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The Independent Online
As a rough rule, anything green that can easily be pulled out in the spring is probably an annual weed. Cress, groundsel and shepherd's purse are all easy to lift out of the ground in damp weather. The real enemies are perennials like nettles, ground elder, docks, bindweed, creeping buttercup or dandelions (see identikit photographs, left). They must be eliminated. Digging is a possibility, but only if you can be sure of removing every scrap of root. One session will not be enough. It may take several.

Bindweed and ground elder that have assumed squatters' rights will be the hardest to evict. If you had time, you could cover them with several sheets of newspaper, or old carpet, and leave them starved of light for a summer. This looks hideous, but is cheap. A blanket of compost, which you buy in sacks from the garden centre, will look better. Lay it on about 10cm thick and any weeds that come through will be easy to remove.

This is an expensive plan, but it will condition the soil, so no digging need be done. The ungreen can use poison. For this, wait until the weeds surge into growth and spray as much of the leaf area with diluted Roundup as you can reach. Do it on a dry, still day and be prepared to do it a second time (in about three weeks) if there is any sign of growth. The ground should be ready to plant by the end of May. Avoid spraying plants which look like they may flower. If you don't know what they are, take them to a garden centre or ask a knowledgeable neighbour to identify them.