I know, I know - a weed is any plant which is growing in the wrong place.
I only call some plants ‘weeds’ because they are growing in places where, to put it mildly, I’d rather they didn’t! So I describe the dandelions which are growing among my grass … for no-one could realistically describe my ‘lawn’ as anything other than a grassed area … as weeds. I apply the same derogatory term to the foxgloves which spring up anywhere in my garden, escapees from the neighbouring railway embankment, despite the fact that garden centres actually sell cultivated foxgloves, usually calling them Digitalis purpurea, which sounds much grander. And I am being unusually polite when I restrain my verbal frustration with the persistent brambles which lurk in any unsuspected corners and call them only ‘weeds’.
And yes, I also know full well that the true gardener will hand-weed and hoe his or her well-tended garden with unfailing regularity to keep the intrusion of unwanted plants to the absolute minimum; and will thus ensure that no unwanted plant … no weed … will survive infancy let alone have the chance to grow to maturity and reproduce its species. The trouble is that I seem to have neither the time nor the inclination to devote many hours to this process. I want shortcuts, as, I suspect, do the vast majority of gardeners; and shortcuts in my case mean chemicals.
Essentially there are three generic types of weed killing chemical compounds, marketed by their producers under a wide variety of registered trade names. The first are the so-called ‘systemic’ weedkillers, which act on the vast majority of plants by being ingested through the plant’s foliage. These chemicals then make their way through the entire plant right down to the tips of the roots, killing the plant entirely. Their great advantage … apart from their ruthless efficiency as killers … is that they only enter the target plant through its leaves and not through the roots via the soil, meaning that they can be used close to cherished plants, subject always to the caveat that, since they kill most plants, they must be used carefully to ensure that the spray … the usual means of application … does not drift on to any plants which the gardener is tending with loving care. Systemic weedkillers do not usually have any effect on plants with glossy leaves … like ivy, for example … for the waxy surface of these leaves means that the spray simply runs off and is not ingested.
Next come the weedkillers usually described as being ideal for paths and driveways. They are indiscriminate, remain active in the soil on to which they are spread by sprayer or watering can and enter any plants within range via the roots. Since these chemicals remain active in the soil for some time after their application, they kill off any seeds which have the temerity to try to start growing in a treated area, although they do not usually destroy established weeds completely, meaning that perennial weeds often return the following year.
And then we have the ‘selective’ weedkillers, often described as lawn weedkillers. These products target broad-leaved plants but have no effect on plants with very narrow leaves, meaning that they kill most off the unwanted plants which like to live among grass without harming the grass itself. Again the gardener must remember that these products kill most broad-leaved plants and must take care to prevent spray drift fouling tended plants near the lawn edges. But, while these several products, used strictly in accordance with their maker’s instructions, are a boon to the gardener whose time is limited, we still have rye grass, ivy, mare’s tails and plenty of other weeds to deal with in the time-honoured manner!