Weed Control Basics UK – A Quick Read

5 minutes, 28 seconds Read

Know your enemy

The old saying is probably right ‘One year’s seeding means seven years weeding.’Recreational marijuana delivery near new York

Some weeds grow from seeds which may be in the soil or brought on the wind or by birds; other weeds re-grow from pieces of root.

Annuals (eg groundsel, rose-bay willow-herb, chickweed):

  • Annual weeds are those which produce seed in the same year that they began to grow. They produce many seeds which are ready to grow during the next mild period of weather.
  • Control annual weeds by hoeing. This chops off the stems at ground level, and the roots cannot re-grow. Or control them by digging the ground over so that you bury the weeds on the surface.
  • Don’t let annual weeds grow large enough to flower and seed, otherwise you’ll have an even bigger problem later. If you don’t have time to hoe every week, at least remove the flowers, so that seeds cannot be produced.
  • Hoe weedy and bare areas every week to kill visible weeds and disturb just-germinated seeds below the surface. Newly germinated seedlings won’t survive this treatment unless there is a lot of rain.

Perennial (long-lived) weeds (eg couch (twitch), dandelion, dock, thistle, bindweed, horsetail, ground elder, Japanese knotweed):

  • These live from year to year and can send up new shoots from their roots, so they survive hoeing to begin with. But if hoeing is continued weekly, the pieces of root will eventually become exhausted and unable to produce any more shoots.
  • Hoeing off shoots cuts off new food supplies to the root.
  • There’s no need to pick up weeds after hoeing, unless they have flower heads (the flowers could still develop and produce seeds) or you want to do some work in the area.
  • Keep your hoe sharp by using a file.

Problem areas

Mechanical solutions

  • Overgrown areas are best cut down to the ground first, using a billhook, scythe, rotary mower (hire a tough one) or brushcutter.
  • Then rake the debris off and dig over the soil with a spade or plough. A cultivator stirs the soil up rather than burying the original surface, but is also useful. Any of these methods gives you bare soil which is easier to hoe than a weedy patch.

Chemical solutions — herbicides

  • Alternatively, clear the ground with a weedkiller. First decide whether you have annual or perennial weeds — if unsure, assume that there are perennial weeds present.
  • Study the bottles of weedkiller in the garden centre and make sure you choose one designed for the problem. Although there are numerous trade names, there are only a few actual chemicals – these are listed as the active ingredient(s).
  • The active ingredient named glyphosate (such as in Roundup) is taken up by the plant’s leaves so eventually the roots are killed. This takes a while, so take note of instructions on the label, especially about the ideal size of weed to be treated. It’s better for there to be several leaves on the weed so that more chemical can be taken up. But an old established plant may need several applications before it’s killed.
  • For small areas of weeds, or for spot control of a few weeds, buy a ready-to-use weedkiller in a spray container. Then there’s no mixing needed.
  • Do not mix weedkillers (or any other garden chemicals) in the kitchen. Weedkillers are, after all, designed to kill, so should not come near food or drink or your skin. Take a bucket of water outside so you have plenty for mixing, washing out the sprayer afterwards, and washing your gloves. Keep a pair of rubber gloves for use with chemicals, and store them in the shed or garage.
  • Don’t spray in windy weather, otherwise you risk spray in your face and on your neighbour’s plants.

Residual weedkillers

  • An overgrown area contains a great deal of weed seed in the soil, which you can prevent from germinating for months and months by using a type of weedkiller called a residual. Various types prevent seeds germinating for a certain length of time, from a certain depth of soil. But if you disturb the soil, the weedkiller becomes ineffective.
  • If you intend to plant or sow in the area in the near future, make sure that the weedkiller is suitable. Some residuals must not be used around newly planted shrubs, or plants susceptible to damage, so read the label before buying and using.


  • Most weed seed germinates when exposed to light – this means that only seed near to the soil’s surface will grow. A mulch makes the soil’s surface darker and suppresses weeds. But perennial weeds can still grow through this, so must be dug out, hoed off for a season or sprayed, before a mulch is applied.
  • At least a two-inch depth of organic material is essential to inhibit seed germination. Use well-rotted compost or bark chippings. Top up the layer each year with a small amount of material.
  • Some weeds will still appear, from seeds blown onto the top of the mulch, but these are easy to pull out. If your garden compost has not heated up enough, weed seeds could still be present and grow. If you think your compost heap won’t kill weed seeds, don’t put flowering weeds (or roots of dandelion, couch etc) onto the heap, but bin them (in the council’s garden waste bin if you have one).
  • An alternative mulch for a large area is old carpet or thick black polythene (anchored down) which will suppress weeds, kill any already growing, and buy you some time until you can deal with the area. However, this does encourage slugs.
  • In areas already planted up, you could use sheets of woven material that allows water through (such as Plantex) beneath bark or compost mulch, to prevent worms from dragging the mulch into the soil.
  • Another possibility is to plant something that will spread but that will be easy to pull up when you want to make use of the area – something like the cranesbill Geranium sanguineum is ideal because it spreads quickly, provides evergreen cover with spring flowers, but is easy to pull up and doesn’t self seed.

Co-author: Alec Scaresbrook

We’re seasoned gardeners, with the theory under our belts and the soil under our fingernails. And we’re passionate about helping others to create a garden to enjoy instead of seeing it as a problem. We’ve been sharing UK gardening information via gardening magazines for 20 years – you name it and we’ve probably written about it, or photographed it, or both.

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