Choose Your Battles
You don’t need to remove every last unwanted plant. If you have a proliferation of a well-behaved, low growing weed that won’t choke emerging plants, let it stay. Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris is a perfect example of such a plant; it’s not at all problematic when grown as a groundcover plant and the little flowers are good for pollinators. Similar plants include oxalis species, daisies (Bellis perennis) and forget-me-nots (Myosotis arvensis).
Don’t Disturb the Soil
Disturbing the soil is bad in the context of encouraging weeds for two reasons. Firstly, it brings weed seeds to the surface that may have been lurking deep in the ground, providing them with the correct conditions in which to germinate. And secondly, that lovely, crumbly soil you like to stand back and admire after you’ve weeded and dug over a border creates the most perfect conditions in which those disturbed seeds can germinate. Ditto any seeds that float in or get deposited on that patch over the next few weeks.
Plant Loads of Plants!
If there are gaps in my borders then I’m always seeking to fill them with plants because if I don’t, nature will. A densely planted bed will discourage weeds by crowding them out and stealing the light they need in order to flourish. Gaps in my borders will be filled by annuals and possibly even by weeds that I allow to stick around, assuming they’re well-behaved. Go for 100% soil coverage, anything less and you’re inviting trouble. Think of a border with plants dotted around that are surrounded by a sea of clear, brown soil, then do the absolute opposite of this.
Plant the Right Plants
Think carefully before planting the plants you know to be mickey-takers. You know the ones, give them an inch and they’ll take a mile, turn your back on them and they’ve trebled in size overnight? I’m thinking of things like suckering shrubs, over-enthusiastic self-seeders like Verbena bonariensis and fennel, perennials like persicarias, Japanese anemones and so on. These plants are fine if you put them with like company, because they’ll naturally keep each other in check. Don’t put them in with the shrinking violets of the plant world though unless you want to be continually pulling them out by the handful in order to keep them in their allotted space.
Don’t Let Your Weeds go to Seed
This is simple really. Don’t put off weeding your rosebay willowherb because once that fluffy seedhead breaks up and its constituent parts are blown to the four corners of your garden, you can resign yourself to pulling its offspring out for years to come. Much easier to keep on top of it because I really believe the old saying that one year’s seeding equals seven years weeding.
Be Laid Back
Where did this ideal of tidy perfection within the garden come from? Having worked with a wide range of clients, I can say it’s not just older people who aspire to a scalped, sterile landscape, the likes of which you associate with parks of the 1960 & 70’s. No, this idea still persists today across all generations and frankly, I find it weird. Why do we think our gardens and the natural world beyond it should be such utter opposites? Sometimes, you just need to accept that nature will do what it wants to, when it wants, and we should be ready to accept this. It makes life so much easier if you’re not trying to eliminate every last weed and it’s better for wildlife and your soil.
If you’d like to find out more about letting your garden be a little bit more wild, why not have a listen to my interview with Landscape Architect Toby Diggens who designs and creates gardens in tune with the natural ecology of the site.
Please comment below and let me know your top tips for beating the weeds in your garden…