Weeding answers: 17 key garden weeding queries solved

white dandelion
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Weeding is a job that is traditionally considered to be one of those that gardeners like least. And, the truth is, if weeds have really taken over your garden, then getting rid of them will be a tough job.

However, weeding your garden beds is also one of the most satisfying jobs you can do in the garden. It is much the same as when you tidy your desk or clean up your house – you can get a real buzz from the neatness you create. In the garden that means your existing planting looks better and you’ll have clear space for new planting.

Still, when you are weeding your garden it pays to know what you are doing and why. This means understanding about the different types of weeds and the ways to get rid of them. This weeding resource guide will give you all the weeding information you need.

What are weeds ?

Weeds are plants like any other. They are just growing in a place where they are not wanted.

Weeds might be found in your garden beds, in your lawn, in the cracks and gaps in and around your hard surfaces. Outside the garden, you’ll find weeds in pavements, kerbs, vacant urban spaces, on roofs, on window ledges, in gutters, growing out of wall, in hedges, in fields and wherever else a tenacious weeds seed can lodge itself and find water and nutrients to grow..

Certain plants are typically considered to be weeds, because they are the plants that most often end up colonising the spaces that we don’t want them to be in. They do this because they have particular characteristics that have enabled them to be successful. Read more about what weeds are here.

What is weeding and why is it a necessary process?

Weeding is the process of removing weeds. In the gardening context, this might mean digging them out of your garden beds or lawns with appropriate tools, or pulling them up by hand. The full details on the various ways of removing weeds are here.

Weeding is necessary for a number of different reasons. Some of the main reasons are to make the garden look neater, to prevent weeds competing with the plants you have chosen to plant and to prevent the weeds form multiplying and taking over.

See “What happens if you don’t remove weeds’ below, for more reasons why you’ll want to keep on top of the weeds in your garden.

Why is it important to remove weeds?

It is important to remove weeds if you want to control your garden, keep it looking nice and protect the plants you are growing there.

You can read the full run down on why we get rid of weeds here.

What happens if you don’t remove weeds?

In most cases, it isn’t necessary to get rid of weeds. But if you don’t, they are likely to spread and take over the garden. They will crowd out the other plants, and leave you with less of a garden and more of a ‘jungle’.

In the long run, depending on where you live, seeds of trees and woody shrubs will germinate and thrive. You’ll end up with a tangled mess of branches and brambles and your garden will encroach on your home, blocking light and possibly undermining foundations and buildings.

The weeds will also harbour wild life. Again, depending on where you live, this might be no problem at all to or it could be positively dangerous. When I lived in Australia, there was a good chance that snakes, ticks and dangerous spiders would find their way into the wilder parts of our garden.

Certain types of weeds are designated as invasive or noxious. This will vary from place to place, but if you have those types of weeds in your garden, you will need to get rid of them or you could face legal action if they spread to other properties.

What is so bad about weeds?

There is not usually anything intrinsically bad about an individual weed. As indicated above, weeds are plants like any others.

The problem is that a weed, by definition, is a plant growing in the wrong place which, if you allow it to, is likely to spread, multiply or set seed in your soil that will germinate for years to come.

Therefore weeds are bad if you want to cultivate your garden according to your plan, rather than nature’s.

Do weeds steal nutrients?

Yes, weeds steal nutrients. Although technically, since weeds are plants, they can’t form the necessary intention to make this a criminal offence ;).

But weeds will compete with the other plants in your garden for all the available resources – nutrients in the soil, water and sunlight. And what is more, most the plants we typically think of have weeds have adapted to grow quickly and with vigour. So they will typically outcompete you other plants.

Do weeds have any benefits?

A few corners of your garden that are left uncultivated (and therefore likely to be colonised by weeds) can provide a safe space for pollinators and other wildlife that are themselves beneficial to you garden, e.g frogs that will eat slugs or ladybirds that will eat aphids. The trick is to keep these spaces in check, whilst at the same time letting them be.

Some weeds may also be edible. Flickweed, for example, also known as hairy bittercress, for example, has edible leaves with a peppery taste and which are full of vitamin C. Of course, before you go munching on any old weed, make sure you you have identified it properly and checked with an expert source to check whether it can be eaten..

How do weeds grow and thrive?

