Thursday, 19 March 2015

Control of Marestail and Horsetail

Equisetum arvense
I am a little disingenuous when I include marestail in the title. Your real threat is almost certainly horsetail. The names are frequently confused and I regularly do so myself! Your weed will be horsetail which is an ancient spore bearing primitive plants that would be at home with the dinosaurs. It is very difficult to control in the garden. ‘Real’ marestail  (latin name Hippurus) is a weed of ponds and bogland. Hippurus is merely a vigorous small flowered aquatic plant.
Now by ‘common usage’ you can legitimately call equisetum either horsetail or marestail!

Hippurus vulgaris, the ‘genuine’ marestail to me is a harmless aquatic. You might not agree
In one sense equisetum is a weed that has been created by man. In nature it rarely achieves the ascendancy it does in gardens. Equisetum is an extreme survivor in disturbed habitats where in the absence of natural competition it can build up a seven foot deep root system with huge carbohydrate reserves and vast vegetative reproductive capacity. Once established it is extremely difficult to eliminate. Give yourself three years and unless you are extremely diligent you will fail. Beware hysterical adverts for chemicals that claim to eliminate it in five minutes. Such products might have a place in your armoury but do not succumb to their hype.

The herbicide of the spray train at Howden station has removed all competition and the equisetum has had many years to build up huge life prolonging resources

There are several methods which will eventually get rid of equisetum. They are not always compatible and often cannot be used in parallel. All share the need to keep ‘on top’ and not let strong new green leaves consolidate the weed’s grip.

The herbicide glyphosate is the weedkiller that is most likely to lead to success. 
I would never be persuaded to use sodium chlorate because of the extreme damage it will cause to trees and all desirable vegetation when it kills your neighbour’s garden as well as your own!

Glyphosate is a translocated weedkiller and reaches the roots via the leaves. Contrary to my earlier comment you must allow the weed to make a strong green top before you start. Such leaves will drink up your weedkiller. It is no good zapping young equisetum shoots as soon as they appear, there will be virtually zero uptake. It is no good either chopping out pieces: you will only create irregular shoot emergence which will interfere with later efficient spraying. 
There will be some skill in deciding when to repeat spray. There is little value in spraying yellowing dying leaves nor very young shoots. Perhaps from emergence new green shoots should optimally have two to four weeks before you respray. If you get your first spray right it might be several months or even next season before new shoots appear.

Case study 1: a client’s garden

When I used to have clients and considered myself an ‘up market’ jobbing gardener I had a customer with about twenty square meters of horsetail at the edge of a gravel path and at the base of a hedge. I made irregular visits, perhaps in Summer every five weeks. It was quite a small garden and did not need my knapsack sprayer. I took along a most unsophisticated one pint hand sprayer made up with glyphosate at about twice normal strength. A useful feature of many hand sprayers is that they give a fine spray and each visit I gave a light spray short of ‘run off’. It took all of five minutes. Should I have been treating the lawn with herbicide on my visit I would have used that instead! After three complete Summers it was effectively gone. A total of three man-hours but over three years.

Case study 2: my new garden at Seaton Ross

When we moved in there was a small ten square meter clump in the front garden and under the brick wall a further twenty square meters on the edge of the farm field. It was necessary to kill both sides to avoid future invasion. It was late May and the equisetum was in perfect condition to spray. It was lush and luxuriant and the previous occupant who was not a gardener had (fortunately) not touched it and the roots were intact to receive their poisonous translocation. Horsetail with its siliceous surfaces is notoriously difficult to wet. I sprayed it with a fine spray, short of run off, twice that day. For extra efficaciousness the second spray was MCPA or was it - I forget - Grazon 90?  My glyphosate spray was a strong one. It was a one in thirty of commercial strength 360 g/l glyphosate to water. Recently when I told the story to a visiting party I heard someone mutter, “no wonder it died”.
I did not expect anywhere near complete control so it was a  nice surprise it did not reappear that season.
As expected early the next Summer there was sparse and erratic horsetail emergence. Just as well it was seriously weakened because I had already done some temporary planting using expendable plants. To avoid damaging my plants I made up my one in twenty dilution (it might have even been  stronger) and used a paintbrush to thoroughly wet the horsetail leaves. If the pressure on my ‘back board’ caused slight abrasion all the better. I made two further applications that year as new shoots emerged. That’s all really! 

My normal routine weed control is accurate spraying with a much weaker directed knapsack spray. In year three there was some very weak equisetum emergence but only at the beginning of the season. Perhaps even in year four there was the very occasional shoot. Even now I sometimes pass the time of day to a lone delicate fine frond.

Case study 3: Bolton Percy Cemetery Garden

When I took on Bolton Percy cemetery forty years ago it was completely overgrown with weeds such as nettles, brambles, couch grass and horseradish. The latter had roots thicker than your arm reaching two spits down. I had other ‘fish to fry’ and was unconcerned about fairly substantial colonies of horsetail. I had no intention to make a garden and my scorched earth policy was to blanket spray the overgrown acre. Glyphosate was very expensive at that time and as a ‘tight’ Yorkshireman no doubt I diluted ‘commercial product’ at one in a hundred. As the dead weeds gave way to a thatchy mulch and eventually rich dark soil, I started popping in plants and changed to accurately spot spraying. The garden ‘happened by accident’ and ten years later the always open cemetery was ‘opened’ for the ‘yellow book scheme’.
I never consciously made any special effort to control marestail but my maintenance spraying that continues to this day has for all practical purposes eliminated it. There are places where my ornamental plants are so dense that I am unable to spray. Sometimes in one little corner I spot a few fronds of equisetum. Deprived long ago of its substantial deep carbohydrate reserves, amongst competing healthy vegetation it is no problem at all.

