Updated: Sep 8
We humans are so crazy. This earth, this precious, precious earth we call home, we spray with toxic chemicals to kill plants because they have been labelled weeds by people with ‘authority in gardening’. Listen. I don’t want a garden filled with weeds either. I have limited space for the stuff I do want, so I can’t spare the room for blow-ins. But there's no point demonising them.
Here is the truth - weeds are what will save this planet when humans have warmed or bombed themselves into extinction. The ability for this planet to recover from humans depends on weeds. Self-sown, able to survive inhospitable conditions, flowering quickly and effortlessly, endlessly feeding pollinators and able to reproduce in limitless quantities. Weeds are actually kind of awesome. Mother Nature is an unstoppable force. So let's just have a moment of deep respect for the power of weeds please!
"A weed is just a flower in the wrong place" - Cecelia Ahern
It’s time to forgive the weeds. I’ll tell you right now, a garden covered in weeds is a thousand times more beneficial to the world than a sterile decked, paved, gravelled, fake turfed garden. We just have to get out this mindset of judgement against weeds.
But of course, we don't want them.
Here are the 3 steps you need to reduce your garden of “flowers in the wrong place”:
Step 1 - “A year to seed – seven years to weed” If you don’t have time to dig them out in a big weeding frenzy, spend two minutes going round the garden once a week and pulling off the flowers/seedheads before they disperse. This small act will give amazing benefits in reducing new weeds in the weeks/months/years to come.
Step 2 - Dandelion No. 284 : you have been evicted.When you have lots of little seedlings popping up, run the side of your trowel over them to dislodge them, I actually just use the side of my shoe or hand. Another two minute job that stops weeds taking over. Do this on dry days.
Step 3 - No bare soil - ever.The easiest and thankfully most attractive way to reduce your weeding long term is simply to plant abundantly and generously with the plants that you do want. This leaves no space and light for weed seedlings to get going. It will take a year or two to crowd them out but that's nothing. Grow yourself a dense, luxuriant carpet of beauty and them smile at the occasional cheeky interloper! This works and is the only sane way to way to really deal with weeds. I am certain the cure for cancer is contained in a weed. Hopefully one we haven’t yet sprayed to extinction. I truly believe every disease on the planet can be cured by a plant.
So please, please, please do us all a favour. If you are going to spray your garden with poisons so harmful they’ll kill your pets and hurt your children then please don’t grow flowers. There are weeds that require chemical warfare so continue reading to find out more.
The Big Bad Baddies
Himalyan Balsam is illegal to plant in the UK. It smothers everything in its path destroying natural habitat. Seeds explode up to 7 metres from the parent plant and it roots very easily. It is easy to pull up, but take care around it when the seed heads are ripe and liable to explode. Apply weedkiller when in growth early summer but an autumn application is most successful. Do not apply weedkiller to plants growing near water.
Chickweed smothers the ground with a creeping mat. Within a few months will produce up to 2500 seeds which can live in the soil for up to 40 years before germinating. So we don't need a vivid imagination to work out what a massive problem this is little minx can become. Speed is of the essence, pull up any plants, and don't allow it to sow seed.
How to use weedkillers safely if you really have to :
Don’t indiscriminately spray. Use the type weedkiller that is applied like a deodorant stick to the leaves, do this to the underside of the leaf where insects don’t land. Pull off any flowering stems from the weed while you wait for it to die back.
There are weeds that are so invasive they can damage the foundations of buildings, choke all native wild plants and cause untold destruction and harm. These do need to be systemically sprayed and this should be done professionally and over a long time period. If your land is contaminated like this remember not to grow anything attractive to pollinators until the chemical warfare is over. If you choose not to spray, then cover the ground with landscaping fabric blocking all sources of light to the soil, cover with gravel or similar and enjoy having a container garden taking comfort from the fact your actions make you an absolute hero to wildlife.