Roots roots roots - reviving my plot

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BuddingGrower

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Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« on: November 09, 2013, 18:33 »
Hi all,

I recently decided that, as I'm out of work with time on my hands and have an increasing interest in cooking and therefore fresh veg, I'm going to revive an old plot in our back garden. It's about 15ft x 11ft.

This time last year I made a half-hearted attempt to begin but studies interfered, so I'm at it again, this time for good. It was absolutely covered in weeds, waste high for the most part. I cleared it all last year, but when I came back to it a week ago it had returned. I've begun to clear it again, bit by bit, about an hour or two a day when I can.

Now, this is all very new to me and a few things have got me wondering if the plot is even still viable, so I was hoping you could offer me some help/advice. The soil seems quite heavy and clay-like. I think a lot of the weed cover was ground elder and bindweed but am not certain. There was also a LOT of bramble, which my mum was reluctant to let me remove as she uses the blackberries, but we're trying to replant it elsewhere. The first issue is that, these weeds have probably been established for a long, long time, and as I dig them up I am absolutely stunned by the extent and depth of the root network. After that many years, what is the best way to attack such an established root network?

The second issue is that the plot is surrounded by trees, most of them on my neighbour's side of the fence, including one enormous ash tree. As a result, there are some larger roots poking up through the soil that I simply don't think I'll be able to remove! Will this make it very difficult to grow anything on the plot? I'm attaching a photo to give you some idea. There's also a photo of a wheelbarrow full of the roots I removed from one tiny area of the plot, maybe some of you can identify whether they are likely tree or weed roots for the most part.

My plan was to finish strimming, keep digging and clearing the roots bit by bit, and cover it too, then perhaps start trenching/mulching early next year. Does that sound realistic or will this plot need a lot more work and preparation? I imagine the soil must be knackered!

Thanks all,
Tom
Plot 1.jpg
Plot 2.jpg
Roots.jpg

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Yorkie

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2013, 18:52 »
Well done on what you've achieved so far; looks good.

The white, breakable roots are likely to be bindweed or ground elder - they look fairly similar.

The darker roots will either be tree roots or brambles (the latter may have T-junctions off them where each section of bramble comes up to the surface).  Tree roots are more likely to have little fibrous roots coming off them.

I have been known to saw through tree roots in the way of growing.  They will compete for nutrients and water, and make it difficult to lift spuds!  Of even more importance is whether the tree creates 100% shade, or whether the plot gets some sun.  If it gets no sun at all then quite a lot of veggies won't be as happy as they would be in greater amounts of sun.

When doing digging, one thing to remember is that if the soil sticks to your boots then keep off the soil.  You'll be damaging the soil structure (and giving yourself more of a workout than you need to!!).

Here's a helpful article on the main web site:
http://www.allotment-garden.org/allotment/clearing-new-allotment-plot.php
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azubah

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2013, 19:22 »
If you can get hold of some topsoil or compost, how about trying raised beds?

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Totty

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #3 on: November 09, 2013, 21:30 »
So long as it gets some decent sun, you can make it worthwhile, even if the soil is not in perfect shape at the moment.
I'm sure the majority of people on here started with plots of land that needed plenty of graft to get it into good condition for growing. It's just a case of plodding through it.

Personally I think I would have sprayed it initially to kill off all the weeds right down into the roots.
99% of the time I like to grow organically but feel there is a time and a place for chemicals, and clearing a mass of difficult to shift weeds quickly and efficiently would make it a lot easier.
That said, by continuing to dig out all the roots, and incorporating any organic matter you can lay your hands on, you will quickly transform it.

Totty

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BuddingGrower

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2013, 22:00 »
Thanks for your replies guys.

Yorkie: Thanks. I think the work I did last year achieved more than I initially thought. I've seen a lot of little fibrous roots so they're likely to be the tree roots I guess. There are so so many of them. Will I just have to keep turning over the soil and picking them out? As for shade, the plot gets pretty good sunlight from about the middle of the day. Before then the enormous ash blocks out the sunlight. We're thinking of getting some of the branches cut because the canopy is just out of control, but it could be costly and it's not our tree! Lastly, I'm glad you told me that about the soil. Today I had about 3 inches of soil stuck to my boots! Problem is, I won't be able to reach much of the plot without walking on it so I think I'll just have to for now and then stay off it once it's largely cleared.

azubah: I don't know anything about raised beds... What are the benefits/disadvantages?

Totty: I will definitely think about using chemicals if it proves too much to overcome, but for now I'm going to stick with the digging and see how it goes.

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cadalot

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #5 on: November 10, 2013, 07:26 »
Raised beds give you a depth of new material to plant in, less bending but they will dry out quicker after watering and rain. There are plenty of threads on here about the pros and cons.

