Country & Garden: No need to get into a bindweed
Successful weeding depends on knowing where and when to strike, and doing it with conviction. By Ursula Buchan
Keeping on top of weeds is as much a matter of personality as circumstance. Successfully ridding your borders of the ones that matter, whilst ignoring those that don't, depends on courage, ruthlessness and realism, quite as much as time, energy or expertise.
No one has enough time to weed their garden properly if it is anything larger than a pocket-handkerchief, so the most successful gardeners are those who know when and where to strike, and do so with conviction; in particular, they make it as a high priority in spring. I must reluctantly distance myself from their number this year, for though I know what to do, I have not always done it.
The weather has not helped. The last nine months have been comparatively wet and mild, conspiring to produce a crop of weeds this summer of gargantuan proportions, and limiting the opportunities for doing something about them. But that is no reason to give up.
Anyone who is serious about weeding effectively needs to know the difference between a perennial and an annual weed. Many annual weeds can be left (provided that they are not visually intrusive) at least until they flower. The exceptions are those sneaky little ones like shepherd's purse, hairy bitter cress and groundsel, which flower and seed several times through the season and, in mild years, all year round. But goosegrass, annual grasses, speedwell and sowthistle only require attention when they are about to set seed, or if they become infested with aphids and other insects which also threaten your cultivated plants. Even if you do not know their names, you can tell they are annual, for they have only rudimentary root systems. The roots of perennials are more extensive and can be a good means of identification. Perennial nettles have stringy yellow roots; ground elder have fat, white, shallow roots; couch grass, thin pointed runners with sharp points; bindweed, thin, solid, creamy white roots.
Some people use a garden fork for digging up these weeds, but I prefer to get down on my knees, on a foam mat, and use a sturdy hand-fork. That way I can burrow under shrubs and roses more easily. I put the roots of perennials in a separate bucket, for they must be burnt, or bagged up and thrown away. Putting them in the compost bin is the equivalent of deliberately sowing tares among wheat, for one day soon they will end up back in the borders again.
Old gardeners will shake their heads and tell you that perennial weeds can grow from tiny portions of roots, and that you can never rid your soil of them entirely. Frequent, consistent attacks, however, undoubtedly weaken them substantially. My greatest bugbear, bindweed, can be eliminated entirely in time, provided you don't object to using weedkiller. Place a bamboo cane in the soil next to a bindweed clump when it first appears in mid-spring. Then, when it has obligingly climbed up the cane, and before it flaunts its beautiful, but insolent, white trumpets at you, use an old paintbrush to lightly coat each leaf with diluted glyphosate, a herbicide which kills roots as well as leaves.
Mercifully, the present weed surge is a temporary phenomenon. By mid- July, plant growth is almost visibly slowing, and there is a chance (provided that the soil is not rock-solid by then) to get topside of the weeds. And each July is so pleasant in the garden that it brings on a blessed amnesia. Until next year. My millennial resolution must be to set aside a small portion of every day next March and April to weed, weed, weed. It will make all the difference to my self-esteem. What about you?
Arts & Ents blogs
Owen Howells is a DJ/producer who grew up in Australia but was born in the UK. He came back to the U...
Fancy seeing a play about serial killers? How about inviting a funeral director into your home for a...
There are a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refl...
Liam Gallagher slams Daft Punk: 'I could have written Get Lucky in an hour'
Rocky Horror star Tim Curry 'suffers major stroke'
Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
After 61 films, including The Hangover Part III, Heather Graham admits she still likes to boogie
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.