I have a small-ish plot at the front of my house. It's about 5mx2m in size and I'm in a new build house so I've come across several rocks and bits of rubble that I have removed so far.

It was planted with some laurel and other green plants when I moved in and I neglected it for about 7 months. Recently, I've spent a total of about 8 hours so far removing all the weeds and loosening the soil.

The soil is very dusty but compacts down to become hard as rock so I have had to soak it with water several times just to be able to dig it. It drains very quickly too. Soak it with a hose one evening and it will be dry the next day.

Now that I've got something that looks more like a garden I'd like to get some flowers and colour in there but I want to make sure the weeds don't come back and also improve the soil.

To address the soil I was going to buy some compost to dig through (does that seem sensible?) but what is the best approach for the weeds? Is there something I can use to kill what remains of them? Or is the best approach just to keep an eye on it and remove them when they grow? Is it inevitable that they will come back?

I'm up for maintaining it I just want to make sure I'm doing the best thing :D

Thanks for the help.


We haven't had much rain in the UK and it's been warmer than average in the last three months, so I'm not surprised your soil is difficult to dig without soaking it first.

Compost, absolutely, as much of it as you can afford, but not multi purpose compost - that is intended for use in pots as a growing medium. You need soil conditioning compost, so things like composted animal manures, and if available where you are, spent mushroom compost is very useful. You don't actually have to dig it in, it can be applied as a thick mulch, but if you're digging it anyway to remove weeds and plant, fine, spread it all over and dig it in. Applying soil conditioning manure twice a year will mean the soil will improve over 2-5 years, and then its easier to use a hoe to remove small weeds.

As for weeds, they are always with us and weeding is an ongoing job, but it depends what the weeds are; some weeds are annuals and pop up on their own all the time, these are easy to remove when they're small if you keep on top of it ongoing. Other weeds are more pernicious and become permanent residents, and if they've been present for a while, can be difficult to dig out, so things like docks, alkanet (Pentaglottis smpervirens), brambles, Carex pendula and so on. Dandelions have a long taproot, but can be dug out. If you have any pernicious weeds, using weedkiller might be necessary, but which weedkiller and how effective it is does depend on which weed - brambles, which are woody based, won't be killed by something like glyphosate, and need a different approach.

Some advice on watering, both before and after planting, if you are planting permanent things like small shrubs and herbaceous perennials; if you water, do it with a sprinkler on the end of a hose, and let the sprinkler run on an area for at least 30 minutes to an hour every six days or so in dry, warm spells, rather than watering more often walking round with the hose. You don't need an expensive, fancy sprinkler, something like this https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gardena-01951-20-Classic-Spray-Sprinkler/dp/B0001E3TA8 will do the job perfectly well. When you first plant, you want to encourage the plants to put their roots down into the soil, and watering less and more often means the water will only be in the top inch of soil, and won't go much further down, so the plants will keep their roots near the surface, waiting for the next lot of water you come along and give them. It would also be wise to soak the area well prior to planting, if you have had no significant rainfall beforehand. If you're only going to plant things for summer like summer bedding, then walking round frequently with the hose is okay.

  • Excellent, thanks very much for the advice. I have a small sprinkler that I use for the grass at the back of the house so I’ll run a hose to the front every week or so to water it. I’ll also get some proper compost. There are a few garden centres around so I’ll see if I can find the right stuff. Thanks again – Fogmeister May 14 '20 at 13:08

After you've removed any pernicious weeds, I recommend using an organic mulch such as arborist woodchips to both prevent weed seed germination and to improve the soil's structure. See here for scientific backing for my recommendation. Although the author of the linked paper states that this is a great mulch for trees and shrubs, anecdotally I've had excellent success with perennials when the mulch is kept to a depth of an inch or so and NOT put directly against the plants' crowns at that depth. For annuals, I use cocoa bean hulls, a byproduct of the chocolate industry, but these are at best a regional product and may not be available anywhere in the UK.

I have about 375 sq. meters under woodchip mulch and spend maybe 2-4 hours a season pulling weeds by hand (no tools needed because the weeds "root" in the mulch and are thus easy to pull). I do have to spend more than a few hours every year or two adding fresh chips, though. This is after four years of gardening the area (I needed tools the first couple of years until the initial mulch broke down).

Another anecdote - after gardening with chips on full clay for four years (the soil was so bad that we could - and did - make things out of it), the top three-five inches of the garden were good, black, crumbly earth. Because the humus and other good stuff had worked it's way into the clay, there was really no defining line between the materials, which meant that the soil drained much better and there was no issue of a perched water table.

FWIW, I actually never use compost anymore because when I've used it in the past it proved to be a vector for weed seeds because it was not properly cooked. I also don't use straw or hay for the same reason. In essence, woodchips - or any shredded wood product - act as a slow-decaying compost.

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