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How to identify & remove weeds in your garden

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Weeds are a common problem in every garden, but despite their name they’re actually pretty tough plants. While some are relatively harmless others can have a significant effect on your garden – and if left to grow freely, weeds can be a persistent threat to the plants and flowers growing in your garden. It is therefore a good idea to deal with them as quickly as you can. This guide will help you get to grips with the weeds in your garden, and tell you a bit about some of the most common types you might have to deal with.

Act quickly to tackle weeds

Try to tackle weeds as soon as they appear in your garden. If a weed has begun to flower, it has established itself in the soil and may have set seed already, meaning you’ll have more weeds to deal with in the future. Try to cover any vacant ground in your garden with mulch and ground cover plants such as cotoneasters or geraniums, as their presence will help prevent weeds from growing in the first place.

How you remove your weeds comes down to whether you want to remove them manually - using a trowel, hoe or weed puller to physically pull them out of the soil - or chemically. If you’re removing weeds manually, be sure to dispose of the plant and roots by putting them in the bin, not your composter, as you’ll run the risk of them finding their way back into your soil.

If you choose to use chemical weed killers, take a look at our weed killer buying guide – we’ve got a great range available, so you’re sure to find the right type for your specific needs. 

Dealing with weeds throughout your garden

Lawns

Not many weeds can survive constant mowing and the competition from grass. However, if the lawn is not growing strongly or is damaged in some way, weeds can become established. Individual weeds can be dug out using a trowel, or by applying dab-on lawn weed killer. If the problem is more widespread, treat the whole lawn with a special lawn weed and feed.

Paths & patios

An old kitchen knife or a special weeding tool works best for removing individual weeds from between paving stones. Alternatively, you can use a residual weed killer, while patches of weeds in gravel can be controlled with a path weed killer.

Beds & borders

Hoeing and hand weeding will work best for controlling most weeds, as long as they’re caught early. To prevent new weeds from sprouting up, put a layer of mulch about 7cm deep over the entire flowerbed.

Shrubberies

If you’ve got bulbs growing among the shrubs you can remove weeds manually using a trowel or a weed puller. However, if your shrubberies are filled with woody plants, you can try putting down a fabric such as mulch matting or old carpet to help get the weeds under control.

Identifying different types of weeds

Annual weeds

Annual weeds can exist in the soil as seeds for several years, waiting for the perfect conditions in which to grow and thrive. Once they germinate, they will grow and set seed as quickly as possible, meaning that you should deal with them as soon as you can to prevent more from talking hold in your garden. These are some of the most common annual weeds: 

  • Chickweed (Stellaria Media) - This variety of weed forms a low-spreading carpet once it has settled in, with horizontal stems that root as they grow.
  • Cleavers (Galium Aparine) - Once established, these sticky stemmed plants are difficult to untangle from border plants, and the seeds will attach themselves to your clothing to be transported around the garden.
  • Fat Hen (Chenopodium Album) - The young plants can set seed within weeks, showering the soil with seeds.
  • Groundsel (Senecio Vulgaris) - This quick growing weed produces several generations each year – even during mild spells in winter.
  • Hairy Bitter Cress (Cardamine Hirsuta) - This type of weed grows quickly and spreads by flinging seeds from spring-loaded seedpods.
  • Red Dead Nettle (Lamium Purpureum) - This type of weed looks a bit like a nettle and flourishes during spring and autumn. They can grow up to 15cm high before they flower.
Perennial weeds

Perennial weeds don’t spread their seeds. Instead they grow well in the spring and summer, die back during winter, and then return in exactly the same place the next year.

  • Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus Repens) - One of these plants can spread and cover over 4sqm in a single year.
  • Creeping Thistle (Cirsium Arvense) - This prickly weed is best dealt with when it’s young before it has a chance to settle in.
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) - This weed is easy to spot and should be dug out in spring. Make sure you get rid of the whole taproot, otherwise it will grow back.
  • Dock (Rumex Obtusifolius) - This weed can be identified by its big green leaves. Again, ensure you get rid of the whole taproot to prevent it from growing back.
  • Greater Bindweed (Calystegia Silvatica) - Bindweed becomes a problem once it has settled in because its two stems will smother border plants. You can weaken the plant by digging up the established roots, but if you don’t get all of it the weed will grow back.
  • Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica) - A real pain for you and your garden, this weed will appear in spring and autumn. Make sure you wear gloves when removing nettles to protect yourself against stings.
Some other problem weeds to look out for include:
  • Bramble (Rubus Fruticosus) - These are easy to remove by hand when young, but more difficult once they are established. The best way to get rid of them is to cut the stems down with secateurs, pile them on top of the roots, then set fire to them – this will kill any remaining weeds. In the autumn remove the clump of weakened, burnt roots. As a last resort, brambles can be tackled by repeat applications of a systemic weed killer, but you’ll still have to remove and dispose of the remains.
  • Couch Grass (Elytrigia Repens) - These weeds can grow several metres long, so you must be painstakingly thorough when digging them out, taking care to remove all the wiry bits.
  • Ground Elder (Aegopodium Podagraria) - This weed spreads quickly, and once established it forms a dense, knee-high blanket of foliage that smothers all neighbouring plants. It’s near impossible to dig out because the soil is filled with roots that will re-grow if any are not removed. Constantly cutting back can weaken it over time, but it will take several years and a lot of hard work.
  • Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense) - This weed is a problem for any garden on damp soil. It is incredibly deep rooting (reaching down several metres) so digging it out is almost impossible. You can weaken it by regularly hoeing and trimming it back. The best way to get rid of horsetail weeds is to use weed-proof mulches, although they can take several years to work.

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