Case study 4: blackout.
A cultural control for weed is to smother the ground completely with black polythene. It takes a long time for horsetail to die. The principle is that if horsetail is deprived of the ability to photosythesise it will eventually exhaust its reserves. More organically inclined gardeners use cardboard and newspaper. It must be constantly replenished because in no circumstance should equisetum push through.
I have no idea how many years it takes to eliminate equisetum by this method. I have turned to the experience of  blog correspondent  Sarah Stu and below quote her verbatim.


Unfortunately I haven't been at all scientific with the horsetail battle. As well as the cardboard I've used glyphosate, ammonium sulphamate, lime, wood ash, plastic sheet, upturned plant pots and root removal. The cardboard has become my preferred option, as it doesn't require a daily check, it's not as ugly as plastic, and it is improving the soil. In terms of success, again it's hard to say. Apart from not having counted the shoots, I've got rid of lawn and paving where it could hide, and we've had some very wet seasons that seem to have encouraged it to pop up in new places. It was never a dense infestation, but it was spread over a big area, so counting would be the only way to check progress. So although I'd love to say I'm making a difference, I think it's going to take a bit longer before I know! 

Sarah, like me, makes it up as she goes along! I know that she will keep us up to date with her progress. It has been two years so far. I have suggested to Sarah that if she stands container grown plants on top of the plastic mulch they might look rather nice. 
I must add a disclaimer that feeding the horsetail with potash and lime will be no help whatsoever.
I know that Sarah will confirm that in no way should plants be planted through the polythene or cardboard. The horsetail will escape! Many allotments are graveyards of old carpets matted with copious ground elder, couch and marestail. Testament to innocence.

Case study 5: exhaustion by repeated hoeing

My only actual experience of eliminating a difficult perennial weed by this method is couch grass when I was home as a lad sixty years ago. The previous occupant of our new home had a peculiar method of ‘controlling’ his weed. He rotavated his garden once a year! What a wonderful way to propagate couch. The garden was a vigorous monoculture!
I gained my love of the soil as a result of the intimate relationship I developed when forking it out!
Forking half the garden was enough for me and I read I could eliminate couch by repeated hoeing! Not only can you exhaust it’s carbohydrate reserves if you are sufficiently diligent it also runs out of axillary buds! In the case of this particular weed, hoeing quite deeply to chop part of the rhizome helps. The key to my success  was being pathetically and pathologically motivated to not let a single blade of couch remain above ground for more than a week. It still took over a year to completely eliminate the couch.
I once told a former schoolfriend about this method. I saw him again after a gap of twenty years. “Remember when you said I could ‘get rid’ by hoeing, I am still hoeing and it’s still there!”.
Many York allotments are invaded by horsetail. Even if you do get rid of it, it comes back from a neighbour. 
I suggest that hoeing can work as long a you are as obsessively compulsive as I was with my couch! Hoeing is an enjoyable and speedy operation. I only recommend hoeing if it is done very shallowly and unless your general weed control is as pathetic as that of most people - who have a solid mass of germinating weed seeds - you only sever the weed and do not hoe the complete surface.  I have seen it recommended that at the start of your mission that an initial light forking-out helps. There is no need to remove the cut shoots when you hoe, they will not survive if cut at ground level. Consider your horsetail as a green manure that mines nutrients from seven foot down.

Case study 6: use of defoliant glufosinate-ammonium

A widely promoted ‘professional’ contact weedkiller is promoted to ‘curtail’ horsetail (my pun on the chemical’s commercial name). I looked up the dictionary definition and it defined ‘impose a restriction on’. Could this be the first case in history of accuracy in a pesticide name?
Now I have no experience of glufosinate-ammonium but I do know that like diquat (Weedol) it is a defoliant that introduces no active residue into the soil. Diquat is known as ‘the chemical hoe’. It rapidly kills plant foliage thereby weakening a perennial and killing most annuals. Its effect on a weed is no more or less effective than hoeing. Like diquat, glufosinate is not translocated down and does not kill roots. I am sure glufosinate-ammonium gives a spectacular kill of the leaves..... It just might be worth trying.


Case 7: Learnt at a Party in France
Added July 2015
Ammonium sulphamate – not to be confused with ammonium sulphate.

I recently met a lovely lady at a garden party and the course of conversation moved to mares tail. She had legally purchased on the WWW a supply of ammonium sulphamate compost accelerator. She had decided to use it a little early on her living mares tail.
She did not look like a criminal to me.

Although in the past ammonium sulphamate has been used widely for weed control by large organisations in conservation projects; 
and previously shown by The Henry Doubleday Association to be very effective as a translocated herbicide against mares tail - albeit not approved now for organic gardeners;
and is thought to be very environmentally friendly on account of of its almost immediate degradation into a fertiliser when it reaches the soil; 
it has now lost its Common Market licence as a herbicide.

Wikipedia emphasises that the licence withdrawal is nothing to do with lack of efficacy or safety. Wiki says nothing about bureaucratic bumbling and costs to a manufacturer of obtaining a licence.

No matter, ammonium sulphamate would appear to be at least as effective as glyphosate. My new friend waxed lyrical about it. She thought so highly she had also incriminated her neighbours. No use getting rid of horsetail at home if it creeps back from over the fence.


This would appear to be a parallel situation where in the UK it is legal to use iron sulphate on your lawn as a fertilizer but it is illegal to sell it as a mosskiller! (This suits the retailers very well).

Two garden reprobates you might wish to avoid

The scouring brush horsetail, Equisetum hyemale and the dwarf horsetail Equisetum scirpoides are actually sold as a garden plant and this idiot grows them. I use glyphosate to curtail it! It’s rather invasive. By my pond it looks rather fine and the young frogs that emerge from my pond love it!

