Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter weeding

Weed control is what actually dominates my garden management. The west of Britain has such mild winters that many wild pasture grasses and things like creeping buttercup can grow almost all year round. If you live in the country chances are you'll have a massive 'weed seed bank' in the soil, so any soil disturbance brings up more seeds to germinate. Long-term, perennials form good solid clumps which tend to be weed-resistant and undisturbed soil develops a layer of moss which seems to reduce weed seed germination. At this time of year in the border, you can see some early Geranium phaeum and G. endressii growth and some evergreen Liriope, but the green haze is germinating grasses. Now is a good time to get on top of weeds, and then the rapid growth of perennials in spring will soon form a good solid canopy.

Roundup is a fantastic tool for spot-spraying weeds, especially grasses, and of course bio-degradeable, Especially in the earlier phases of a planting's life. I know of a garden (actually an old churchyard) in Yorkshire, which is an incredible wild garden, maintained with a few hours spot spraying once a month - its over two acres I think.

Flame-gunning weeds has been promoted of late - the organic lobby are quite keen on it as it does not use any 'nasty chemicals'. Actually of course its burning fossil fuel, and doing it on a big scale is nonsensical from a sustainability point of view. Very useful for burning off weed seedlings though when very small, larger shoots just get a mild scorching, so we use it a little bit. This is Diana, our wonderful WRAG trainee. Its a sort of precision version of the prairie burn - which here is usually impossible because debris never dries out enough. She's zapping goosegrass seedlings, which germinate early and can be a nightmare in herbaceous vegetation because they climb and smother everything.

Seedlings of I'm not quite sure what - perfect for flame-gunning.

If we have a few days of dry easterly winds thats ideal conditions for hoeing, but at any other time round here hoed off weeds just root back in as it is either so wet or humid.

In the end, as plantings mature, the range of weed seed in the top layer of soil gets exhausted, and gradually increasing clumps of herbaceous dominate, so it becomes less of a problem, but I think I've still got quite a few more years of serious weed control yet.

For those who don't garden in an Atlantic climate, you probably have no idea how quickly or how comprehensively pasture grasses can take over and completely suffocate all other plantlife, apart from brambles (their co-conspirators in garden overwhelming) and decent sized woody plants. Even let loose into other climate zones they can do a pretty good job of eliminating other plants too.

Some years ago I did experiment with growing perennials in rough grass, but the fact is that very few species will co-exist, primarily because of the ability of Atlantic climate grasses to grow at any temperature above freezing. I still do have an experimental area for this, but for the rest of the garden, it has to be serious weed control.


Unknown said...

We have the same issues in the Southeastern US, with our warm and wet winters. I spent much of today managing weeds in my own garden at home, but as with western England, it's a never ending process in winter.

I like your comments about Roundup and burning, since I regularly get "beaten up" by my all natural friends! Can't wait to remind them about the use of fossil fuels to do the burning.

Oxonian Gardener said...

Thinking along same lines as previous comment. Admiration for Roundup is brave, though you are quite right regarding the silliness of using fossil fuels instead. The environmentally friendly focus does seem to be getting out of hand. All those 'bags for life' sold in supermarkets and recyclable packaging for example are the results of deforestation in third world countries to produce sisal, as that is their main ingredient. Is that a worthy alternative?
ps. thanks for the reminder. Good to time weed, have been out there doing just that since!

James Golden said...

It was in one of your books, I think The New Perennial Garden, that I got the idea of planting my new garden in the existing matrix of plants, which unfortunately, includes those eternally thriving European pasture grasses. Even so, it's been a success, though I do have to cut the grasses in selected areas two times each summer using a weed trimmer. I'm trying to gradually eliminate them with glyphosate and aggressive perennial competition. And I do have a "prairie" burn late each winter when snow covers the ground and the plants are thoroughly dessicated.

sussexsarah said...

It made me laugh to see your comment about all the seedlings being perfect for flame throwing - obviously where I am going wrong, I can never resist the temptation to find out what they would grow into by letting them get a couple of true leaves before I do anything about them. Not sure what to think about the use of round-up. For a medium sized garden like mine I guess its possible to stay on top of it without so I do.