Is everything you want to remove a ‘weed’?

Dandelion root

“Is this a weed?” my father used to ask my mother when I was small, having already pulled up the apparently offending piece of organic matter from the ground.

Some of the time, my mother wanted it there and was annoyed. Mostly, however, she was just annoyed that he’d pulled it out first. If she had wanted it, it was too late now!

The ‘evil weed’ is a not-so-secret term for cannabis, perhaps a reference to the fact it is illegal and could have various affects on you. The urban dictionary might define the term as a physically weak person, used as an insult particularly among children, based on a perception of a plant that is stringy, small and useless.

Yet botanists and horticulturalists will tell you there is no such thing defined as a weed – a term many gardeners use. If you work in a nature organisation, organise a clear up of unwanted vegetation and promote it as weed clearance, that might give the public an idea of what you want to achieve, but anyone with a modicum of knowledge in the field will growl.

Simply put, a weed is something that is growing in a place you don’t want it. So a potato could be a considered a weed in your strawberry patch. a tomato that sprouts up in your beetroot plot is no good. Dandelions or daisies in your lawn.

The concept of a weed being weak, however, can be far from true. Removing dandelions from the lawn brings brought with it a shock. One came up with its entire root in tact – a rarity.

What a whopper!

It was far longer than the greenery or flower that it eventually the plant would produce.

This just emphasised that however much they seemingly could be removed manually, they would only come back. There was only one thing for it: ‘weed’ killer with lawn feed. This will tackle the daisies, dandelions and half a dozen other types of unwanted vegetation in the lawn, as well as focus on the moss.

Trying to tackle moss manually is impossible. It might appear visible on the surface, but even when raking it is obvious this is entangled round grass – and almost underneath – right down to the earth.

But before you pull up all the ‘weeds’ – the plants you don’t like – think carefully. Are these things in your flower beds in any way beneficial? Are you harming nature by removing them? Or is it essential?

Invasive vegetation – some of it brought in about a century ago from abroad for exotic gardens – can harm riverbanks, making them weak and overshadowing more domestic plants.

Less classed as officially “invasive” are many wild flowers. Buttercups, growing freely at present in my garden, will take over more space than I want to give them if left untamed, or unrestricted.

But before you go pulling up everything that seems in the wrong place, don’t forget that your plants need pollinating – and creatures that pollinate need something to feed from. Some ‘weeds’ have value. That potato in your strawberry patch? Do you have room for it elsewhere?

Two years ago, for 30 days wild, an annual campaign for the whole of June encouraging people to support nature, I left a patch in the garden to grow freely. I ended up with tall grass and all sorts in that area. (The tall grass acting as natural feeding grounds for insects is why Surrey County Council agreed to cut some public verges less frequently last year.)

Having dug it up, last year I used it for a few brassicas, unsuccessfully. Recently, I spread Bee Bombs – small clumps of flowers – on the area, which might take up to 18 months to bed in and grow. At present, they haven’t taken, but I am taking out the shoots of grass that spread from the lawn, because they shouldn’t be there. Growing in the wrong place, they are in my classification of ‘weeds’.