)

To the right of the top pond the E. hyemale and E.scirpoides are confined by the water on one side and the lawn on the other.(Well almost)
Equisetum scirpoides 

Equisetum hyemale even intrudes into my giant gunnera


Spot the fine clump of Equisetum hyemale and look around and spot invading pieces

More on my suggestion that in undisturbed habitats horsetail is just a wild flower

You can’t see horsetail here in this view of Tignes in the French alps. Neither can I. It is actually not uncommon but nobody sees it

No, no equisetum obvious here either!

Where a habitat has been disturbed and weeds lack natural competition they can build up their resources 

This disturbed ground is still a strong stand of rose bay willow herb many years after the site has been abandoned.

  
I have NEVER seen equisetum in this section of Worsbrough cemetery garden. Formally under a cover of six foot bramble for more than forty years horsetail would not have survived

Dancing with horsetail spores
Thank you Sarah Stu for this charming and hilarious tube link
This video is the most amusing thing I have ever seen.

added July 2015
Several readers have expressed concern about the copious number of spores produced by their horsetail. As far as I am aware they are insignificant in spreading the weed in your garden. In nature establishment from spores is very slow and takes many years. Think how difficult it is to get fern spores to establish. Think also the number of spores that will float into your garden from elsewhere without establishing

July 2016
I can't resist publishing this picture from reader Alisonc. These are the things that can come up from seven foot down

June 2017
For what it's worth weedol mentioned above has changed into several new formulations and is now merely a brand name.

84 comments:

  1. There's horsetail on our allotment site, it's to be seen on the plots edging the site, but my plot is right the way over the other side and I haven't seen any there. I do have it in the front garden though, and it's even pushed it's way through the pavement in the street in some places.

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    1. Yes it pretty aggressive in its spread and It might like 'leaky' pavement that acts as a mulch, Jo

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  2. We are fortunate I'm that we haven't had this to contend with. Oh why did I say that?

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    1. A very clearly expressed opinion as usual Sue!

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  3. It's good to know that you have managed to get rid of it, give or take the odd sprout. I've read every single forum thread out there and most are full of people giving advice who haven't actually done it themselves.

    I might have to undertake a controlled experiment this year, hoeing vs ammonium sulphamate. I have never had any regrowth from the remaining stem when using the spray, but when removing it by hand I have. Possibly cutting stimulates growth hormones more than a chemical burn does? It grows back multi stemmed if cut.

    You aren't going to talk me out of liming it. If it is an acid loving plant, then it might not like it, so anything is worth a try. It could stop any spores 'seeding', although I don't think I've had any of those for a long time.

    By the way, there is a very easy way to get rid of it. Plant evergreen trees and create dry shade. Mine is hemmed in on two sides by trees, and it's never even shown one little sprout there!

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    1. I am very grateful Sarah for sharing your experience in the post.
      Interesting about the dry shade, its in line that if the weed is not well established its a bit of a softie! No that's going too far by me!
      I agree horsetail is an acid lover but York allotments where it is a problem are neutral/alkaline usually

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    2. Advance warning: I am sadly very geeky about this weed, so not everyone might find this as fascinating as I do. More normal people may choose not to read any further!

      I looked up a map of horsetail distribution in the UK, and it does indeed seem to be almost everywhere. Not on chalk coastal cliffs, but adding that much lime and salt to my garden would be a bit extreme! I accept that the lime may not do anything...but I'll still do it :-)
      Another thing that has always puzzled me is that considering it's a native plant, it doesn't seem to have any natural enemies. This is very unusual, most native plants are hosts to more than one species. The evolutionary arms race has seen to that. However I did a bit more digging (oops a pun!) and found a flea beetle and a weavil!
      http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/horsetail-flea-beetle
      http://www.thewcg.org.uk/erirhinidae/0476G.htm
      As neither of these are likely to be very mobile species, they may have become isolated over time due to habitat loss. I am speculating here, I haven't researched it (there are limits to my geekiness). However Roger's photo of a healthy meadow is a good example of an unrestricted habitat, where these natural enemies of the plant can move onto new hosts. On the other hand, the railway line may be isolated, or the horsetail may have been introduced during construction, and there are no natural pests able to arrive under their own steam. Any attempt to destroy horsetail by killing off the top foliage could also end up destroying the pests but not the weed! What I'm trying to say is that I agree with Roger about competition from other plants, and would like to add pests to the mix too. Mess with ecosystems and they bite you in the bum!

      End of geeking.

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    3. It might be native, Sarah, but it is native to most parts of the world!
      It was very interesting, your, comment, about only two specific pests. I found when researching my hybridity series that the three fossil trees, metasequoia, ginkgo and wollemi also have very few pests- although they are worried that wollemi might to succomb to fungus disease as it has zero genetic variability. I read the suggestion that they have lived so long because they have outlived their now extinct pests. The other possibility is that they have lived so long because they are pest free! Equisetum is known as a fossil plant of huge antiquity and is an interesting parallel
      I like your suggestion that ‘generalist pests’ may attack equisetum in mixed communities.
      I looked up your links to weevils and flea beetles and noted they also attack the bog horsetail Equisetum palustre. This one is not to be confused with the bog marestail, hippurus!
      Seriously geeky!

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    4. Although wasn't wollemi minding it's own business and busy going extinct naturally until we stepped in and messed with it? Seems a bit daft that with so many species under threat for reasons caused by us that we are trying to save the walking dead!

      I didn't mean generalist pests - but woodlice do attack horsetail when it's weakened and in the shade, so actually you are right! What I had meant to say was that the specialist pests would be able to move across a meadow with scattered horsetail, and there would be an equilibrium between plant and pest. Once that continuous network is lost, pests that are not highly mobile become isolated, and pest free areas can start to exist.

