With the pleasure of spring, comes pain.
Weeds are one of the top bugbears of the allotment gardener’s life. As a group, we complain about these plants as often as the British population as a whole grumble about the weather.
And right now, as our long-awaited crops and flowers begin to reach out from beneath the soil, you can bet your best dibber that the weeds are soaring even higher.
Common weeds have evolved to be as capable as they are to grow as relentlessly as they do. In fact, despite the frustration this causes for us as gardeners, we should be in awe of their ability to do so.
And don’t forget, many of the plants we describe as weeds in our allotment beds, are also incredibly important in support of the creatures we treasure in our environment too.
I know this topic is of significant interest to us allotment gardeners because, well, I am one. I also know because one of the most read posts on this blog is Allotment Weeds, written by the brilliant Andrew O’Brien.
The fact of the matter is, we can do nothing to stop these plants growing in the same sense as we can do zilch to control our island’s fickle weather. But, just as we’ve learned to have that umbrella on hand to cope with our changeable climate, we can also arm ourselves with a few tactical approaches to help us manage the weeds in our gardens too.
There’s numerous advice on how to tackle weeds. What I want to share with you are three approaches that have made a significant difference to the weedy problem on my plot over the course of the growing year.
1. Go no-dig
I talk a lot about no-dig gardening but it’s because I am truly amazed by the benefits it has provided me. Its about time saved, stellar crops but also its ability to reduce the number of weeds on the plot over the entire season.
When you mulch the surface of the beds with organic matter and never turn the soil over, the weed seeds that are invariably in the soil never have the incentive to germinate.
I trialled no-dig on a few of my allotment beds last year and I saw the comparison between the beds I’d dug and those I hadn’t. The reduction in weeds was apparent.
Don’t take my word for it, ask the increasing number of gardeners who are turning to a no-dig approach in their gardens and allotments over on the No-Dig Gardening – Un Dug Facebook Group.
2. Eat that frog
Mark Twain said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
I think this is great advice for weeding and I’m now in the habit of doing a little weeding as soon as I arrive at the allotment.
This has provided two benefits.
Firstly, it gets my least favourite job – but one that must be done – out of the way. Secondly, by delivering on this routine, and because the lighter evenings mean I can visit the plot regularly after work during the week – it takes less time each visit.
3. Suppress on paths
It’s hard enough to focus on the growing areas of our plots. The sowing, the watering, the thinning and of course the weeding.
The trouble is, the weeds will grow wherever they can. Including the areas around our beds. There has been a number of occasions when I’ve returned to the allotment after a brief spell away and felt crushed by the sight of weeds growing everywhere.
Clearly, weeds on paths and non-growing areas will not create a problem for the crops. However, it’s mentally destroying and it makes the allotment look unsightly and appear to be more of a challenge than what it is.
Using woodchips has been helpful. I regularly top up my allotment paths whenever the tree surgeon makes a delivery of woodchips to the plot. However, perennial weeds such as Mares Tail and Bindweed will still grow through.
This year, I’m laying black, permeable weed membrane and covering it with more woodchips. The difference between the suppressed and not suppressed paths is already significant.
Path with weed suppressant
A path without weed suppressant
I’ll continue to lay the membrane on all of the fixed allotment paths. I also use strips of the membrane to cover the no-dig beds after mulching at the end of the year. This has been a huge help in providing healthy and clean growing areas to sow or plant into in the spring.
What about you? Are you managing the weeds on your plot now the spring has sprung? Let me know in the comments below.
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