The ultimate guide to organic weeding

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

A gardener who hates weeding has picked the wrong hobby. Anyone who tends gardens or toils on an allotment will spend large amounts of their time battling with unwanted invaders. Here's the Weeder's Digest guide to winning the fight organically…

For many gardening enthusiasts, there’s something rather therapeutic about prising weeds from the earth and digging over the soil in flower borders or vegetable beds—you can almost hear your plants cheering you on. “Go on dad, get them! Show them who’s boss!”

Before you dive headlong into your borders and start pulling up anything that doesn’t fit in with your planting plan, remember that not all weeds are bad. The commonly held belief that weeds are just plants in the wrong place certainly rings true.

Weeds with showy flower heads such as dandelion and the spear thistle provide valuable pollination resources for bugs, bees and butterflies. And for the adventurous home brewer, weeds can be utilised for a variety of tasty beverages—the fruits of the much maligned wild strawberry can add fruity intensity to a summer cocktail, and there are few drinks more welcome than an ice cold pint of nettle beer after a hard day's allotmenteering.

However, a balance must be reached. Weeds left to run free will take over your garden or plot and will out-compete your plants and veg, starving them of food and making them susceptible to disease. And no self-respecting gardener wants that to happen.

As long as you are diligent and are prepared to put in the effort, there’s no need to resort to chemicals. For organic, glyphosate-free success, gather the following items and prepare for battle:

  • An old kitchen knife for delicate extractions of tenacious weeds
  • A hand scythe for close-up weeding. This type of tool is invaluable, offering a sharp point to grub between plants and a cutting blade for clearing large weedy patches
  • A long-handled hoe. Dutch hoes will slice weeds on the push and cut on the pull, halving the effort
  • Weed control fabric. Lay this down over particularly bad weed infested areas. Avoid using old carpets as a suppressant on municipal allotments. Most councils frown upon this tactic and will withdraw your tenancy faster than two shakes of a mare’s tail
  • Knee pads. Useful for protecting your knees during close quarter combat

Before heading outside, fork in hand, know your enemy. Here's our Weeder's Digest to help you deal with some particularly pernicious pests.

Read more: How to transform a neglected garden

 

Annual weeds

These weeds grow for one season, growing from seed. Will spread rapidly if not tackled early on. Deal with them swiftly!

Groundsel

groundsel

This ground-hugging weed produces several generations of seeds each year, making it a fast spreader.

It loves well-conditioned soil, so give yourself a pat on the back before yanking out the young plants before they get a chance to seed. Regular hoeing will see off this nuisance.

 

Chickweed

chickweed

An early coloniser of freshly turned soil and easily identified—the leaves of this plant look like green mouse ears.

Tackle this one with a sharp hoe, ideally catching it before it breaks into flower.

 

Fat hen


Image via Nature Spot

Great name, bad weed. Fast growing and upright, this tall weed can reach heights of up to 6ft if left unchecked. Has a particular penchant for potato patches.

Pull this pest out by hand, or give it a good hoeing to get rid.

 

Herb Robert

herb robert

Our favourite weed. Easily identified by the red stalks, you can practically sneeze on a Herb Robert to purge it from the earth.

Use it to provide weed removing satisfaction and to prepare you for a tougher battle with the perennials...

 

Perennial weeds

Overwintering pests that typically emerge from underground root systems called rhizomes. These weeds will often burst into action very early in the growing season, stealing a march on your own precious plants. Be persistent!

Hedge Bindweed

hedge bindweed

Arguably allotment enemy number one. This fast shooting plant parasite springs up frighteningly fast. Get them tangling with your raspberry canes and they will cause absolute mayhem, so pluck out any young shoots as soon as they emerge and don’t dare leave any broken pieces in the soil as they’ll start up new plants.

Repeated hoeing at least once a week will eventually weaken its grip. Almost, almost, deserves treatment with weedkiller, but stand strong and be resolute!

 

Dandelions

Dandelions spread their seeds via their bushy seed heads and also have large tap roots which—when snapped off—will quickly regenerate.

Dig deep under the plant with a small trowel to remove, and don't be tempted to blow the seed heads to "tell the time". Keep hold of the petals, they make great wine!

 

Daisy

daisies

A common, lawn-spoiling plant that’s so disliked you can buy a weeding tool designed especially for its removal.

An old, round-headed kitchen knife will do the job just as well—stick the knife into the earth under the crown at a 45-degree angle, lever the knife, remove the offending daisy. Easy.

 

Nettles

nettles

Spreading vigorously from their gnarly rhizomes, nettles are especially fond of stony soil. They are fairly easy to pull out by hand, but make sure you remove as much of the rhizome as possible.

Best left untreated until early summer—those fresh leaves and tips make the best beer!

 

Dock

dock leaves

Dock leaves are great for treating stung hands after tugging out nettles, but it's best to deal with this weed as soon as you spot it.

Be careful of the deep tap roots which have a habit of snapping easily. Dig deep, dig carefully.

 

Couch grass

couch grass

Unlike nice, sensible lawn type grasses, this rhizome based scourge can grow between existing shrub roots, making it difficult to uproot.

If this happens, dig up both plant and weed and pick out the couch grass by hand before returning your plant to the soil.

 

Mare’s Tail

mare's tail

Move allotments. This is the mother of all weeds. It sprouts from deep root systems, spreads like wildfire and eats weedkiller for fun.

Your only hope is smothering it with weed barriers and, even then, it takes an absolute age to die off.

 

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Nick and Rich run the website twothirstygardeners.co.uk and their home-grown booze recipe book, Brew it Yourself, is out now

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