A green spring clean in the garden


WEED NOW It’s an exciting time to be planting new things and watching last year’s plants reemerge – but now’s the time to tackle weeds too.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

Now that spring is making itself known and there’s a bit of a stretch in the evenings, it’s time to get outdoors and see what needs to be done. The green cleaning principles work as well outdoors as indoors, especially when it comes to protecting plants and pollinators from unnecessary toxins.
First, I’m an advocate for doing as little as possible to disturb natural hedges and wild margins, so it’s worth starting with a conversation to determine what areas are in need of tidying at all.
Our family has decided to maintain a small lawn and patio area immediately around the house, one narrow path around the larger garden and through the forest we are cultivating, and some areas around the fruit bushes and the polytunnel. All other areas are left to grow and self-seed undisturbed.
For our outdoor tidying, the goal is to use only water, eco-friendly washing up liquid or solid soap, and vinegar if necessary. The patio and foot paths are power-washed once a year – we borrow the power washer from a family member – and then manually weeded occasionally between the tiles as needed to avoid herbicides. If necessary, boiling water poured into cracks or gaps, or concentrated salt water can also kill off unwanted growth of moss or plants. When the ground is soft through the late winter and early spring, we use a shovel to create some space between the foot path and patio and the lawn to avoid the grass growing over the path.
Weeding in flower beds is easier now, before the growth is rampant and also while the ground yields around the roots, so try to pull out or dig up anything that’s growing where you don’t want it. This is the best way to avoid synthetic chemicals over the course of the growing season.
For plants growing in gravel areas, raking now before they get too established helps, and then spraying a combination of white vinegar with salt and washing up liquid mixed is an effective spot treatment (a quick Google search will tell you the recipe ratios).
We are also prepping our planting areas by trying to smother out unwanted growth before it gets established. For our outdoor beds, we leave large sheets of cardboard (all tape and labels from boxes removed) over the ground for several weeks, and then add layers of topsoil and plant into that; the roots of the plants will push through the cardboard that will be starting to break down. Digging a narrow trench can help create a border around it. Cardboard around fruit bushes, with a layer of wood chips, is also an effective weed suppressant.
In the polytunnel, we’ve added a layer of seaweed and manure to all the raised beds, and have moved vulnerable seedling trays and strawberry plants onto tables to keep them out of the way of slugs, with a sprinkling of coarse salt around the pots.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to wash all plant pots with soap and water, and to rinse watering cans with vinegar to clear our any mildew before using.

McKinley Neal is the owner of PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal-care items and gifts.