To spray, or not to spray?

by James Alexander-Sinclair

Everybody is organic, or trying to be. I am mostly organic. I realise that some of my more zealous fellow gardeners might think that isn't really good enough...

Garden chemical application tankTo spray, or not to spray? That is indeed the question.

A couple of decades ago it was not really a question worth asking: pretty much every gardener killed stuff indiscriminately. Aphids? Aaarghh ... squirt. Mildew? Gothcha … squirt. Worm casts in the lawn? Not on my watch … squirt. Squirt … out damned blackspot. Caterpillars? No way, Jose … squirt, etc, etc. The default action was to reach for easily accessible and much-advertised chemicals.

A couple of decades before that not only did gardeners kill stuff but they did so with some seriously dangerous kit. Last year I blogged about discovering an undisturbed shed, containing bottles of liquid nicotine, powdered arsenic and all manner of scary-looking fumigators and puffers.

Things have changed a bit. No longer do television presenters urge the use of chemical warfare (you may remember that Percy Thrower got the sack for taking the chemical shilling). Nowadays everything is much more gentle and nature friendly. Everybody is organic, or trying to be. I am mostly organic. I realise that some of my more zealous fellow gardeners might think that isn't really good enough, but my logic says that every little bit helps and organic evangelism can sometimes put people off. Nobody really likes to be hectored or preached at: it often has the opposite effect. Especially if those doing the nagging are politicians.

I use no pesticides or fungicides, no fertilisers beyond bonemeal and manure, but my particular chemical of choice is glyphosate. This, as I'm sure you all know, is a weedkiller that acts upon the leaves of any plant but becomes inert when in contact with the soil. I believe that when it was first invented the salesmen used to finish their pitch by drinking some of the stuff - on the grounds that it only harmed plants and did no damage to people! I'm not prepared to go that far…

My job, when I'm not having a lovely time writing for you lot, is to design and make gardens for people. Sometimes this involves taking untouched or overgrown ground and turning it into something else. Rather than spend a lot of time (and client's money) digging out perennial weeds and scrappy grass, I tend to spray the whole lot off instead.

I have tried burning them but that doesn't really work, so until someone comes up with an alternative, I'm afraid I can't put my hand on my heart and say that I'm 100% organic.

Does that make me a bad person? I don't think so.

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Talkback: To spray, or not to spray?
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Gardeners' World Web User 28/09/2009 at 14:25

My concern with glyphosate spraying is with chemical drift. The neighbors behind my garden sprayed weed killer on weeds in the turf. Some of it drifted over to my garden and damaged a conifer. It took years for the poor plant to recover. So I have to come down against spraying the stuff. I do use it on weed tree stumps and Bindweed by dabbing it on.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/09/2009 at 23:10

the alternative to Glyphosate exists already it is call horticultural vingar.

Gardeners' World Web User 01/10/2009 at 12:01

I think that's fair. If more people were 'mostly organic', I'd be very happy. I don't use weedkillers, but now that the neighbours' cats have realised that the driveway is mostly full of edible weeds, and they're running the risk of being run over and glyphosate is becoming tempting..

Gardeners' World Web User 01/10/2009 at 23:26

I think that it would be hard to run an allotment where there are perennial weeds without glyphosphate, especially if there are brambles as there are on mine. Sometimes a thick mulch of carpet helps with some weeds but has the disadvantage of being slow and will not necessarily clobber the dreaded brambles. Persistent hoeing or dig 'em up are the only other options and the latter is certainly hard going. I have found that it is possible to compost perennial weeds successfully if you keep them in a black polythene sack for a time or even a bucket with no holes; they give up the ghost after a while especially in dry weather and it seems a pity to waste the humus.

Gardeners' World Web User 02/10/2009 at 16:58

Is there on organic moss killer for lawns? Or nearly organic? My lawn is half grass half moss, and it seems that the moss is winning more space every year.

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