Allotment Problems – perennial weeds

Here’s our worst culprit, the dandelion. And as you can see, the very bad news about these two mammoth horrors is that the taproots have broken, meaning that the entire plant will grow again from the remaining fragment of root in the soil – but that does take a little while (say two years) to happen. Of course, when you get a new allotment in the autumn or winter, you have no idea what’s lurking in the soil, waiting to horrify you in spring. We have dandelions aplenty and as I don’t keep chickens, there’s no point us tolerating them in the soil. They are absolutely swine to remove, especially if you’re trying to be organic.

1. The first thing is prevention: when they are in flower, cut, hoe or kick the heads of dandelions to stop them setting seed that grows into new plants. You can’t kill them by cutting off the tops, although it does weaken them. If you have fairly friable soil they are quite easy to dig you – but if you have a clay soil, like ours, it can be back breaking work to get right down to the end of the taproot and on well-established plants it will often break before you do. Just keep hoeing the top off when the new plant emerges if you have already planted seeds or seedlings around it, but if you haven’t, when the new leaves appear as a rosette, try digging it out again, sometimes it’s easier second time around.
2. I like to pour boiling water over the plants – it cooks them alive! Of course if you’ve got loads, it’s not a time effective way of dealing with them, but where they appear in cracks in paths etc, it can be the simplest and cheapest way to remove them organically.
3. For large areas of dandelion growth, mulching with black plastic, well-weighted down, is the best way to go. First give them the boiling water treatment, then cover them and leave that mulch down for at least three seasons. You can cover the mulch fabric with chippings if you don’t like the look of it. The problem with this method is that if you want to use the soil to grow crops, it’s a nuisance to have substantial areas out of cultivation for nine months of the year.
4. Himself favours the flame thrower approach. He hires one of those weed burners and uses that. The problem with this is that you can’t do it near existing crops or wooden structures and as we have raised wooden beds and wood-edged paths, it’s of limited usefulness.
5. In the long run, better soil kills off weeds – when it’s friable and rich in organic content, weeds aren’t as happy as they are in poor acid soils and they come out a lot easier too!

And in the short run, I dig out all the roots I can, kick the tops of all the ones I can’t and treat them to a kettle-full of boiling water on a regular basis. I also remind myself that I’d rather have dandelions than couch grass, any day!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Sunday, April 12, 2009


Blogger Z said...

Some years ago we had a load of manure which was full of thistle seeds. I've never got rid of them, and they're a real pain (literally) in the greenhouse.

When I put up another greenhouse - the third, in fact - I put down black plastic, old carpet etc and left it for two years to get rid of ground elder and bindweed. It still didn't quite eliminate the bindweed.

April 12, 2009 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Oh gosh yes, thistle seeds are the pits, they live for up to 25 years dormant in the soil and grow with extreme vigour given any opportunity - they are also the worst weeds (apart from nettles) to have to get rid of because they fight back!

I feel your pain (literally) that's a horrible thing to have lurking in your lovely muck!

April 14, 2009 at 12:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dandelions are insignificant on my plot (acquired end of Jan). I've got brambles, dock, thistle, nettle, couch grass and something nobody has identified that emerges as sort of red tinged rosettes that grow a bit like red hot poker. I can fill a barrow with roots from one square metre. Dandelions and buttercups are mere incidentals, lol.

June 5, 2009 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger OnionFarmer said...

Bindweed is my nemesis - I am forever digging up roots as soon as new leaves show themselves in the hope that the plants will weaken.... I have come to the conclusion that I cannot eliminate this problem and that the best way forward is simply to attempt to minimise any detrimental impact the weed has.

June 11, 2009 at 6:57 AM  

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