Everything grows quickly at this time of year – especially weeds, which thrive in light and shade and can quickly smother cultivated plants.

Weeds compete vigorously for air, light, moisture and nutrients and they harbour a host of pests and diseases. Where weeds flourish, so will aphids, thrips, earwigs, slugs and snails and viral, fungal and bacterial diseases.

More and more people are turning to chemicals to keep weeds at bay because they can generally be used without tediously getting down on hands and knees. And there are places where they can be used safely – on lawns and along fences or paths. But most weedicides sold for home gardening are nonselective – which means they will kill or damage any plant they come in touch with. This makes so-called “spot spraying” among other plants an extremely hazardous business.

The art of weeding

The dangers might not always be obvious. The leaves of bulbs which have finished flowering, for example, may be browning off, but they are still sending food down below. Spray them, even accidentally, and you will probably kill the new bulbs forming for next year. Chemical spraying should be a last resort.

The most efficient way to control weeds – as it has been for centuries – is to chop them off with a sharp hoe, or dig them out by hand.

* Make sure the ground is moist before hand weeding – it makes the work easier.

* Be patient – there is no point pulling off the leafy top and leaving the root in the ground.

* Some tap-rooted weeds, like dandelions, bring valuable minerals to the surface, so once they are pulled up mulch and water again after weeding to keep nutrition in the soil.

* Put soft weeds in the compost – they contribute useful nutrients as they decompose.

* Shake off clumps of soil from the roots before discarding weeds.

* Remove weeds before they flower and set seed. If the seed heads drop, you’ll get a bumper crop next season.

* If something prevents you pulling out weeds, try to snip off their flowers to prevent them going to seed.

* Some low-growing weeds can be smothered with a mulch which prevents light getting to them until they die.

* Always wear protective gloves – spiders, insects and other nasties are lurking everywhere.

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