Persistent weeds

by James Alexander-Sinclair

I have never been good with tangles. Snaggled kite strings drive me dotty...but I rather enjoy the gradual teasing and tickling of bindweed or couch grass roots.

Tangle of weed rootsI have never been good with tangles. Snaggled kite strings drive me dotty. Gordian knots of fishing line result in much swearing. Bricklaying lines that, if left alone for a couple of minutes, mysteriously tie themselves into intricate clove hitches. Garden twine where, if you open the cellophane package the wrong way then the loose end becomes strangely elusive. All of these things are certain to put me in a very bad mood.

Not so tangles of weeds; I rather enjoy the gradual teasing and tickling of bindweed or couch grass roots. It's like that scene in Bridge on the River Kwai when Alec Guinness finds the explosive fuse and traces it all the way through the mud to where charges are attached to the bridge. The secret is to carry on until you find the very last bit. Except that you never do...nobody ever does. There is always a particularly fertile chink that hides when it hears me coming and then sprouts back with a vengeance as soon as I turn my back.

Generally this is a good time to go after any perennial weeds; before the garden really gets going it is quite easy to track them down. Also the ground is soft enough to winkle out the clinging roots of buttercups or the long parsnipy tap roots of docks. The nicotine yellow roots of nettles are easy to trace, although the little leaves are vicious stingers.

The Grandes Dames of the weed world in my garden, however, are bindweed and couch grass (I thank all divine beings that we have no ground elder in this garden). The former, in addition to its spiralling growth habit, has fleshy white roots that reach out in every direction and can go many feet into the ground. All the topsoil in my garden (formerly a concrete covered farmyard) was imported so a little bit must have come in with it and has spread over the past decade. If you have a severe outbreak then, later in the year when the leaves appear, it would be sensible to use a glyphosate weedkiller otherwise the digging may become soul destroying (to avoid killing neighbouring plants then try stuffing the plant into a polythene bag and spraying it inside the bag).

Couch grass (sometimes known as twitch) has also appeared from somewhere and is colonising a couple of beds. It has long bony looking runners with amazingly sharp points that can easily push their way through even the heaviest soils. They get themselves in amongst the roots of other plants - the solution then is to dig up the whole plant and wash all the soil off until you can clearly see which roots are good and which are evil.

I'm sure that I am not alone in enjoying some jobs that many people find really fiddly and maddeningly annoying.

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Gardeners' World Web User 01/03/2007 at 14:47

does anyone have any experience with Colts Foot. It is driving me bonkers in my veg patch and I am dreading the sight of it appearing again this year. Many thanks.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/02/2008 at 13:22

I have heard that there is a form of Tagetes that if you plant it something that the roots give off kills the weeds - Sarah Raven has it in her catalogue and says it is very effective. I am thinking of trying it on a patch of bindweed

Gardeners' World Web User 27/02/2008 at 09:25

I think weeds should be left where they are!

Gardeners' World Web User 28/02/2008 at 20:45

Helen, I think that the Tagetes you are referring to is effective against ground elder. It has some chemical effect via the roots which deters ground elder from growing. Sounds good to me! Not sure if it works on bindwind though - you may need to do some more research?

Gardeners' World Web User 01/03/2008 at 23:25

My experience of the couch grass is that it overwhelms the natural soil and plants. If you try to remove it and split the growing root stems which are clear white then it will regrow itself. If you have this growth in your plot of land, then try to remove it gently eg tease it out then burn it. My experience is that this plant grows to a near by water supply eg an underground stream which is not always evident.

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