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Removing weed membrane


I moved into my house last year but apart from mowing and tidying I've not really done much with the garden yet.

I want to tackle one of my beds now. It's covered in gravel, and beneath the gravel is a weed membrane. Not very effective as weeds are growing in the gravel and through the membrane. 

The only plant in the bed is a very poorly looking honeysuckle. 

I cleared a small corner and found, under the membrane, the soil is heavy clay. Really hard to dig as some of the gravel has found its way through, so there are lots of small stones baked into the clay.

My budget doesn't allow the easy option of getting someone in to sort it (and where's the fun in that?!)

So my plan is, over the winter, clear a little section each weekend. I'll remove the gravel layer, cut away the membrane and then remove as much gravel as I can from the clay. Then I'll stick some compost on top.  

Has anyone faced a similar situation and is there an easier/better way?

I don't know why this has been done. My hope is that it's because the person who lived here before was an elderly lady who couldn't bend down to do the weeding. I know she had mobility problems which is why she moved. My fear is that it's been done because there were lots of nasty weeds and when I remove the membrane they'll all spring into life in the Spring... I guess I won't know this until I start digging. 

Any advice is welcome. 



  • Weed membrane is such a pain, especially the cheap stuff!  
    If the clay is quite heavy turning in some or all of the of the gravel might help improve the soil.
  • Pete.8Pete.8 Posts: 11,312
    Hi Andy - I think you've got the right idea.
    I'd suggest not removing the gravel from the clay soil as it'll help break it up and improve drainage.
    Once you've cleared a bit, add rotted manure, ideally with straw (but hard to find these days). That will improve the life in your soil and help break down the clay, then dig it all over.
    You don't need to break down heavy clumps of soil, once turned over, winter frosts will break down clods.
    Clay soil is full of good stuff, it's jut locked up in the clay. grit and organic matter will break it down and release the goodness :)

    Billericay - Essex

    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,870
    scrape the gravel aside, remove the membrane and spread the gravel back .It'll do the power of good, AND much easier than removing it.
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,860
    As much organic matter as you can get in there @AndyR:)
    If you have any old compost as well, that'll help. You often find at this time of year, DIY stores and GCs have tomato growbags on sale really cheaply. That all helps to break up clay too. 
    Lay it on top, and it'll break down over winter. I find that more helpful if starting a new bed, because excess rain/snow just keeps the clay sodden and heavy.
    Come spring, it'll be much easier to work with.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,690
    edited September 2019
    AndyR said:
    My fear is that it's been done because there were lots of nasty weeds and when I remove the membrane they'll all spring into life in the Spring... I guess I won't know this until I start digging. 

    From the sound of it, they would already be popping up if that was the case.

    Agree with Fairygirl - dump a good blanket of organic matter on the top and let the worms work at it over winter. If you can break up solidly packed soil first so much the better - just use a fork to open it up a bit, like when you decompact a lawn.

    Not sure that removing gravel is necessary other than removing the loose stuff on top.
    "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour". 
  • I don't bother scraping back gravel  in these situations, just grab corners of membrane, pull/rip it out and let the stones slide around,  then just dig them in. No border has ever suffered from having loads of wee stones in it. That's what natural soil is like anyway. 

    Roughly dig over, then put a fat layer of compost on top and leave it like that until you want to plant
  • I had just the same kind of garden to work with as you @AndyR , membrane, heavy clay and slate. Removed some of the membrane from some if the boarders and no weeds took over, so I think you will be ok. The above advice is great break the surface and add a layer of whatever you can get and leave for the winter, then in spring it's ready to plant. Use the winter to decide what structure plants you want and then work from there. It will take a bit of time ( I'm four years in now) but your soil will grow things well.
  • AndyRAndyR Posts: 11
    Hi everyone,

    Thanks for all your advice, it's appreciated. It sounds like I was thinking on the right lines but it's good to know that leaving the gravel won't do any harm. I'll remove the gravel from the top though, because (a) I don't really like the look of it and (b) I have a gravel path down the side of the house that needs topping up. 

    @purplerallim thanks for sharing your experience - you have given me hope!

  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,870
    the gravel, if left on the soil, will eventually get worked down and help with drainage and help break up the clay. Just a thought.
  • 😁
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