Spring is nearing full bloom with every passing day, but with all her glory and tranquillity also come the dreaded weeds! As any nature lover will know, weeds can be an unpleasant sight. While some may be a little worse than others (no one really minds a daisy, do they?), there are some unruly contenders which can grow fast, cause injury and spread across our gardens in a matter of days. Luckily, our ability to spot them gives us the advantage. Many weeds are easy to kill, using the correct method, so recognising common weeds can be the best way to curb their spread.
With that in mind, here’s a list of the most common garden weeds to watch out for this year, and how to combat them.
Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
The creeping buttercup is seen amongst many gardens, particularly in shaded spots and woodland beds. It will usually start to rear its head around spring time and should be attended to quickly in order to minimise spread. If left untreated, this weed can grow rapidly, leaving a dense network of roots to contend with. As the roots tend to be robust and fibrous, they can be difficult to eradicate. Their presence often indicates an underlying issue with soil quality and/or drainage issues so consider testing your soil if you have trouble with this type of weed.
Characterised by their buttery yellow flowerhead, creeping buttercup thrive in lawns and fields with particularly wet soil. Putting measures in place to avoid your garden becoming waterlogged can help keep these pesky plants at bay.
How to control it
Chemical: Most modern weed killers can easily control creeping buttercup. This should usually be applied in spring, but may need to be repeated during summer.
Non Chemical: Using a wire-toothed rake prior to mowing is often recommended. This method agitates developing runner roots to allow them to be mowed afterwards, curbing any potential new growth.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis)
No list of common garden weeds would be complete without the infamous dandelion. Dandelions appear in your garden between March and November so keep an eye out for this recognisable garden foe, which should start appearing soon. Though we all enjoy “making a wish” with these springtime saboteurs, this sadly also helps the weeds spread. In a natural setting, loose seeds would spread after being picked up by the wind. This causes the seeds to travel large distances and spread rapidly.
How to control it
Chemical: These resilient plants will need their flower heads cutting prior to applying weed killer. According to the RHS, “Dandelions can be controlled with one or two applications of weed killers containing 2,4-D, dicamba, clopyralid or fluroxypyr” but that other weed killers may only stunt growth and not eliminate the weed entirely. A second application may be required for particularly resilient specimens.
Non-Chemical: A well established dandelion bed can be hard to get under control using natural methods. Digging out individual weeds and ensuring that their tap root is completely removed may help. This should be done early in the spring and the process may have to be repeated several times before the root is completely removed and no more regrowth occurs. Some specialist dandelion gardening tools also exist which may help to ease the process by quickening the job of effectively removing the root.
Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus armeniacus)
You may be wondering how I can class a blackberry plant as a weed, but did you know that the Himalayan strain of the blackberry plant is specifically defined as ‘highly invasive and difficult to control’? The Himalayan blackberry plant grows in thickets which are difficult to penetrate. The plant is also incredibly aggressive in its growth, negatively impacting gardens and wildlife. Originally being valued for its high berry yields, the Himalayan Blackberry soon escaped cultivation due to its rapid growth. Reasons such as these have led to its re-classification of this plant as a weed in many areas.
Although this plant does not produce fruit until Summer, the plant can grow rapidly during Spring. Without precautionary measures, the Himalayan Blackberry can soon take over your garden.
How to control it
Chemical: The Himalayan Blackberry is quite receptive to weed killers. However, these methods can pose threats to the individual and the environment alike, so this method shouldn’t be used recklessly.
Non Chemical: It is possible to control unruly blackberry bushes without the use of herbicides. This can be achieved through periodic cutting and mowing, however this can take up to several years to eradicate the issue completely. Alternatively, cutting followed by digging up root crowns is generally considered the most effective method and one which delivers much faster results. This can be easily done with a traditional weeding fork.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is a common garden weed across the UK and is an invasive species. It is known for its growth speed, large seed distribution and rapid spread. It remains relatively unaffected by seasons and is a resilient contender when it comes to survival. Due to its rapid growth, it has a tendency to overtake garden beds and smother neighbouring plants.
It is characterised by tall, fibrous stems, oval leaves (arranged in opposite pairs) and small, white, star shaped flowers which grow in clusters.
How to control it
Chemical: Chickweed is very easily controlled using weed killers. However, the effect this may have on the surrounding environment should be considered when choosing whether to use this option.
Non Chemical: Alternative methods for chemical-free control include hoeing beds. Dry days are better for this as the disrupted roots will wither in these conditions. In particularly virulent areas, consider the use of plastic sheeting, wood chips or other mulch.
Nettle (Urtica dioica/ Urtica urens)
One of the most prolific weeds plaguing UK gardens is the common nettle. Almost everyone has experienced a nettle sting at some point in their life, so most will agree that it’s an unpleasant experience. Nettles are covered in tiny hairs, which upon coming into contact with the skin, cause histamine reactions and stinging sensations. Perhaps worst of all, they are aggressive growers and will sap water and nutrients from all the other plants around them.
There are actually two distinct varieties of nettle; the deadnettle and the stinging nettle. Some gardeners may choose to grow deadnettles due to their vibrant, hooded flowers and attractive appearance. However the stinging nettle is almost always unwanted (bar some cases where these may be grown for specific purposes).
How to control it
Chemical: The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) recommends waiting until nettles are in vigorous growth but have not yet flowered. Weedkiller is most effective in this stage, so should be applied as a spray during this time.
Non Chemical: As a non-chemical alternative, digging up plants can be effective at any time of the year. When digging up the plant, take care to dig up as many of the creeping stems as possible to prevent regrowth.
Gardening brings a whole host of challenges with it, and controlling garden weeds is one of the toughest. Luckily there are numerous weeding tools which exist to help us control the spread of these unwanted garden guests. Although this can be tiresome, successfully eradicating weeds from your garden can help bring a great sense of accomplishment and will leave your garden looking more glorious than ever..
Good luck fellow green thumbs!