Weeds, Shoots and Leaves

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The green shoots of recovery have started to show, at least in the Wildlife Garden. Broad beans are up, as are module-planted seeds of aubergines, tomatoes, tomatillos, chillies (from mild to habañero) and sweet peppers. Snake’s head fritillaries, Crown Imperial lilies and chives bring spring green colour and buds appear on the shrubs. The Wildlife Pond is bubbling with big amphibians making little amphibians. Throaty males serenade bewildered females in Barry White bass tones before leaping on them. I counted at least twenty frogs, singly or in pairs, coyly plopping down under the surface whenever I approached, and many little common newts trundling around in the sunken leaves.


But with green shoots come the weeds too. Looks like the wretched blanket weed and duckweed I pulled out of the pond last November is growing back again. It practically choked it last year, and any attempt to fish it before autumn hauled up so many pond snails, dragonfly larvae and tadpoles that I put it all back in again. I have a dilemma. The pond is full of breeding amphibians, but they haven’t yet laid more than three clutches of frogspawn. Once that hatches, the weed will be full of tadpoles and a massacre will ensue if I pull it out then. I don’t really want to disturb them, but their offspring have more chance of thriving if I control the blanket weed. Would a grappling hook and a net put the frogs off their stroke? It would me. I made the decision to remove the weed very gently and carefully. Most frogs dived, one just drifted around the hook, burping forlornly. Was he brave or stupid? Anyhow, weed removed, and the pond seethes again so I don’t think I’ve done any lasting damage. Another weedy irritation is couch grass in the veg patch.

Couch, scutch or twitch grass (Elymus repens) is a pernicious weed that rapidly spreads by rhizomes or underground stems. From the tips, new shoots appear in spring and autumn that quickly produce leaves and more rhizomes. These become entangled in everything and are difficult to remove.

Couch grass is a Pokémon plant: any broken piece produces more couch grass in another place, so you gotta get’em all. I tried the carpet weed suppressant trick last autumn:

Carpet suppressant for couch grass

and was pleasantly surprised to find it worked. All the couch grass roots were just under the carpet, traceable and easily pulled out:

Pulling couch grass roots

Unfortunately, in pulling up the carpet I unwittingly disturbed a field mouse. It had made a beautiful warm dried-leafy home under the carpet, against the wooden shuttering, with a plastic flower pot at one end and an exit at the other. Surely a band G mouse house.

Field mouse nest

As it leaped away into the hedge, I felt a bit guilty. I checked the nest to see if there were any babies (none). Then I thought about all the newly-sown peas, beans and sweetcorn it would dig up, and stopped feeling guilty. So that’s my tale of weeds and shoots in the Wildlife Garden. And leaves? That’s the mouse.

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2 thoughts on “Weeds, Shoots and Leaves

  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Thanks for the sagely advice, Steve. I fight shy of rotovators too because they chop worms up. I actually enjoy digging – better than the gym. We’re on chalk here too, but the veg patch has been well-supplied with organic matter.

  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Ah, memories of couch grass from when I recovered an allotment plot from derelict ground in Nutfield many years ago. helpful hint – do not run a rotavator through it, as it just multiplies the plants!
    Now, on chalk, there is no couch in my garden (nor indeed much soil to grow anything in).


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