Faced with a virtual wilderness, the quickest way to demolish weeds is to use chemical weed-killers. But this is only to be advocated where the garden is so large that the more laborious methods of scything, burning, thoroughly digging over and fertilising would take too long.
A large neglected garden often falls naturally into several areas, with the advantage that each can be differently treated. Near the house you will probably want at least one lawn of the sort to be purred over. This will entail thorough preparation and levelling of the ground before it is ready to receive either seed or turf.
In a less vital area you can get away with much rougher tactics, if only as a temporary measure. Use a small sickle (easier than a scythe) to reduce the weeds to ground level; burn the cuttings and clear the ground of any large stones. After this a rotary mower used once a fortnight will gradually subdue the weeds and encourage the natural grasses. In time you will have a serviceable lawn, not the billiard-table type but ideal for children’s play or as an orchard carpet.
A time-honoured way of cleansing neglected ground is to plant seedling potatoes in the spring. Not only do they overshadow the weeds and so discourage growth by depriving the weeds of light but their roots plunge down to open up and aerate the soil. But you must have the patience to wait before your garden design can be put into operation, the energy to earth up the potatoes at regular intervals and the appetite and disregard for waistline to be able to consume the crop.
Chemical weed-killers must always be used with extreme care. If the instructions given on the packet of the preparation you buy are not followed implicitly there can be danger to human and animal life as well as healthy plants. Such chemicals should never be used in windy weather and the vessel used for mixing and application should be reserved for that purpose exclusively and thoroughly washed after use.
Chemical weed-killers fall into three main groups:
1 Foliage-applied contact herbicides. These kill the foliage but not the roots of perennial weeds. They can be selective, when they are useful for controlling weeds in newly sown lawns. The non-selective kill all the green tissue with which they come into contact.
2 Foliage-applied translocated herbicides. These penetrate to the roots of perennial weeds, killing them within a few weeks. Selective herbicides of this .type must be used with the utmost discrimination if desirable plants are not to be lost along with the undesirables. Non-selective herbicides in the category are used to eradicate growth in areas where the ground can be left to recover before planting.
3 Soil-applied residual herbicides. These are taken up by the weeds through their roots and seedling weeds are killed as they germinate They can be selective or nonselective, depending on the dose applied and the susceptibility of the crop.
Where general herbaceous weeds smother the garden they are best dealt with by an application of herbicide based on paraquat/diquat (Group 1, non-selective). This will desiccate the tops of the weeds to facilitate the digging out and burning of the remaining growth. After digging over,
the ground can then be planted immediately. A mixture based on sodium chlorate or ammonium sulphate (Group 2, non-selective) will act also upon the roots but then planting must be deferred for a period of up to 12 months.
Digging, raking and hoeing
It takes a strong arm to wield a heavy spade, so choose a spade you can handle with ease; it will save effort in the long run.
Uncultivated ground must be dug in the autumn to a depth of two spits (twice the depth of the spade). Even cultivated ground benefits from double digging about once every three years.
Dig a trench one spit deep across one end of the plot you are tackling. If you stand on a plank it will not only make the job easier but provide a guideline to making a straight-edged trench. Width of
the trench is really up to you: you may find it easier to lift the soil from a 12-in. (or 30 cm) trench than from a 2 ft (or 61 cm) one. Remove the top spit of soil to just outside the other end of the plot. Now dig or fork over the spit beneath, mixing in manure or compost.
Proceed with your plank to your next trench and use the top spit of soil from this to fill up the first trench. Carry on trench by trench until you reach the end of the plot and can use the soil first removed to fill up the last trench of all.
Do not attempt to break down the clods of earth: winter frost will do this for you.
A cultivated garden in reasonably good trim need be dug only one spit deep, manure or compost being added to the bottom of each trench before filling in.
In early spring, prepare the ground for planting, break down any large lumps with a fork, then hoe over the plot until the soil is fine enough to be raked level. Seeds need a very fine tilth, so rake when the ground is not too wet. Do not wait for the weeds to invade your seed beds: use a Dutch hoe between the rows to destroy the weed seedlings before they germinate.