Horsetail weed can be a challenging weed to eradicate completely from your garden. But there are ways to get rid of it for good – even without resorting to harmful herbicides. Here are some tips to help you understand, eradicate, or even appreciate this plant if you find it in your organic garden.
What is Horsetail Weed?
Horsetail weed, Equisetum arvense, is a deep rooted perennial plant. It can spread quickly via spores and underground rhizomes to create dense carpets of feathery foliage. Horsetail weed may spread through spores from neighbouring areas, but is commonly imported by gardeners, who accidentally bring in stem of rhizome fragments in composts, manures or potted plants that they have purchased.
Why is it a Problem in the Garden?
You may well see this plant appear in the spring, and over the summer months, it can potentially crowd out and outcompete less vigorous plants in beds and borders. Horsetail weed is viewed as an invasive weed and a problem in a garden. This is because it is so difficult to get rid of it entirely once it arrives. The good news is that, though it won’t necessarily be quick or easy, it is possible to get rid of it from your garden for good.
Eradicating Horsetail Weed
Many gardeners unfortunately resort to using weedkillers containing glyphosate or other harmful substances to eradicate horsetail weed. But this is not necessary and should never be something you do in an organic garden. In any case, weedkillers are not as effective on horsetail weed as they are on broader leaved plants. Other plants nearby will likely suffer more than the horsetail weed itself. And weedkillers usually only get rid of the above ground portion of the plants – so the rhizomes often remain and regrow the following year.
Pulling it Up
The best way to get rid of horsetail weed is simply to pull it up whenever you see it. The more you remove the tops of the plants, the weaker underground portions will become. Interestingly, the young shoots can be picked, cooked and eaten as an asparagus substitute. And the plant also has applications in herbal medicine. So you might find a use for the plant, and consider it harvesting rather than weeding. This might make it seem like less of a chore.
Avoiding Soil Disturbance
Avoid tilling and digging as much as possible, as you risk spreading small root and stem fragments around your garden, from which new plants will grow.
Horsetail weed can grow in all different types of soil. But thrives in drier soil conditions. And will be most vigorous when in full sun. Excluding light can definitely help in getting rid of it.
One way to exclude light from an area where there is a lot of horsetail weed is to cover it with a black membrane for two years. Of course, this is not usually a viable solution in areas where you want to garden right away. And this can also potentially damage the soil ecosystem below, which is exactly the opposite of what you want to do in an organic garden.
Another, more sensible way to exclude light is simply to plant plenty of vigorous perennials, shrubs and trees to make a more shaded area where horsetail naturally won’t thrive, and where other plants will outcompete it over time. Before long, as the perennial planting scheme takes hold and matures, you should find that you see less and less horsetail weed, and eventually – none at all.
Living With Horsetail Weed
As mentioned above, horsetail weed is difficult to get rid of altogether – especially from a dry and sunny spot. But it can be easier to simply contain it with frequent ‘harvesting’ as mentioned above and to live with it popping up here and there. After all, it is a deep rooted plant with an interesting nutrient profile. And can be beneficial for the ecosystem as a whole when not allowed to take over.
It can outcompete weaker plants, but will not usually pose a problem when a little grows between vigorous crops or strong perennials. And some say that with its feathery appearance, it can actually be rather an ornamental plant – so could even enhance the visual appeal of your garden.
Have you eradicated or embraced this weed in your garden? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.