How to weed a bed

Keeping beds free from unwanted plants is an ongoing task in the garden. Knowing how these weeds grow helps you tackle them in the most efficient and timely way. 

Weeding directly around the trunk of the young tree will help it establish, but the dead-nettles can be left as welcome wildflowers
Weeding directly around the trunk of the young tree will help it establish, but the dead-nettles can be left as welcome wildflowers

Quick facts

  • The term 'weed' is subjective and can be defined as a plant growing where it is not wanted 
  • Fast growing weeds can compete with, and possibly smother, other plants 

  • Hand weeding a bed provides a good opportunity for close-up inspection of all your plants

Getting started

Unwanted plants can arrive in your garden by seed blown in on the wind or deposited by animals. Perennial weeds with spreading root systems may creep under boundary fences, or be inadvertently introduced when new plants are brought into your garden. 

Weeds compete with cultivated plants for soil moisture, nutrients, and light. But, in areas where they're not likely to cause competition and where weeding would leave bare soil, it's good to consider the benefits of leaving them. Many have pollinator-friendly flowers, while those in the pea family, like clovers, fix nitrogen in the soil.

Useful equipment for weeding beds: 

  • Gloves
  • Hand fork or weeding knife 
  • Border fork 
  • Hand or long-handled hoe 
  • Kneeling pad 
  • Patience and perserverance are needed for eradicating some perennial weeds                       
    Top Tip

    It doesn’t take long for weeds in flower to produce and release seeds. Try to remove them before, or as soon as, they start flowering to stop them spreading.

How to weed a bed in seven simple steps

  1. Identify unknown plants

    This will help you understand how they grow and spread, and so decide if and how to get rid of them. Some self-seeded plants might turn out to be a welcome addition. See our guide to identifying common weeds or, if you are an RHS member, use My RHS to get your unknown plant identified.
  2. Hoe annual and ephemeral weeds

    Hoe those that complete their lifecycle in one year or less, regularly from spring onwards. Hoe beds when the weather is dry, so weeds dry out and die once disturbed. Move the blade of your hoe back and forth, just beneath the soil surface, to sever weed roots.
  3. Rake up and remove hoed weeds

    This gives a tidy finish and ensures weeds don't re-root, which can happen in damp soil. Small weeds don’t have to be raked up, as they will just shrivel up and disappear in dry conditions.
  4. Pull or fork out large annual and more persistent perennial weeds

    Many perennial weeds can regrow from sections of root, so try to dig out as many roots as possible without chopping them up. Using a fork instead of a spade, to dig down below the weed and carefully ease it out, helps achieve this.
  5. Work carefully around your border plants

    Take time and care when weeding directly around them. Removing weeds by hand or with a hand fork helps limit root damage and disturbance. 

    Where a weed is growing through another plant and it’s not possible to remove its roots without disturbance, frequent cutting or pulling of weed shoots will gradually weaken it. In severe cases, where beds are rife with spreading perennial weeds such as bindweed, it might be necessary to dig up herbaceous perennials or young woody plants when they are dormant, wash some soil off the root ball and pick out the weed roots before replanting.
  6. Add annual weeds to the compost bin

    Take care not to add the roots of pernicious perennial weeds such as ground elder and bindweed. Most home compost bins don’t get hot enough to destroy these, so leave them to rot down in a bucket of water or sealed in an old bin bag before adding them to your compost bin. 

    Large composting sites reach temperatures high enough to kill perennial weed roots so most can be added to council green waste bins or taken to recycling sites. However, Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam are classed as controlled waste and must be disposed of carefully.  See our guide to Invasive non-native plants for more information.
  7. Take steps to stop weeds coming back

    Even after thorough weeding, a bed will not stay weed-free for long. Planting densely and mulching to cover bare soil will limit opportunities for further weed growth.

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