Weeds and the Weed free garden

The subject of  our meeting on 18th July was “Weeds and the Weed free garden”. Our speaker was Geoff Hodge, a garden author and broadcaster, who gave us a lot of useful information while engaging the audience with a stream of banter. Geoff started by offering us a miracle cure for weeds which he calls “VIAP”; Vigilance, Instant Action and Persistence”. Always be on the look-out for weeds and do something about them as soon as possible. The weeds will be growing while you procrastinate …The standard definition of a weed is “a plant in the wrong place”. Geoff had a university teacher who defined a weed as “A plant whose attributes have not yet been discovered” but he described them as “A flaming nuisance” and in combative and outspoken style he talked in terms of weeds as ’the enemy’. If we were to win the battle we should know the enemy.

The first thing is to understand how weeds grow and to divide them accordingly. The first group is the annuals. These complete their life cycle of growth, flowering and seeding in one year. The key thing here is to stop the plant from flowering and seeding and this is where vigilance is needed.” One year’s seeding gives seven years weeding”. The second group is biennial and these grow in the first year and flower and seed in the second. Here, again, they need to be removed before flowering. The third group is perennial weeds which continue growing from one year to the next. These present the biggest problem because they produce long roots which are difficult to eradicate completely.  Weeds germinate when they are exposed to the light so it is good practice to disturb soil as little as possible. This is one of the big advantages of a ‘no dig’ regime in a vegetable plot.

There are two ways of dealing with weeds; physical action or the use of weed killers. For physical action Geoff showed us a huge range of specialist tools.  He particularly recommends the Wolf Garten Multi-Change system which offers eleven handles and  sixty different tool heads:

 

 

 

 

The tool most commonly used for weeding is a hand fork but there are also many specialist digging and cutting tools for tap roots and for restricted spaces.  There is a good tool with a head of stiff wire for weeding block paving. The most useful tool of all for Geoff is a hoe which needs to be used very frequently while weeds are still small.  A hoe should be kept sharp because it is a cutting tool and being sharp makes it more effective and saves time. Remember Vigilance and Instant Action. Spend a few minutes each day wandering around looking for weeds and get rid of them immediately.   If you work kneeling, look after your knees with pads or a stool and avoid bending by using long handled tools.   

Weed killers are sold in two different forms; ready to use and concentrate. Ready to use come in a spray bottle while concentrates have to be made up by dilution. With concentrates follow the maker’s instructions on the amount to use exactly . It may look small but using any more is just a waste.

There are two types of weed killer; contact and systemic.  Contact weed killers work very quickly, within hours, but it is important to  cover all foliage  as any growth left untouched will not be killed. It is far better to use a fine spray rather than a watering can.  Systemic weed killers work into the whole plant but they can take several weeks to be fully effective These weed killers are not selective and will kill any plant they touch. Wanted plants nearby should be covered with a plastic bag or a shield used on the sprayer. An alternative is to use a gel which can be smeared on the weed. Pathclear kills weeds on  a hard surface and will prevent regrowth for three months. Lawn weed killers are selective so they do not kill grass. Vitas Lawn clear is effective.

An alternative strategy to getting rid of weeds is to prevent them growing in the first place. This can be done with mulch, applied generously to a depth of two or three inches. There are also differing qualities of membrane material which stops weed growth and allows desired plants to be planted through the membrane. Plantex, which carries a 15 year guarantee is the best. Another way is to use plants so that they deprive weeds of room to grow.  Geoff ran quickly through a series of photos to show a wide variety of shrubs, climbers (grown horizontally) and perennials that provide good ground cover:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next meeting of the BGA will be our AGM, to be held on Tuesday 16th July at 7.30pm and will conclude with Cheese and Wine.

Jeremy Arthern

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