Weeds: Planning The Battle & Winning The War

By Andy McIndoe

Top ten tips for a weed free garden


As we head into a new gardening year, I thought it was a good time to consider how we can reduce the amount weeding we do, ideally to allow more time for the gardening we enjoy. Let’s face it few gardens are weed free, even if most of you garden in pots and raised beds, somehow those weed seeds find their way in. We all know how successful those unwanted plants are at establishing themselves. Whether your main problem is annual weeds that spread easily from seed, or perennial weeds that have invasive roots, here are my top ten tips for a weed free garden.


Some annual and perennial weeds, such as hairy bittercress, seed prolifically. The secret of success is to remove them before they seed and proliferate throughout your garden. This is easier said than done, but if you keep a hoe handy, and carry it around the garden with you, you can hoe off emerging seedlings as you spot them.


2. Always have a suitable bag or bucket available to collect weeds as you notice them in the border. That may sound a bit basic, but it really makes a difference. Pull up annual weeds and leave them in a pile on the ground and you may find that they seed and spread before you get round to collecting them.

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3. Create a dense cover in the border using perennials such as alchemilla, eryngium, aster and achillea, and low growing shrubs such as hebe, Euonymus fortunei, and Cotonester dammeri. These leave little or no room for emerging weeds.


4. A generous mulch of bark chips keeps weeds at bay and helps to conserve moisture. It looks good too. Perennials such as hostas love a mulch of composted chipped wood waste and together they create a weed-free environment.


5. Gravel and pieces of stone over the soil surface show off the plants growing there and make the removal of any weeds simple, if they appear. So in small gardens, and beds alongside paving, a gravel, slate scree or stone chipping mulch looks good, keeps wet off the plants in winter, and controls weeds, as well as making weeding easier.


6. Always remove any perennial weeds such as bindweed and ground elder before you plant a new bed, it is virtually impossible afterwards. On light soils it may be possible to fork out the fleshy roots of perennial weeds. On heavier soils a non-residual systemic weedkiller may be the best choice. Be patient and be prepared to wait a season before planting, if necessary.


7. Beware of manure from a farmyard and your own garden compost. If in doubt spread it out on fallow soil and see what comes up before you spread it on beds and borders. Often the outside of a manure or compost heap is covered in weed seeds just waiting to sprout.


8. If planting newly acquired plants in your garden, check to see if the growing medium surface is weed free. If there are emerging seedlings scrape off the surface of the potting mix and dispose of it before you plant. If you don’t you may introduce new weeds you didn’t have before.


9. If you have a border infested with perennial weed, such as bindweed or ground elder, be prepared to be ruthless. You may need to sacrifice both weeds and plants to eradicate weeds completely and you may need to leave the border empty for a season while you treat any stubborn remaining weeds. A systemic weedkiller containing glyphosate is the simplest and usually the most effective solution.


10. Deep rooted weeds such as dandelion and dock regrow if fragments of root are left in the soil. Either spot treat young plants with a systemic herbicide, or use a long trowel or tool specifically designed to extract the root from the soil efficiently. A kittle extra care is worth the effort.

Andy McIndoe

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