      There is some horsetail in a meadow very near here. You can hardly spot it, it's so sparse. I'll look for flea beetles next time I see it!!!

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    5. Your observation in the meadow is really interesting.

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  4. I read your post yesterday, and last night at our Master Gardener meeting our speaker talked about ferns. She brought some horsetail to show us, and I found out that horsetail is a fern--surprise to me.

    I got rid of most of my Equisetum arvense with Roundup, but it did take several sprays over 2 years.

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    1. The text books get out of this one by describing it as the nearest relative to a fern. It is certainly spore bearing with a very similar life cycle.
      Thanks for the confirmation that glyphosate works.
      Walking round my garden today I see that the dwarf equisetum that I planted and which I blasted with Roundup three months ago because the clump needed reducing is looking very dead where I sprayed leaving me with a smaller more manageable patch

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  5. Well Roger, you certainly covered the topic well.
    Fortunately I have only a bit of equisetum and it grow under a path covered with stones. It comes up between the stones.
    The section of Worsbrough cemetery garden in your picture is beautifulé

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    1. The pictures that are in the post after this one are not so flattering Alain

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  6. p.s. I completely forgot to mention this gem!!!!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvC4pOb7MhE

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    1. I laughed for the whole of the two minutes. Fantastic pictures of the spores dancing!
      Every reader should see it. Its not a live link but just copy and paste it into google

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    2. I have added Sarah's link at the end of the post

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  7. I've given up trying to get rid of the horsetail in my small garden, mainly for the following two reasons. My partner who is a botanist tells me that they do not compete for food with the other plants. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for me, I have found out that they have an important copper content. By harvesting them and brewing them, I get a copper concoction that I use to spray on my serviceberries to control Saskatoon Juniper Rust. Now, I have read somewhere that horsetail should not be pulled out as that encourages growth. Since my garden is fairly small, I use a pair of scissors to cut the horsetail when harvesting instead of pulling on them. They are located in particular spots in the garden. I'd like that to stay that way and not spread everywhere.

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  8. Oops! I double checked with my partner who says he did not provide that info about horsetail not competing for food with other plants. I may have come upon that somewhere on the Internet. I have read so much about horsetail control, some of that good, others bad obviously. I guess then that I will have to be a bit more aggressive in my treatment of that plant in my garden.

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  9. Much more aggressive Gene!
    Glad you have found something useful to do with it.
    Afraid I don't know a great deal about Service berries but let me know if you have any success with the rust!

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  10. The horsetail concoction does work. I would spray the brew once a week on leaves & berries, more than once if the weather is particularly wet, as it currently is here in Ottawa, Ontario - so much rain that today we have had to trim trees and bushes to allow more sun in to dry up the soil - not complaining though, just stating facts. But, yes, the horsetail brew is quite something. I recently came upon a blog kept by a lady who uses it to treat potato blight - http://littlegreenblog.com/green-home/gardening-and-pest-control/horsetail-potato-blight/

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    1. I would imagine copying her instructions exactly is not necessary. Interesting her mention of it being an excellent hair wash!

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  11. My Little Ponies came up just as many this year, about 50 so far, although mostly not in the same hot spots as previously. I only found one spore spike, so hopefully that means something is changing and they aren't happy.

    It does behave strangely. I always pop an upturned flower pot over any spikes as soon as I see them emerge. I noticed this year that most of them seem to stop growing as soon as they are in the dark. They stay green and small. So I left them a bit longer, to see if they would go lanky and yellow. But for weeks they do absolutely nothing apart from save their energy, crafty little blighters. Some yellow eventually and get eaten by woodlice, and the rest I tried splitting or scraping stems and painting stump killer strength glyphosate in them. It's worked with brambles, but I'm not expecting a miracle with the horsetail. It killed off the top growth though.
    Good news is I think they are sparse enough that I can plant most of the area now! I think they are like the pooping fox, just something that I'm going to have to learn to live with!

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    1. I will be disappointed when you get it completely under control - no more stories!
      Yes one of my reservations about blackout is that the stored resources of the plant only very slowly waste away.

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  12. Hi Roger,

    I swear i commented here last Friday but I can't see my post now. Oh well!

    I have been struggling with Horsetail ever since i moved into my first house two years ago. I think the previous owner has planted it, because it was in the flower beds next to the lawn. He must have been crazy! Anyway, the horsetail has spread into the lawn, which has made it very difficult to control, because it was virtually impossible to eliminate. It has ended up being like a life support mechanism for the horsetail - in grass it tends to shoot up and then stay close to the ground and spread horizontally, mowing doesn't touch it, so it would survive and help replenish the horsetail in the flower beds.

    Now, interesting that you mentioned Kurtail, i bought some of this last year. It is effective in killing horsetail but no more so than a strong glyphosphate (360g/l) and given the high price of Kurtail, it is not an economic purchase at all. Stick to the glyphosphate!

    This year, i have been searching for something to help with the horsetail growth in the grass, because its has spread across the lawn since last year. Eventially i found a product called "Verdone Extra", this contains fluroxypyr, clopyralid and MCPA, so will kill the top growth of horsetail without damaging the lawn. It's the perfect way to control horsetail in grass.

    The Verdone has a unique effect on horsetail - it seems to dry it out and eventually what you are left with is reminiscent of a small twig. I've also noticed when pulling horsetail that i have killed with Verdone, that a section of the root is also dead, dried and "twigified" (up to 6 inches observed).

    I now feel like i am actually starting to win the battle against horsetail, perhaps in a few years i might be rid of it! There is nowhere for it to hide in my garden any more!

    One thing i have learned from your post is to let it grow - normally i would spray shoots as and when i find them - i'm going to see if allowing them to grow up to 6 inches before spraying has a better or worse effect on the speed and amount of regrowth.

