Weeding 101 – How to Tackle an Ordinary Border

The article teaches you how to tackle an ordinary border where weeds are starting to colonize the spaces between plants. While shrubs are still knitting together and herbaceous perennials are making spring growth, there are gaps where seeds can land and pernicious (perennial) roots can creep. Controlling these is routine maintenance and the time to step in is while the weeds are still small but large enough to handle; all you need is a wheelbarrow, two buckets, and a small border fork.


1. Work systematically through the border from side to side and from back to front, weeding small sections at a time. This is the sort of job you can come and go at loading the equipment back into the barrow and storing it until the next opportunity arises. Using the fork, loosen the soil carefully between your plants before pulling the weeds out.

2. What you have at your fingertips is a fascinating mixture of plants, and the novice weeder would do well to pause and consider what these are. The usual mixture consists of common annual weeds like fat hen, chickweed, and speedwell (shown here), with some useful seedlings of garden plants that you want to keep. If you are unable to identify some plants, leave a few in position and wait to see what they grow into. If they prove to be weeds, identify them and pull them up. But you are just as likely to find seedlings of columbines (Aquilegia vulgaris), honesty, sweet rocket, poppies, love-in-a-mist, or dusty miller (Lychnis coronarius). The beauty of slow, steady hand weeding is being able to leave these “free” plants where they come up naturally.

3. Mixed in with annual weeds, you will almost certainly find some perennial ones growing either from seed or from small portions of underground stem left behind from previous weeding sessions. Most perennial weeds give themselves away by their roots. Even on young plants they look as though they want to travel and they tend to be thicker, longer and paler than the more innocent, darker, fibrous roots of annual weeds. Remove these perennial weeds out first, putting them in their own bucket to be disposed of separate Annual weeds, unless they are seeding, can go on the compost heap if it is hot enough throughout to be sure of killing them. Perennials must be disposed of elsewhere. Either burn them, or put them in the garbage. If neither is possible, leave the roots on a hard surface to wither in the sun and, when they are completely dried out, add to the compost heap.