Weeding without Chemicals

Weeding without chemicals

Keep your plot weed-free with our advice on weeding without chemicals.

Tackling weeds is a job you can’t put off, but it does need to be done carefully so you don’t make the problem worse.

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Pulling them out by hand or hoeing off the tops can leave the roots of perennial weeds intact, causing vigorous regrowth – even small pieces of root can grow into new plants.

In the summer, the invasion of weeds can go unnoticed because their emerging foliage blends in with that of your border plants. They grow and bulk up incredibly quickly. Some, such as nettles, dandelions and thistles, are prodigious seeders, so cut off their flowers or seedheads when you see them to prevent them setting seed around the garden.

When tackling them without chemicals, you need to let some top growth establish, so you can follow the stems down to the ground and trace their roots. In a planted border, use a long-handled fork to loosen the soil around the roots and tease out as many of them as you can get to. Even if some of the root breaks in the soil, continually repeating this saps the weed’s energy, weakening it.

Not all young plants you spot may be weeds – be sure to look out for these garden-worthy self-seeders.

Follow our advice on weeding without chemicals, below. 

Nettles, dandelions and thistles, are prodigious seeders, so cut off their flowers or seedheads when you see them.

Bindweed

Regularly pull out the developing shoots when they are 20-30cm tall and before they start to twine onto neighbouring plants. Repeat this process throughout the summer, to weaken the roots. 

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Brambles

Daunting to look at, a mass of brambles or blackberry suckers is best tackled by pruning back all the top growth, then digging out the roots (wear gloves). Thereafter, don’t let young plants get a foothold, as they’ll quickly get out of hand.

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Creeping buttercup

Remove plants regularly with a trowel before they produce the runners by which they spread. Avoid leaving thick pieces of roots behind as buttercups can regenerate from these.

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Dandelion

Always remove flowers before they get a chance to produce masses of fluffy parachute seeds. Use a long, pointed trowel to dig down vertically around the tap root to extract it without breaking – any remains will resprout. Repeat if regrowth occurs to weaken the plant.

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Horsetail

Very deep rooting, so difficult to eradicate. Allow the stems to develop for four to six weeks before pulling them regularly to weaken the plant. Alternatively, cover the ground with old carpet for at least two years.

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Plantain

Use a garden fork to loosen the soil surface. Lift up the flat leaves then use an old, long-bladed knife to cut down into the soil around the tap root and remove it without breaking it. Don’t let mats of plantains form in your lawn as they’ll leave bare patches when removed. Pick off flower spikes to prevent seeding.

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Stinging nettles

Cut stinging nettles down to the ground, using shears or secateurs (wear gloves), just as they come into flower. This weakens the roots before they spread and prevents them setting seed. Don’t waste the material you cut – discover 10 ways to use nettles.

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Cat’s ear

Clump-forming with long leaves that lie under the blades of the mower. Gradually makes mats if not removed. Very brittle tap root means pieces can easily be left behind to regrow. Loosen soil with a fork, then dig out with the tip of a trowel.

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Clover

In short turf, clover spreads by creeping among the grass blades below mowing level. It also flowers and seeds in very short turf. Use a rake to lift trailing stems for mower blades to cut, making sure you collect them in a grass box.

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Daisy

Rounded leaves grow in tight clumps and spread into mats when grass is closely mown. Aerate the soil with a garden fork and rake the edges of clumps upright so they catch the blades of the mower. Use a daisy grubber to ease out shallow roots.

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Yarrow

Close mowing causes this plant to make spreading mats of fine foliage. Able to root from short sections of stem cut during mowing. Scarify the lawn surface once a month during the growing season. Collect clippings. Use a border fork to loosen soil under mats and dig out.

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Dealing with heavy weed growth

On badly infested ground, or in densely planted borders, dig everything out and sift carefully through the soil and plants to remove all of the weeds. A quick solution to prevent regrowth is to peg down a weed-suppressing fabric, cutting slits to plant into. Another idea is to turf or sow grass seed on the site to mow as a lawn for a few years until the larger weeds die out. If the appearance of the area is not important, cover it with old carpet or black polythene for at least two years to exclude light and kill off any remaining weed roots.