
Although weeds are annoying to say the least they are a very useful resource in the garden. Nitrogen fixing weeds such as clover will fix nitrogen in your soil helping to feed your plants. Weeds make great animal feed! I
f you have livestock such as chickens, rabbits or goats they simply love feasting on the fresh shoots of common weeds. Weeds make great additions to compost making. A couple of hours of weeding can create an impressive amount of compostable material. This can go back to feeding the plants you want to keep!
Eat your weeds
Many common garden weeds are vigorously dominant in the natural world because they have ‘special qualities’. It has been noted that most of the most familiar garden weeds have high medicinal and nutritional qualities. Plants such as Greater Plantain, Dandelion, Burdock, Common Nettle, yarrow, and purslane are all edible and extremely good for your health. I use young dandelion leaves in salads, make yarrow tea if I have a fever and purslane is great in stir fry’s.
We have to mention not to eat any wild plant unless you know for sure what you are doing. There are many resources for learning how to identify these magical unwanted plants! Eating on the wild side is a great book which has information on all the medicinal qualities of our common weeds and how to prepare them.
Soon weeding your garden will be like visiting a free greengrocer collecting salad leaves and medicinal teas for your friends and family.
Weed them when they are young
It sounds like a very obvious point to make but it really makes sense to nip weeds in the bud before they get too big! The deeper roots become on weeds the harder it is to get them completely out. This means they keep on reoccurring week after week.
It is better to hoe your beds once a week quickly then spend hours pulling every month! By getting rid of weeds when they are young they are less likely to flower and set seed creating more weed seedlings.
Weed when the ground is moist
It is always better to pull up weeds when the ground is moist. Try to avoid weeding when the ground is dry and hard this will make weeding easier.
Keep the weeds dry
In summer especially don’t allow weeds to access the water they need to grow. You can either water the plants you want in your beds individually and slowly or install a drip irrigation system. You can also buy terracotta watering Ollas which you fill from the surface and will water your plants slowly. This will help your weeds succumb to drought in summer.
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Tools which help you weed the garden
In recent there have been many great inventions that help you weed the garden. These garden gadgets are especially god for taking the bending down and kneeling out of weeding. There are many different types of modern garden weeding gadgets.
Some enable you to sink prongs around deep roots and using mechanical leverage pull out the weed in one. Some use high velocity brushes to blast weeds and roots out of paved crevices, good for block paving! One of my favourite types of weeding gadget is the weed burners which use a gas blow torch to cook weeds down to their roots.
Natural weed killer
The problem with traditional weed killers is they contain various chemicals and toxins. Whether there is no evidence they pose no threat to us or the environment does not mean they don’t. That is why many people prefer natural, organic weed killers. They are effective and usually consist of a mixture of salt and vinegar. Some claim these are not as effective as chemical based weed killers I have had mixed results. Here is a link to a good natural weed killer recipe.
Use a good quality weed killer
If all else fails and you have to result to result to weed killer there are many on the market. Chemical herbicides are not all bad, there are some on the market that you can apply to the soil and will biodegrade after a few months. These are good for clearing new planting areas out of areas over run by weeds.
We have listed some popular and effective weed killers here below.
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Weeds are here to stay and just a fact of life for us all. The question of how to stop weeds growing in your garden can be answered by understanding weeds better. What do they need to grow? Have they an opportunity to take hold? Do your garden maintenance regimes nip weeds in the bud? By planning your garden spaces to be bullet proof to weeds and high frequency hoeing to vacant plant beds weeds will not be able to take hold.
By nurturing the plants you want to grow will mean weeds will not gain an advantage. By careful watering, mulching, hoeing, surface material selection and species manipulation weeds will simply not be able to give you extra work in your garden. With good knowledge and good practice any weeds that do emerge can become food, herbal teas or compost.
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Thank you again.
Paul Nicolaides has over 30 years of recreational gardening and 20 years of professional landscaping experience. He has worked for landscape contractors including design and build practices across London and the South East. In 2006 he qualified with a BA Hons degree and post graduate diploma in Landscape Architecture. In 2009 he founded Ecospaces an ecological landscaping practice which aims to improve social cohesion and reduce climate change through landscaping. In 2016 he founded Buckinghamshire Landscape Gardeners which designs and builds gardens across Buckinghamshire and the South East. This blog aims to provide easy problem solving information to its audience and encourage others to take up the joy of landscaping and gardening.