Editing the tree field. #2 Docken

cutting docken
Black currant bushes exposed as docken cut back

Actually it’s mainly the orchard area within the tree field that I have been clearing of docks in the past few weeks.  I have very nearly finished getting the levels sorted out, and managed to mulch with card some of the new surfaces (see here).  Some of the area I managed to sow with some left over green manure seeds (buckwheat and clover)  and these did germinate and grow to a certain extent but have not managed to outcompete the dock seed that is present in apparently vast quantities!  There is also some established docken from previous years that was probably growing on the site previously, or was in the soil before it was moved down to the orchard area and regrew.  The main priority was to get out the docken that were going to seed before they have a chance to spread more seed into the soil.  This involved going round with a spade and cutting through the taproot of the plants.  The tops were then loaded into a barrow along with a few bits of nettle and some of the couch grass that has apparently become established there also.  The barrows were dumped just below the original gateway to the lower field, which still stands like the doorway in Narnia, although the gate is lying down rather than hinging.  There is an area of soil below the gate which either didn’t have trees planted, or the trees didn’t take.  I think it was the former, since the soil was very compacted, full of docken and stones in the gateway.  Hopefully the loads of fertility in the form of weeds will help to rejuvenate the soil.  I think of it as a bit like segregating nuclear waste – concentrating all the nasties in one area.  I do the same with the rubbish I find: bits of rusty metal, glass, string, coal and brocken crockery get put into piles (or bags) until I can get round to deciding what to do with them.

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I had to go over the cardboard I laid on the north side of the trackway, since there were several docks that had punched their way through.  This has made a bit of a mess of the cardboard, so I will have to cover the area again before winter.  I have cut back all the seeding docken, and made a start at pulling out the juvenile plants that would go to seed from next year.  The slightly larger plants often come out cleanly with the taproot when pulled firmly with a twist.  I have been twisting off the leaves and leaving them on the soil surface and putting the roots in a bucket before adding them to the weed mountain.  Some may not be big enough to regrow, but there’s no point tempting fate.  The smaller plants will need digging out.  It seems counter intuitive, but the younger leaves tend to just come off in your hand leaving the tap root to regrow in the ground.  If the soil is gently loosened with a fork then the whole plant is more likely to come cleanly.  I’ve still got some of the larger plants to do, and almost all of the smaller plants.  I think I will go over the whole area lightly with a fork anyway and try and remove as much as possible of the couch grass.  It will probably grow back anyway, but if I can reduce a bit it will be worthwhile.  I’m going to quickly order some green manure seed: fodder radish, red clover and field beans to overwinter and keep down the weed seeds.  I may try and spread some of my vetch seeds and plants as well.

young docken
Juvenile docken with buckwheat flowering behind

I’ve made a start on the final area of the tea garden extension: there was a strip along by the trackway which didn’t need levelling, so is still full of weeds: docken, nettles, couch, creeping thistles, other thistles……I’m going to take the worst out and then mulch over the whole area.  The couch will grow back, but I’m hoping that the soil under the mulch will be nice and friable by spring, and a light forking will be sufficient to remove the couch.  I am trying out a variation on mulching again.  Since I seem to need an awful lot of cardboard to cover an area, I am going to make it go further by combining it with newspapers.  Previously when I’ve used newspapers I have weighted them down with grassy materials: old haylage, grass clippings, cut reeds etc.  These work to a certain extent, but there always seems to be a deal of work in cutting and moving the clippings, and then they sometimes blow off and I end up with newspaper decorating the fences.  This time I am going to spread a single layer of cardboard over the newspapers and weight it down with stones as usual, of which I have a plentiful supply collected out of the tea garden extension when moving the soil earlier in the year.  A double layer of cardboard does seem to last pretty well by this method, so we’ll see if a single layer with paper underneath does as well.

new mulch method
Starting to mulch edge strip of tea garden extension

They say the camera doesn’t lie, but I wanted to see whether I could take a picture that made my weed infested tea garden extension look great.  These pictures were taken from the same position, just crouching or standing up and show how easy it is to be misled.

