One of the most tedious and apparently pointless jobs among fruit surely has to be weeding. I can quite see why we have to do it among vegetables and flowers but why fruit? Surely it can take care of itself?
Well, yes, it probably can but that doesn't mean that weeds should be ignored. Apart from anything else, the garden would look awful and do you really fancy picking soft fruit with nettles or thistles up around your face?
So weeds are a bad thing and a hoe has for centuries been the traditional way for getting rid of them. That's also perfectly true, but is the traditional way necessarily the best? In the case of weed control it certainly isn't.
ANNUAL OR PERENNIAL?
Weeds fall into two main categories, seedling and annual weeds, and established perennial weeds. Hoeing and other cultivations are fine for the first group. In the case of a hoe, the top of the weed is neatly parted from the root system and that's the end of that. But established perennial weeds, such as docks, thistles, nettles, bindweed, ground elder, couchgrass and so on are a very different matter. In the case of bindweed, ground elder and couch, chopping up the underground roots is an excellent way of spreading them. A rotavator is even more effective. Docks, thistles and nettles often reappear after hoeing.
However, hoeing is largely ineffective, even to seedlings, when the ground is wet.
All that happens is that the weeds are dragged out of the ground, moved about a bit and are then free to take root again in the moist soil.
With larger perennial weeds, the tops are cut off whereupon dormant underground buds grow out to restore the status quo.
Thus, within a few weeks, the place is full of weeds again.
During the summer and/or when the ground is dry, results can be good against larger annuals as well as annual and perennial seedlings and, indeed, this is certainly the method I would recommend.
Protect blossom and tender shoots from frost with garden fleece (see classified pages) Ventilate covered strawberries for pollination and disease control
De-blossom perpetual strawberries until late May Continue pest and disease control, except during flowering
There is, though, another factor to consider. In the case of strawberries and young raspberry plantings, the root disturbance caused by hoeing can be seriously damaging to the plants. Similarly, although digging out perennial weeds is the preferred method of control, it also can be damaging to crop roots.
There is, though, another 'mechanical' way, for want of a better description -mulching.
Most people think of a mulch as something that is spread over the ground between crop plants deep enough to smother weed growth. Well rotted garden compost, manure, bark chips, sawdust and any number of other things can be used. The most effective, however, is black polythene; preferably with slits or pinprick holes to let air and water through to the crop roots.
The darkness under the polythene is sufficient to kill seedling weeds of all sorts. However, it is much less effective against established perennials and useless against couchgrass; which has earned another of its names, speargrass, for this very reason.
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