Unwanted Growth

The saying “weeds are just plants in the wrong place” is broad in its definition. There are plants that self seed but do have a purpose although they interfere with the health of their neighbours. (Bamboo) Phyllostachys the tall to the very small Pleioblastus can often get out of hand. Crocosmia can equally be a pain.

Some growth, however, has no place in our open spaces. They usually have persistent tap roots, show invasive growth and generally have few true qualities.  Stellaraia media (Chickweed) seems to self seed from nowhere and others accept Aquelegia that appears without warning. Often the Trèfle (Clover) and Taraxacum (Dandelions) in lawns is left as a means to make it more durable and hide a multitude of sins.

At times these invaders can be dug out. They can be prevented from spreading any further by dividing and reducing the growth habit. Other plants possess prehistoric qualities that aid them in surviving their elimination. Equisetum (Horsetail a good example), by its makeup/DNA. The plants hosts a waxy membrane that is non-penetrable. If you’re spraying the plant it must be bruised or cracked. Even doing this is not full proof. Its structure is made up of angled segments each detachable which often means that only a fragment is needed to stay in situ and the plant will recover.

Glyphosate had always been regarded as quite an “ethical” weed killer. Each year chemicals with harmful components were taken off the shelves, discontinued or banned. (Paraquat a pesticide and Diquat a herbicide, despite having a crushing effect on production in certain industries) These were two prominent chemicals criticised at the turn of our environmental awareness. Diquat will be withdrawn for growers May 2019. The final date for diquat usage will be February 2020. Other combinations like Roundup, Path Clear became a bone of contention because of the composites they included. On its own, Glyphosate is said to be safe or at least for the present moment. However, trace elements of unpopular chemicals are still found in pre-manufactured treatments. Gases like methyl bromide an odourless gas used in the cultivation of crops is still permittable despite being under scrutiny. It is arguable how the Diquat ban will be enforced.

For Glyphosate, the purpose? A contact weed killer absorbed by the leaves.  This method used remotely or via an applicator either hand held or on a larger scale. Glyphosate seemed a perfect solution to be used by local authorities and contractors to keep weeds in abeyance on pathways and paving in urban areas. It was said to become harmless when dry and effective even after rainfall as long as it had been applied an hour earlier.  As it was deemed a lesser of two evils it has been used widely in the control of weeds throughout the EU maybe requiring more than one application per year due to its strength? It is highly toxic though. The period of time it is active and what it kills determines how often it needs to be applied. Weeds can become more resilient to the chemical and develop an immunity, because it is a contact weed killer it does exactly that. It doesn’t differentiate plants like a selective would.

Despite this, closer examination has uncovered it is extremely harmful and speculation of it being banned very likely. It is said to have  “carcinogenic” qualities and has proven to be actually quite damaging not only with us but to beneficial insects and the very biodiversity of flora that we are so desperately trying to protect. It has also been criticised for polluting waterways and damaging aquatic life. In tests it has been traced in samples of urine which indicates it remains active after ingestion. As a worry, in windy conditions and incorrectly use it is potentially air bourne.

It is not so problematic when it is used on gravel or self contained areas. It becomes a risk when used for agricultural purposes, it can affect the crop growing environment and pollute harvested produce which we eat. This can occur by mistake and be a result of soil run off or unsuitable spraying conditions. In perfect conditions your spraying drift using a calibrated hand-held sprayer is a metre so magnify this is a buggy with a larger nozzle applying the chemical or a plane.

The European Commission has massively reduced the licence while studies are being undertaken but clearly producers are trying to overturn this and re-instate the full term of 15 years. It has at this time a licence until 2022. Can enough proceedings and reports linked Glyphosate bring its wide usage into disrepute? What are the alternatives other than a fork?   Well, on a smaller scale this is feasible although more labour intensive. Crop rotation or regular rotavating. Another option might be to experiment with more organic solutions that repel invasive insects/pests although this requires research time and cost. Something that would dehydrate the weeds and weaken them, or to incorporate more ground cover plants like Vinca major and minor/Pachysandra or Cotoneaster. A more biodiverse, natural, less uniformed approach to Horticulture seems the “lesser of two evils” opposed to corrupt produce, burnt grass, afflicted insects/animals and polluted waterways.

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I'm Craft Gardener with several years experience. Due to the massive impact the internet has had on advice, forums and consultancy services - it seems knowledge and experience is everchanging and we should therefore share techniques and offer others alternative routes in pests, diseases and weed treatments. The very smallest alterations in aspect, soil conditioning and pruning can determine a plants vigour, health and lifespan hugely. My blogs and online assistance should motivate and interest even the most amateur of green fingered people. As my ex partner used to say "it's green isn't it"?