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9 thoughts on “Editing the tree field. #2 Docken

  1. 🙂 I too have piles of bits found around the garden,

    regarding the docks, I do not get many but I do get a great deal of rough hawbit which also has a tap root, in wildflower areas I leave it (as a recent post shows) however I don’t want it everywhere, I have found I have to get a hold of the top of the taproot and pull, not always but more-often-than-not the root then comes out, some of the larger/longer roots break off,
    anyway, just pulling the leaves of weakens the plant, with some of the young dock you may finding strimming over them fairly often will make them loose vigour and eventual died off,

    I’ve never used double cardboard, mainly because I do not have that much, but putting a layer of newspaper or junk mail under it is a good idea, as to stopping newspaper with grass clippings blowing away and paper flags flying on the fences, I found if rain is not imminent, if I water it to soak the newspaper (sometimes I water the newspaper then put the grass mulch on) helps it stay in place, the grass mulch keeps the paper wet, also a mulch of sand on newspaper holds it down too,

    taking before and after photos I sometimes find a real boost showing what I have achieved, and the camera does lie, or at leased distort the reality, in the crouching photo the house looks so much nearer, amazing, what plants do you have in the tea garden and am I right thinking you have plants for making teas? I drink fruit and herb teas and I am starting to make a list of plants I already have that I can use but don’t, except for the fennel I usually collect fennel seed,



  2. I do have rough hawkbit, but it mostly seems to like the stony paths, so not a problem at the moment. I’m hoping to plant into both the orchard area and the rest of the teagarden so strimming or mowing wouldn’t be an option. I actually quite like the physical and mental side of digging or pulling the weeds out. I think it satisfies something destructive in me by creating a clean area.
    Luckily I have an erratic supply of cardboard and a generally plentiful supply of papers due to the shop. The papers are stacked in piles to get damp before using, which as you say makes them easier to handle. I hope I haven’t put them on too thickly, since I generally couldn’t be bothered to separate the pages except on the thickest papers.
    The tea garden actually has tea plants in it – three plants of camellia sinensis! Scotland now has a thriving gourmet tea industry – it likes our damp climate and acid soils. I’m finding so far that it doesn’t like Skye’s salt winds and is growing very slowly, but I have made tea from my own bushes! It is the first time I’ve had green tea that didn’t taste bitter!

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    1. likewise I have docks but for me its not as big a problem though plenty of others are!

      I didn’t mean strim the whole area I was thinking just strim the troubled area this will weaken it at least and may kill it, stopping photosynthesis, stop strimming when you plant it up, a quick regular strim over horsetails has seriously weaked them making it easier to then plant up and it gives the new plants a better chance to grow and help keep the horsetail down, I am never short of areas that need hand weeding,

      I just did a quick search for camellia sinensis and see it is evergreen, I find evergreens do not survive winter too well, which is why I started to buy more deciduous plants, they are dormant when the winter winds hit, I am though interested in the idea of growing my own tea, something to think about,


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  3. Is docken the same thing as burdock? I’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden too, digging up the tall flox that took over everything. I’m currently befuddled by the beans I planted in the veg garden that keep growing taller and taller up the sides of everything but have yet to produce a single bean!

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    1. No, they are similar in some ways. Docks and burdock both have long taproots. The dock leaves are quite oval, wheras burdock tend to be more fan shaped. Burdock roots are alegedly edible, whereas the only use I’ve found for docken is to rub the leaves on nettle stings which does seem to relieve the pain a bit. Fortuitously they often seem to grow together. Burdock also has those prickly seedheads that stick to your clothes and dog’s fur whereas docks have lots of seeds in a loose spray that eventually just shed around and create loads of mini docken (see picture above!).
      Do you have flowers on the bean or just leaves? If no flowers they may just be too happy. Sometimes plants need a bit of stress to flower well.


  4. I hope your mulching efforts get rid of the couch! Over here couch is a massive problem between our citrus trees. Apparently because we have a lot of potassium in the soil, grasses row extremely strong, so that together with the heavy clay make it hard to just fork it out. I’m intrigued, what do you plan in the tea garden?


    1. Still plotting and scheming. It’s a bit tricky because the water main for the area runs through there so I can’t plant any deep rooted trees that may get blown down and take it out. Anythinb else won’t grow without a bit of shelter. I’m contemplating shelter hedges and blueberries at the moment. I’ve got a few months to plan, since spring is the best time to plant new shrubs here – no chance of getting stable roots in soft soil with 80 -90 mph winds every few weeks….Gorse perhaps, and I may resort to hard landscaping shelter at least for the first few years. Not sure what to do about the couch, since it will be in the ‘rotten rock’ trackway adjacent. Any suggestions for barriers?


      1. If I hear what winds you get, shelter hedges may just be the way to go. Maybe some deep rooted plants between the shelter and the couch, or just inside the shelter, depending from which side your sun shines. A thin strip of lucernce or comfrey – good for mulch and compost too?

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  5. Unfortunately the main winds come from the south west, so a similar direction to the best sun! Comfrey would be fine, I don’t need to worry about it affecting the water main. I find it difficult to predict how big it’s going to grow. It has a tendency with me to swamp out other plants a bit.


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