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goodtogrow

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #6 on: November 10, 2013, 08:23 »
I see the root competition from the adjacent shrubs, as well as the ash, as the biggest issue for your plot.  Even if you prune them off they'll put on more.

So a raised bed would be my suggestion too - a high one 30cms or more,  I've seen them made from concrete gravel boards used in fencing.  Heavy-duty membrane in the bottom of the bed before back-filling would stop invading rooots.

Best wishes

Tom
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mumofstig

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #7 on: November 10, 2013, 08:32 »
The tree roots will need digging out/cutting on a regular basis as they regrow quite rapidly.

Lining the bottom of a raised bed with weed control fabric lasts a little longer, granted, but the tree roots will grow through it after a couple of years, and up into the raised bed :(  I had the same problem with a cherry tree, in my garden.

I think it's easiest just to accept that the root pruning/digging will be an ongoing job, and that you will need to feed and water much more than usual to get decent crops.... but it can be done :)
Lesley x
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diospyros

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2013, 09:37 »
Can you not just abandon this part of the garden to something ornamental like a woodland shrub garden (with blackberries) and dig a fresh veg plot somewhere else where there are not the perennial weeds problems?  Like the lawn?  Why does the veg plot always have to be shoved out of sight down the bottom of the garden?

I dug my old veg plot into the lawn (turf buried a spit deep) and had hardly any weed problems, and it was just there whenever I fancied some salad or spotted a weed when I was hanging up the washing.  Main problem was the previous owner's mother who lived next door who kept mourning "Pete's lovely lawn"!

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sunshineband

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2013, 09:53 »
You have done a great job so far, and covering the areas you have already dealt with 'in rough' means that new weeds are not germinating and perennial weeds' growth is weakened to some extent over the next few months.

Now that we have had some decent rain, the soil will be nice and damp and stay that way too if covered, not set solid (You mentioned it is quite heavy)

Root pruning trees sounds like it is going to be part of your life from here on, and an annual prune at the end of each summer will do them no harm. If your neighbour does not mind, then perhaps you could crown lift the ash tree a little on your side, without unbalancing the tree of course. Best to ask, although technically you don't have to, it saves a row  :lol:

At this time in the year you can often get some decent bargains of soil conditioners or sterilised manure (If you have funds available of course) which you could spread on the surface before covering the area.  Try a search for ProGrow, for one.

It might be a good idea to consider your eventual layout before you go too much further, as if you are having permanent paths you won't perhaps want to spend time reviving soil on those parts. Paths are not essential of course: it all depends how you are going to manage your growing.

And take lots of photos as it will change so quickly  :D :D
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J_B

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2013, 11:07 »
heres a suggestion, get some large plants and creat a rased   then fill it up with manure and let it rot over winter , this will give u bed about half a foot or even a foot high...this should be good

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BuddingGrower

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #11 on: November 11, 2013, 19:16 »
Thank you everyone for your replies! Amazing to have so much help and advice.

I'm glad to hear that what I've done so far will keep weed growth in check. A pretty mixed bag of advice though really, which makes it harder to make a decision  :D I don't know how I feel about raised beds, it seems inevitable that the roots will eventually grow up through the membrane, meaning that it would be the equivalent of temporarily plastering over the cracks.

I'd much rather get to the root (arf) of the issue. Perhaps that'll mean having to live with root pruning, but I don't mind that so much. I'm more concerned about whether the roots and other surrounding shrubs and trees will suck the life out of the plot. I suppose that remains to be seen to some extent.

Having the plot elsewhere is certainly something I hadn't thought about it. It's not my lawn so ultimately, that can only be done with my parents' consent. I'll get back to you on that. I can be quite tenacious though and now I've started on the old plot, I almost can't bear to leave it unfinished.

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Yorkie

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #12 on: November 11, 2013, 19:18 »
A pretty mixed bag of advice though really, which makes it harder to make a decision  :D

Sooner or later, everyone on here realises that if you ask 5 gardeners a question, you'll get at least 8 opinions back ... you're catching on fast!  ;) :tongue2: :lol:

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azubah

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #13 on: November 12, 2013, 15:57 »
If you are concerned about fertility of the soil, loads of manure or compost will put life back into it.

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AnneB

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Re: Roots roots roots - reviving my plot
« Reply #14 on: November 12, 2013, 19:05 »
I had a similar experience to mum.  My garden beds are overshadowed by a large pear tree and are invaded with roots from a nearby plum tree despite regular digging out.    I gave up in the end and got my allotment.   I do still use the beds but only for salad crops such as lettuce, bush tomatoes, spring onions and herbs which have shallow root runs, and apart from tomatoes which get the sunniest spot, don't mind the shade.  They are also crops handy to have near to hand compared with the trip to the allotment.

Good luck, but I fear you will have a lot of digging out every year.   I would be tempted by Diospyros's suggestion of a swap with another part of the garden for less work and more productivity.



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