Gardening advice:how to wage a war on weeds

The essential guide to blitzing bindweed and getting rid of dandelions...

Do you need to know the names of weeds to get rid of them effectively? Knowing thine enemy is helpful, but you really just need to recognise the difference between an annual and a perennial. Annuals are the lightweights that are easy to pull out or hoe, and only a nuisance if you leave them to set seed.

Perennials are the thugs that, with their devious ways of making themselves at home, are trickier to evict. Docks and dandelions have lengthy tap roots; creeping buttercups run around all over the place; brambles throw out thick, thorny stems several feet long that root into the ground, tripping you up; bindweed’s rhizomes travel underground, rooting as they go, while above ground, its twirling stems strangle your favourite perennials. Stinging nettles are just plain spiteful, although their leaves make good compost.


The way to fight perennial weeds is to dig out as much root and rhizome — the horizontal runners that root at intervals — as you can, which takes patience and persistence, because any scrap left in the soil can produce a new plant.

An alternative non-organic route, if there is enough leaf growth, is to spot-weed with systemic weedkiller Roundup Gel which is absorbed through the leaves to kill the roots.

Stop the spread: frequent mowing will help keep weeds at bay (Marianne Majerus)

In an established border where the perennial weeds are winning, the ideal solution is to dig up the plants, wash the soil off their roots and plant them up before replanting into clean, weed-free ground.

Some lawn weeds might be considered wild flowers, but telling yourself that plantain is pretty, or dandelions desirable, is a bit of a stretch. If you prefer a lawn just dotted with daisies, spot-weed on a windless day or use a handfork to rout out foliage rosettes, then fill the holes with a mixture of grass seed and compost.


Stone chippings, grit and gravel provide the kind of loose living that weeds just love, so a gravel path, however deep, must have a layer of heavy-duty weed-suppressing membrane beneath.

And if you are replanting a bed or a border where perennial weeds have been a problem in the past, play safe. Lay membrane over the soil, then plant through the membrane by cutting a cross for each planting hole, then folding in those four resulting triangles to form a square. Cover bare patches of membrane with bark chippings.

Bare soil is the ultimate des res for opportunistic plants. The best defence is to leave no patch uncovered, by planting groundcover such as Geranium Rozanne and Brookside, bergenia, silvery lambs’ ears Stachys byzantina, Potentilla fruticosa or dark-leaved Ajuga reptans. Vinca minor Atropurpurea, with its trailing green foliage and early violet flowers, is the perfect, pretty candidate for shady, sloping sites. The Flower Carpet range of groundcover roses bloom for weeks on end and are as tough as old boots.

Routing out weeds from between the cracks of paving stones is nobody’s idea of a good time. The easy — and chemical-free — way is to spot-weed, at arm’s length. Hozelock’s Green Power Thermal Weeder is a wand which, powered electrically, delivers a thermal shock on contact that destroys the weed in seconds.

Alternatively, the conventional kneeling-with-kitchen-knife approach could be updated by wielding a butane blowtorch — the kind that is more usually used to get a nice, crisp finish on a crème brûlée.

Image copyright: Marianne Majerus

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