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Blue Daisy Garden Diary - February/March 24

Weed Suppressant Materials by Nicki Jackson

It’s that time of year when the garden is much more visibly beginning to sprout, and inevitably, some of the plants we’re noticing are not always the most welcome. Weeds – by definition, any wild plant that grows in an unwanted place where it impedes the growth of cultivated plants – are the bane of many a gardener; and dealing with weeds is also at the heart of many a client’s desire for a low maintenance garden. Whilst we’re often at pains to point out that a low maintenance garden can’t ever mean no maintenance – and weeds can be introduced to a garden in many ways, not just emerging from below; on the wind, or via birds, for example – we nevertheless do usually include some form of weed suppression as part of our design solution. The trick as designers is to make whatever we use look aesthetically pleasing.

The least aesthetic but most obvious choice for many people is of course weed suppression fabric. Generally, this solution does a good job in a garden setting by keeping any weeds below it from germinating. The best type by far is a woven fabric, however, as with any laid ‘material’, it won’t allow worms and other beneficial insects to come to the surface to feed on leaf litter and/or organic mulches and as such the soil won’t be naturally improved on an ongoing basis when this method is used. 

Non-organic mulch such as gravel, stones, coloured or plain glass pebbles, crushed stone or slate can be laid directly on top of the soil, though is more often used in conjunction with weed suppression fabric. The look of gravel and other aggregates can be really strong, however it does have potential problems for the soil because it’s heavy which could, depending on the density, contribute to compaction. It also doesn’t get processed by worms, and if directly laid on soil, over time it can mix with the soil, often creating light leaks that can allow those pesky weeds to poke through. 

Laying organic mulch once or twice a year on top of the soil on the other hand does a multitude of things; not least supporting worms and other soil-based insects which in turn keep the soil healthy, it also locks in moisture for the summer months and blocks light to germinating seeds too. Organic mulches include well-rotted manure, mushroom compost, chipped garden waste and composted garden waste, some of which can look gorgeously rich and can set off plants beautifully.

Using plantsis a fantastic way to suppress weeds. If you plant densely for instance, less daylight can reach the soil surface and therefore there is less opportunity for any weed seeds to germinate. Supplement plant density with ground cover plants; i.e. plants that grow as a carpet on the surface of the soil, thereby blocking the light reaching the soil itself while allowing other ornamental plants to be planted through them, and you have a beautiful way of managing weeds. Vinca (see photo), Pachysandra and even wild strawberry if your garden has a more rustic feel, are examples of ground cover plants.

Our preference is to have a balance of plant density, include ground cover plants and use mulches on our borders, it has a more natural look to it and allows nature to do the majority of the work for us and keep our gardens healthy. It is important to note that there is no such thing as a weed free garden especially if, like us, you don’t use chemicals. We have to learn to live with weeds but finding ways of reducing their impact on our green spaces and sanity is a regular occurrence! 

© Nicki Jackson, Blue Daisy Gardens 2024