    One thing that would be great to add to your blog is how to recognise and safely remove the fertile shoots that appear in the spring. I have always dealt with these by covering them with a small plastic cup, snipping the stem and the sliding cardboard, much in the same way a spider is caught. These grow insanely fast (even when compared to the infertile normal horsetail shoots) so when one has been spotted they need to be checked for and removed daily. If they are not moved, the spores will spread and the problem multiplies. Last year i had 11 fertile shoots, this year I only had 4!

    P.S the Kurtail and Verdone produce some visually interesting kills - i'd be happy to take some photos and share them so people can see a comparison of what they do.

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    1. Thanks for your very helpful comments Dale. I would be very pleased to receive any photos and put them on the post.
      I think I might be missing something with the significance of the fertile spores. I have not had any experience with them germinating and have always imagined that like ferns from spores them to be very slow and unlikely to establish in a maintained garden.
      I had a very interesting conversation with a lady about ammonium sulphamate as an effective control yesterday. I have prepared a short note about this but I am away from home at the moment and don't trust myself with the I pad to put it on.

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  13. Hi I thought I had wrote a post about horsetail but I can't see it .before posting again I am just making sure I'm posted correctly 😕

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    1. I just did a reply and it has not appeared - its catching!
      pity your smilie does not come through on google nanaange

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    2. Hahah ?.i may put a photo on at some point for now a smiley will habpve to do 😜

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  14. That has happened to me too, when I replied from my phone.

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    1. Either that or it's the phone operator, she's above the recommended age limit for the technology. Will stick to the laptop in future!

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  15. Righty firstly Hello to everyone , please bear with me as I'm not sure how this all works. I'm not a gardener I just have. A large garden which over the years has n
    Been filled with grandchildren as all that goes with them , swing sets , trampolines slides ect..a couple of summers ago I got rid of most it and had some drainage put in and new turf laid (I know I'm going on) around the same time I got new neighbours who are the gardening type and got rid of nearly everything in their garden relaid lawns patios replanted made raised beds ect ect , it looks lovely by the way. Now whether it's all coincidence I'm not sure but I have always had the odd horsetail but now it's really bad along the side that connects to their house . I have over tha Kat couple of years pulled them , now I know I shouldn't of, used a weed killer and for all this year that border has been drenched in weed killer covered with an old carpet & had some old scaffolding boards laid on top so it's safe to say it's only along the edge that this weed it forcing it's way up. What is really worrying me is that there are now shoots about 5 inches high coming up between where the Tarmac edge and my house wall is! I have visions of vine type roots under me while I'm sleeping!! Have I caused more or a problem with covering the original weeds which are only a couple of feet away? ...I have read lots of horse tail and I'm getting confused. Could somebody plesee advise me do I pull them or leave them , do I weed killer or vinegar them? Also I have noticed that this year at our local cemetery it's rife my parents grave is totally surrounded by it as is most of that plot ..any help to help this very amateur gardener would be gratefully appreciated ....Thankyou 😀

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  16. Hello Nanaange
    I have set out all the strategies I know.
    I think you might be trying too hard.
    Decide whether you just want to repeatedly hoe the shoots and I mean in Summer every week when they pop up - but just slide your hoe to cut them at or just below ground level and leave them on the surface as compost - five minutes once a week should be enough! Don't waste your time hoeing bare soil! Vinegar will do no more than hoeing and is grossly inferior and next to useless!
    OR let the horsetail make a decent top and then spray with glyphosate or some of my other suggestions and repeat several weeks later when regeneration comes. Just spray the leaves!
    If you read some of my other weed posts such as the one on ground elder you will get the idea of sensible strategies.

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  17. I'm looking for the REAL Mare's tail Hippuris Vulgaris, so you're no help to me! It grows from 2m deep in water.

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  18. I can understand it being a problem from so deep.
    I do have it in my pond but it is only about a foot deep. I just drag out any surplus!
    Glyphosate I would expect to eventually kill it if you spray carefully above-water surface vegetation.
    I have this very morning been pulling out dense dead vegetation of the water bean, menyanthes that I sprayed last month- but it was a complete cover and little spray hit the water. My fish are still very happy- except there is less cover from the heron!
    Most people would not be comfortable with spraying on the surface of a pond!

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    1. Hello, I have been following your glyphosate regime and I am now in season 3 and hope that I can plant up my new bit of garden in September. I sprayed about 4 weeks ago, when do you think I should spray again? Do you think I should wait longer before planting out?

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    2. I hope by now Alison your equisetum is severely weakened and I expect by now its growth will be weak and sporadic. Spray any new green growth perhaps a month after emergence - it still needs to do this to drink up the glyphosate. Don’t just zap it on sight.
      If as I would hope their are some apparently empty spaces by now you could use a few expendable annuals for colour this Summer - albeit spot spraying should have priority!
      It is probably too much to expect total elimination at this stage. I wonder what are your future plans - is it veg or ornamentals? If say this Autumn you were planting shrubs you could perhaps revert to a very regular hoeing regime between them. (I hope there are no strong residual patches in your neighbour’s garden to reinvade!) You might have by now discovered spraying is so easy and accurate that your routine weed control might become spot spraying say amongst woody plants.
      It would be really interesting to have some pictures of your success - or otherwise! If they are instructive I could add them to the blog as a case study!
      My e mail address is nodiggardener @ gmail.com --- typed with spaces here to foil bots!

