Facts about WEEDS
Gardeners may argue about whether weeds or pests are their chief headache. Pests we have dealt with pretty fully in earlier Guides and it may not be out of place here to say a few words about weeds, for a wet autumn may have brought us another crop, though we kept our plots fairly clean all summer.
Now we may be doing a bit of digging we can dig in the annual weeds, but we must be careful to dig up and burn such perennials as dandelions, bindweed, thistles, docks and couch.
Most gardeners know the serious objections to weeds, but for those who don’t, here they are. Weeds absorb from the soil moisture and plant food that would otherwise nourish and increase the vegetable or fruit crop. They crowd the crop and keep from it the sunlight so essential for healthy growth ; they prevent the air circulating freely among the plants, and they harbour and favour insect pests and fungus diseases.
But as a writer in The Times said nearly forty years ago, “Many a casual gardener owes what success he has largely to the accident of weeds. They demand the use of the hoe; and the more soils and plants are studied, the more manifest does it become that a friable, well-worked surface is the prime secret of cultivation, even in the case of things that grow deep.”
The most obvious way to suppress weeds is to stop them seeding. And what trouble we should save ourselves if we did—and if all our neighbours did likewise! For many weed plants produce several thousand seeds. And the seeds of many weeds do not all germinate at the same time and may be dormant in the soil and come up after many years.
A single dandelion flower turns to about 170 seeds, but an established three-year-old plant produces nearly 5,000 seeds. But the groundsel beats that figure by 1,000 The pretty little blue-flowered Eye-bright can score 5,000, though the common dock easily beats that, for a fair specimen can easily carry 13,000 seeds Hence the everlasting fight against weeds with hand and hoe and weed killer.
On the other hand, on light soils, from which plant food is washed away by autumn and winter rains, it is a good plan to let annual weeds grow on patches from which crops have been lifted and are remaining bare for some time. The weeds take up the plant food and store it, and when they are dug in in the spring, they give it up again by rotting away