A truism that we gardeners are guilty of quoting too often; I think I prefer the advice we give to ‘newbies’: “If it pulls out easily, it wasn’t a weed” – generally as they stand there looking as pathetic as the weeded bit of flora in their hand; nature can be cruel...
I posed the question “is it a weed?” in an earlier blog in April and promised a follow–up – which this is. So what is a weed? It might be a plant in the wrong place; it could be a species native to Britain – a wild flower that attracts bees and butterflies.
But is it a weed? If we assume for now that a weed is a plant growing where it’s not wanted in a garden situation, then we see a lot of weeds during our working week! The’ ‘most wanted’ list includes ivy, bindweed, dandelion, nettle, green alkanet, bramble and ground elder. These are all perennial weeds with strong root systems, which is why they’re successful at colonising less cultivated areas of a garden, and why they’re difficult and time consuming to get rid of. Let’s look at a couple of the climbers which cause problems.
Ivy, Hedera helix, common or English ivy, is native across much of Europe and is often grown as an ornamental. Its berries are a good winter food source for many birds and the flowers are nectar rich. So why is it a weed? In many parts of Australia and the USA it is labelled as an invasive species; in the states of Oregon and Washington, sales of it are banned and it is listed as a noxious weed – as Japanese knotweed is in the UK.
Ivy is a survivor, it can spread easily through seed dispersal (birds and small animals are the main agents here). The stems have short root like growths but these only enable it to cling to tree trunks, fences and so on. Although it is not a parasite, the density of growth is what causes the problem. The thick cover of ivy covering the ground prevents other plants from taking root and growing and it has the ability to spread quickly over large areas. Kept in check in a garden situation it can be beneficial, offering evergreen cover to disguise ugly vertical spaces and shelter for wildlife.
The bindweed mostly found in gardens is Calystegia sepium, hedge bindweed, rather than Convolvulus arvensis which is the field bindweed. This latter has smaller, pink tinged flowers as compared to the white flowers of hedge bindweed. A pretty looking climber, the common name gives the clue as to why they’re not good to have romping through your borders! The stems can strangle clematis, sweet peas, French beans and the new growth on shrubs. Bindweed is tricky to get rid of because it entangles around other plants, a quick yank can pull up your pea plant as well as the bindweed. A better ploy is to snap the stem off near the ground, let it wilt and loosen its hold and then gently pull. Even then you may need to break the stem in a few places if it’s seriously intertwined with your wanted plant. The roots are white, regenerate from the smallest of pieces and may go down as far as 15 feet.
There are different methods of removal, but these will take two or more years, assuming that the bindweed isn’t coming into your garden from a patch of wasteland the other side of the fence. A week’s holiday could mean you return to bindweed as an uninvited guest. But don’t be disheartened.
Painting the young leaves with an organic herbicide early in the season is a start; as is vigilance to pullout stems as soon as they’re spotted in the border. The pulled up and dug out stems, leaves and roots can be turned into a compost tea but remember not to put them directly into your compost bin!
We have other ways of making most weeds turn into something useful as well as getting them out of your garden, but then, you’d expect us to, wouldn’t you?
If you would like some advice, perhaps a consultation visit on how to de-weed and de-pest your garden in an easy, environmental way giving yourself more time just to sit and enjoy the sunshine, get in touch.