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    3. I am increasingly of the opinion that it is worth digging (sorry to use that word!!) out as much as possible at an early stage. I recently dug out a clump of montbretia which also had horsetail (a great planting combo!) and wished I'd done it years ago. I'd tried spraying the montbretia, but it came back. With strings of montbretia corms that are maybe ten in a row, maybe you can only kill one at a time, so it could take ten years to get rid of it by spraying? I decided not to test the theory! After digging, there will only be odd singles left in the soil, so hopefully one or two sprayings will now kill them off. If you apply this theory to the horsetail, it makes sense to dig and remove. Digging horsetail is supposed to make things worse, and I think it probably does make the visible growth a lot worse. But below ground there will be less. More top growth may be a good thing, as long as you are spraying it.
      Alison, I agree with Roger, it’s ok to plant as long as you can still carry on the fight, and most importantly see the horsetail. Roses are a good option, if you think you can spray carefully underneath them. I have filled the gaps with anything I could find for free, or self seeding elsewhere...geraniums, foxgloves, asters. But if I was you, I’d dig and remove anything that you can before doing so. I regret not trying this.
      It's too early in the season for me to know how my battle is going, but a few have come up, so it's definitely still there!

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    4. Thanks for the speedy reply and advice. I am a bit worried about digging it out for two reasons.Firstly, I have seen how it goes down several feet when we had a slope excavated, secondly, wont that stop the glyphsate working?
      I have loads of this stuff throughout the garden and we have tried everything over the years to try and get rid of it and it has just got worse and worse. Hence the experiment, but 3 years with a huge grotty bare patch is a bit trying! I have put a few nasturtiums and sweet peas in as a temporary measure, as you suggest. The intention is to have a herbaceous planting, with BIG plants which are supposed to shade out the horsetail.
      I have kept a photgraphic record just to prove to myself that it is really reducing. Will send some photo's shortly.

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    5. Although I emphasise leaving the root structure intact in my article and do the same in my posts on ground elder and Japanese knotweed I suspect by now that the connections are a bit erratic down there and that and any strong new growth of horsetail has come afresh from deep down but that weaker growth might come from detached pieces. It is still sensible to let strong growth come to be sprayed when it has made some top but some mechanical control such as hoeing might now be in order? Hoeing might become routine under your large plants you plant. And as I say again if you have become familiar with the ease of knapsack spraying it is very easy to accurately spray at low pressure with nozzle held low and pointing down between large plants and shrubs as your routine weed control for all weeds! I note in some of my glyphosate posts that large strong plants are completely unharmed by accurate directed spray and I of course do it in all my gardens.

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    6. Sarah,
      Thanks for your comments. You are now carrying considerable responsibility for the content of this post!
      As to controlling monbretia I think I would always dig it out as the easiest way to eliminate it quickly! I would also venture that if you wanted to keep montbretia that had been growing amongst perennial weed to plant on clean soil elsewhere that you could very carefully wash out/cut out clean monbretia pieces!
      I think I have accommodated your other comments in my answer to Alison.

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    7. I did think it might be the naughty step for me. Although I didn't mean that Alison should try to dig it all out, just the tangles that are near to the surface. I think it might cut a year or two off the battle. But who knows....I'm just guessing!

      Scrolling back up the thread, I noticed that this time last year I'd counted about 50. This year about 5. Maybe it's the cold weather.....dare I hope otherwise???

      Montbretia went on the bonfire. I have gazillions of them. I usually give them away on Freecycle, but it was easier to burn these ones.

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    8. I have been practicing controlled spraying as per your post so will pursue that plus the hoing of weak growth. Interesting thoughts about the underground growth in relation to top growth. Am I trying to hoe it off below where the stem becomes the root? Final query, how long before you think top growth should die back fully? Mine seem to just look pathetic and loose a few ' leaves' rather than fall over brown.
      This is my first time using a blog and it is great to be able to discuss this problem.

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    9. I think the necessary speed and frequency means that you should just hoe the pathetic brown shoots perhaps under cutting half an inch. There will no doubt be other weeds from seed to hoe at the same time - but just hoe the weeds and not all the soil! If you take Sarah's advice to fork out any so called tangles go ahead. Your spraying by now should have seriously weakened the equisetum and I am less concerned about maintaining the integrity of the weed root!
      Where you have sprayed marestail shoots leave it a day or so until rain washes any lingering glyphosate away. You might as well get as much uptake as possible before you cut or hoe them back.
      Its nice to answer detailed questions Alison. It usually gets to helping others with similar problems!

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    10. Thanks for the advice, I will find some photo's, it will just need a bit of searching as I have hundreds. I am just waiting for the wind to drop now for a spray.

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  19. Thanks for all the useful comments concerning horsetail. At the moment mine is more annoying than serious, some growth through plants and paving. This is an experiment in its early stages but so far has shown dramatic results. There have many comments regarding the waxy coating of horsetail so this is what I have addressed. I test sprayed some horsetail with neat car engine degreaser. This alone did nothing but when sprayed with Path Clear it turned brown within 24hrs. Bruising and spraying and just spraying with Path Clear showed little reaction. Bending the horsetail into the liquids in a small plastic tray (that mushrooms come in) and brushing to avoid spraying nearby plants produced the same result. Almost instant browning of the horsetail treated with degreaser. Whether this ultimately kills the horsetail will have to wait to be seen and I do expect to have to do this several times. It is however a cheap and easy task that others may wish to try.
    chris d

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    1. Very interesting Chris, particularly as degreaser on its own appears to have no reaction.
      Why not try glyphosate with the degreaser? That would be interesting. perhaps in a year or so you could give us an update
      I am not sure off hand about the active ingredients of pathclear but suspect glyphosate would be better although not as instant.

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  20. I have had great success eliminating horsetail using Kurtail weed killer. It is very expensive but once diluted costs about £1 per litre.

    I'm a professional gardener and have used Kurtail successfully for about 3-4 years. Nothing else i've found is effective as Kurtail.( I have no link with the makers of Kurtail I'm just saying what i've found with its use) About 2 months ago I took on a horsetail infested garden. I sprayed the horsetail week one, left it a week and all the shoots I spread were dead( above ground at least) Each subsequent week I sprayed any newly emerging shoots and after about 3-4 weeks hardly any new growth appeared. I will spot weed kill any new shoots that appear in future.

