Beat the Weeds

Although I know some people who enjoy weeding (yes, they do exist!) most people find it a chore and struggle to keep on top of the job.  So their lovely plants disappear under a sea of unwanted weeds, which spread and thrive on neglect.

So most people’s idea of ‘weeds’ are just our native wildflowers, which are adapted to thrive in our soil and weather.  Usually they can out-compete bought plants from other climates and grab all the nutrients and water from the soil before their exotic cousins can get started in the spring.  However many weeds you pull out there will always be more weed seeds in the soil ready to germinate and start growing.  So it can feel like a losing battle if you don’t have time to regularly get rid of the weed seedlings.

Ground Cover Plants

One way to get on top of weeds is not to pull them out, but to stop them growing in the first place!  Try putting an organic ‘mulch’ on your flower borders each year in the late autumn/winter.  This involves putting a thick layer of mulch (5cm at least) over the soil between your existing plants.  This covers up weed seeds and stops them germinating and growing in the following spring.  To find out how to do this see my Blog on Mulching.

Another way to stop weed seeds getting establish is to plant ‘ground cover’ plants.  These don’t sound very exciting, but they are just ornamental plants that will spread over the soil leaving no gaps or space for weeds to grow.  Their roots form a solid mat under the soil so no other plant can grow through them.  They are also ‘low maintenance’ plants that can thrive without too much fuss and fertiliser and are rarely attacked by common pests and diseases.

Great Ground Cover

Plants that will spread and thrive in a range of condition – damp, dry, shady or sunny.

Periwinkle – Vinca major and Vinca minor

Periwinkle - great ground cover

Periwinkle – evergreen ground cover

This tough plant will even grow under conifers and near to the base of hedges, which are often too dry for most plants.  Its leaves stay green all year with mauve flowers appearing all through the year.  It will spread, once established, but just pull it up if it goes too far.  You can also use hedge shears to cut it down each spring to keep it tidy.

Barrenwort – Epimedium × perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’

Evergreen Epimedium

Evergreen Epimedium × perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’

You can buy evergreen or deciduous Epimedium; I’d recommend this evergreen variety as it spreads quickly and is better at crowding out weeds.  As a woodland edge plant, it can cope with wet or dry soil and sun or shade.  Use hedge shears to cut down the old leaves in early March and you’ll see the spikes of yellow spring flowers and fresh foliage tinged with red.  As with the Periwinkle above, just dig it up if it spreads too far.

Elephant’s Ears – Bergenia ‘Overture’

Bergenia Overture

This plants leathery evergreen leaves turn a stunning dark purple in the winter.  This is followed by spring green leaves and spikes of bright pink flowers.  The thick stems of the plants will spread and cover the ground in shady, dry, sunny and wet places.  Just cut back the old and damaged leaves in the spring and let the plant do the rest!

Hardy Geranium – Geranium macrorrhizum

Geranium macrorrhizum

Geranium macrorrhizum

Loved by bees in the late spring; this hardy geranium will cover the soil and keep its leaves through most winters.  It is rarely damaged by pests and diseases and can cope with sun or shade in poor soil.