Weeds thrive because they have adapted ways to do so. For example, they might have long tap roots that will regrow if broken off in the soil when the plant is pulled out. They might grow from seed, flower and set seed again very quickly before they can be weeded out. They might climb over other plants to get to sunlight or they might be adapted to thrive in poor soil or low light where other plants will not thrive.

Check out more on how weeds grow here.

Why are weeds so successful and why do they grow so easily?

Weeds are successful because of the various ways they have developed to help them out-compete other plants and because of the they ways in which they reproduce. See more here on how weeds grow and thrive and see below on how weeds multiply and get everywhere.

How do weeds get everywhere and multiply?

Some weeds are annuals – meaning they germinate, grow, flower and set seed all in one year. However, unlike plants that we generally don’t consider to be weeds, weeds have various ways of ensuring that their seeds are dispersed effectively.

For example, some annual weeds, like sowthistle, produce thousands of seeds over the course of the growing season. Some, like dandelions, use the wind to disperse their seeds far and wide and some, like some oxalis species, have seedpods that explode when ripe, spreading the seeds a significant distance from the plant.

Perennial weeds – those that live on for several years, are also able to spread and multiply efficiently. Perennials will set seed and use some of the dispersal tactics mentioned above. But they will also reproduce vegetatively.

This means the existing plant will spread itself over the surrounding area, usually by means of underground root systems (rhizomes, runners or stolons) that send up new shoots around the existing plant or through roots that will break off and regrow if there is an attempt to dig the plant up. This is one of the reasons why weeding can be such a thankless task.

Why weed control is important?

Weed control is important if you want the best performance from the plants you have chosen to grow in your garden. If left uncontrolled, weeds can easily take over – they can out-grow your chosen garden plants, depriving them of the water and nutrients in the soil and shading them from the sunlight that they need to grow.

Weeds can also harbour pests, such as slugs, snails and aphids, and diseases, such as powdery mildew, that will attack your plants. Plants that are already weakened by the competition from weeds, will much more easily succumb to attack from pests and diseases.

Read more about weed control here.

What is the easiest way to get rid of weeds?

There are multiple ways to get rid of weeds. The easiest and best one for you will depend upon your own preferences, how long you are willing to wait for a solution to work and how bad the weed infestation is in your garden.

The quickest organic solution is for individual or small numbers of weeds is hand weeding – removing the weeds by hoeing or digging them up by hand.

The quickest non-organic solution is usually to spray the weeds with chemicals. But chemicals in your garden can have detrimental effects on wildlife and other plants. So you need to be very careful. It is not an approach I recommend.

The full guide to removing weeds from your garden is here.

Does weed control membrane work?

Yes, weed control membrane works as long as: (a) it is thick enough to exclude all light from the weeds, and (b) you leave it on long enough for the plants to be killed.

By excluding all light from the plants you prevent them from photosynthesising and it is the process of photosynthesis that makes plants grow and keeps them alive.

In normal circumstances, perennial weeds come back year after year, growing strong in Spring after winter dormancy. They do this by drawing on resources that the plants has stored in its roots or other underground parts. these stored resources. You therefore need to leave the membrane on long enough to completely deplete all these existing stored resources. In most cases this will be several months.

How do you permanently get rid of weeds?

You can get rid of weeds by any of the methods outlined in this post, for example by hand weeding, spraying, using weed control fabric etc. However, you will only be able to permanently get rid of weeds if you stay vigilant.

Just like death and taxes, one of life’s certainties is that weed seeds will return to the ground you have cleared, perhaps blown in by the wind or brought in in compost or on the coats of animals. So you need to make sure that you deal with them by weeding regularly to prevent them getting out of hand and taking over again

Is it better to pull weeds or spray them?

In my view it is better to pull, hoe or dig weeds up, or, if you have time, to suppress them with weed control fabric. However, in some cases, where time is of the essence or there is a large area to cover, gardeners may decide to spray weeds.

How do you manually remove weeds?

You can manually remove weeds in several ways – full instructions are in this post on removing weeds.

What kind of tools do you need for weeding?

You’ll definitely need a hand trowel, a hand fork, a large garden fork and a hoe.

You might also need a weedburner or a weeding tool made for getting in between pavers and hard surfaces.

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