    I used to same techique on my own garden and i've virtually eliminated the horsetail although I think some is coming back in from my neighbours garden.

    I'd certainly highly recommend the stuff as at the very least a good control and I think with dilent use total clearance can be achieved

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    1. Thank you very much for this. It is very useful information.
      As I say in the post i have no experience with this material and speculated that as a contact weedkiller it might be no better than hoeing. It is perhaps partially translocated and has a deeper action comparable to a deeper cultivation than hoeing - but without the damage of excessive soil disturbance and creating equisetum propagules by cutting
      Perhaps you will report further on any developments in the future
      I wonder if it is possible to source it more cheaply?

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    2. My neighbour has also been using Kurtail. I can't see any difference between his Kurtail results and my previous experiments with ammonium sulfamate. Neither seem to trigger regrowth in the same season, so I'm guessing it dies without stimulating growth hormones or something like that? The following year it comes back, but it seems weaker. I think the glyphosate was fairly similar success rate too! I haven't tried degreaser, but I did see something on youtube where a man was adding polystyrene to petrol, to make napalm to put into a wasp nest. Seemed a bit extreme, but I did wonder how well it would work on the horsetail :-)

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    3. Hi sarah

      I was interested to read your comments about ammonium sulfamate

      That is, I believe the main ingredient of Kurtail.

      Can you buy ammonium sulfamate in the UK ?

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    4. I've just checked on the bottle and Kurtail is ammonium glufosinate so not the same thing

      I've just googled and the ammonium sulamate is much cheaper so I may give it a try

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    5. hi Anchorman
      Thank you for your three contributions today
      yes Kurtail is not ammonium sulphamate as your check shows and yes you can buy it in the UK from many places on the net. It is legal to buy it as a compost accelerator - as I have mentioned somewhere(!) -but not as a herbicide. Work that one out!

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    6. www.mistralie.co.uk/products/ammonium-sulphamate-sulfamate can supply 5 Kg for £24.99 and that includes delivery, not bad for a Compost Accelerator

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    7. By the way if you have to spray add a few drops of washing up liquid, you can see where you have sprayed and it also breaks down the outer protective layer. Hence the suggestions of crushing and bruising already mentioned.

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    8. Thanks anon and the ad might be useful to readers!

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  21. I like your sense of humour Sarah. I hope it was a joke :-)
    It seems that where horsetail has been seriously weakened as with my glyphosate spraying when I came to me new garden, your spraying of translocated ammonium sulphamate and unknowns's use of kurtail it gives up until next year.
    When seriously weakened as my glyphosate sprayed weed was in its third season it becomes inconsequential making just a few shoots in early Summer - that need to be zapped, hoed or just pulled
    I know you will tell me that yours is taking longer:-)

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    1. Or maybe I won't...they are still in single figures this year...so fingers crossed!

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  22. Hi

    Roger

    Sorry I didn't see your reply until today

    If only it were possible to souce Kurtail more cheaply but in the UK at least it seems to be licensed by only one company .

    Coincidently I took on a new garden very recently that is riddled with horsetail. I sprayed it with Kurtail a week ago and all that was sprayed is now brown and dead( above ground at least) This week there was I'd guess I only needed to use 10% of the quantity of weedkiller I used last week and that was largely on the odd plant I missed last week + some newly emerged shoots.

    The customer has asked me to spray every( dry) week I can so I'm pretty confident that in a month there will be little or no new growth.

    If past experience is anything to go by there may be a little regrowth next year as the roots are known to go down at least a metre.

    I'll try to report back here with progress reports

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    1. Thank you Anchorman for your three very helpful contributions today - well at least your correction to Sarah and this!
      Please report back in due course. (press reply button rather than comment so your info stays together)

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  23. We have just taken an allotment which has various clumps all over. We won't be planting anything until next spring, but I'm worried about using chemicals on the plot and then growing veg after? Is there any chemical solution for veg plots, or will the chemicals have disappeared by next spring?

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    1. Provided your clumps are intact with a good top and have not been cut back now is an excellent time to start!
      Unfortunately you will not be rid of the equisetum by next year.
      My still preferred control glyphosate for practical purposes leaves no residues even after a few days The defoliant weedkillers weedol and curtail are also designed for immediate planting. The excellent ammonium sulphamate breaks down very quickly - after all it is a compost activator!
      MCPA lasts several weeks in the soil although I might be prepared to use it.
      I NEVER recommend sodium chlorate and of course this can leave residues for years in dry places.
      It is ironic that the most likely source of herbicide contamination to an allotment is from contaminated manure or dodgy compost!. Sue Garrett blogs about the effects of the contaminating clopyralid

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    2. Thanks very much for your reply! We'll see how we go!

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  24. For anyone who finds Roger's blog while googling for ways to treat horsetail, and needs encouragement, I just wanted to say that my horsetail is showing signs of losing the battle!!!! It's the end of July, and it has shown less than ten fronds this year. It has taken three summers of treating it, this is the fourth growing season.
    I haven't stuck to one method, I've chopped and changed, and used them all. But I have always done something, it's never been allowed to recover any lost ground.
    This year I'm just using upturned flower pots, as it's easy and convenient for the odd single frond amongst other plants. I'll treat them when I have time, using stump killer strength on the base. If you are really careful with the singletons you can scrape the black woody part so you have something to paint onto. For anyone with small numbers amongst other plants, I recommend this method. If flower pots are too big, you can also put in a stick and use a bit of plastic or cardboard tube. This would work well on an allotment.
    I don't suppose it will ever disappear completely, but it's not a big deal anymore.
    Thank you Roger for your advice and encouragement, I hope that others are finding your blog useful and will sign post to it from forums etc. And to anyone who is about to start the fight....good luck, you can win!!!

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    1. Were you in public relations in a former life Sarah? - you are now, thanks for the encouragement.
      By the way I have pinched twenty square metres of the farm field - don't ask - and it has a light infection of mares tail. I am doing nothing other than my routine regular maintenance spray, hoeing or even hand pulling. your generalistic approach!

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  25. The garden I took on several weeks ago which was riddled with horsetail and I've been treating with Kurtail is almost free of horsetail now.

    I've sprayed with kurtail every week but one(it was too wet to spray on the day I visted)

    Week 1 killed all top growth.

    Week 2 there was perhaps 10% new growth.(probably from stuff growing near the plants I sprayed that hadn't emerged the day i sprayed)

    Week 3 about 5%

    Since then I've only had to spray about 10 small stems of new growth weekly and this in a garden that is quite large, has maybe 80 metres of borders, which were almost nothing but horsetail a few weeks ago.

    I suspect most of the new growth is coming from within existing other plants which I can't spray because it will kill them. I'm fairly sure if I'd removed all other plants the horsetail would be gone by now.

    I will report back in another few weeks.

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    1. Hi Anchorman, sadly it will come back next year, my neighbour is in his second year of using Kurtail. But it is weaker. I agree with Roger, it's a three year war!

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    2. Thanks for the report Anchorman. I look forward to the next- especially what happens next year

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  26. Yes I agree. What happens next year is important although I've had a good degree of sucees with other gardens in the past. The problem is to know for sure we need an isolated garden where we know weed isn't coming in from next door and we also need to completely clear the borders of other plants to be sure the horsetail isn't lurking amongst them.

    Also I had a garden that was virtually clear of horsetail in the borders ,then I missed two weeks because of illness and I was shocked when I returned to see huge amounts growing up to 8 inches tall in the lawn the borders surrounded.

    Nothing today will kill horsetail in lawns without also killing the grass although I'm told a chemical called (?) Timbrel which was available until 2013 would do that job. It's license has been withdrawn

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  27. I've just remembered there is a fully isolated border at the garden I'm treating for Horsetail. It is bounded on all sides by either buildings or 8-10 feet of tarmac drive. It will be interesting to see if I can eradicate horsetail from that border in one season

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    1. I've treated small numbers in the lawn and beside a pond with a gel glyphosate. Messy and expensive, so it wouldn't be suitable for more than the odd few.

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    2. p.s. or you can use sticks with plastic plumbing pipe tubes over each one, and spray carefully into the pipe. An idea I found somewhere on the web, and it does work if you don't mind the pipes everywhere!

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  28. To Mary!
    Where have you gone ? You left a very interesting question about equisetum growing in your new lawn. Twice! Have you deleted it?
    Answer! Keep mowing, the more regularly the better it will eventually mow out - perhaps a year to two but I don't think it will look too bad if you mow very week.
    No need to box off although you probably do
    You can use normal lawn weed killers. I would use my MCPA that I have written about elsewhere. It does not kill grass. Perhaps three of four times a year. On the occasion of using the weedkiller wait a little longer to mow to let the weed get bigger to absorb more and mow the day after applying

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  29. Hi Roger, thanks for your reply. Not sure where my previous post disappeared to. We have used kurtail this year on the weed but it proved very expensive for our large area. I haven't heard of MCPA and would be interested in finding out a bit more about that. Glad to hear that mowing will help to eradicate it eventually.

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    1. Most lawn liquid weedkiller sprays would be equal to MCPA
      I use MCPA as the professional product Agritox. I was spraying Cathi's clumps of nettles on her Soay sheep field this morning

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  30. Going off topic, as I usually do, the best of the buddleia visitors...small tortoiseshell, red admiral and peacock...are all nettle eaters. You can sometimes see big lumps of wiggly caterpillars, there can be hundreds. I've never tried moving caterpillars to a safe nettle patch, but imagine it's not difficult to do so if you should feel so inclined! It's a shame nettles behave so badly, I'd like to give them a corner in the garden, but they don't stay there.

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  31. Hi Forum,

    I've lived in my house for 10 years, and have seen Horsetail as an arch-enemy. I'm not really a keen gardener but I want to get rid of this thing. I don't mind buying in lots of chemicals but is there a recommended weedkiller that I can buy and just start spraying and also when to spray?

    Thanks for any new advice
    All the best
    Mark

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    1. I have given all the options Mark and I have not learnt anything new since!
      Some of the comments are helpful. Just go with the glyphosate for ease of finding and efficiency!

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  32. Hi Roger, I'd be really grateful to hear your thoughts are on the following. 6 weeks ago our builder sourced topsoil for our 6 raised beds from a local farm. Today I weeded out around 50 horsetail seedlings growing in the raised beds. There are none growing elsewhere in the garden. If we keep weeding them out as they appear, will there still be a risk of them spreading underground to the rest of the garden? Best wishes, Gillian M

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    1. Builders for you!
      Your problem, thank goodness is not equisetum rejuvenating from a deep stored root resource but just from a few (hopefully) shallow buried pieces.
      Gently fork out each one that appears. You probably only need to loosen the shoot with a small border spade or garden fork inserted vertically and gently pull so as not to snap the piece. If it does tend to snap then fork more deeply!
      Keep going until no more appear. It might need to be over a few months!

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    2. Thank you Roger, really appreciate your reply. Most of the roots I got up today were between 10 and 20cm long...but most snapped unfortunately...hopefully with a bit of practice (sounds like I'll have plenty of opportunity for that) I'll get more of it up. It's been fascinating reading about the plant and you can't help but be impressed by its survival over all those millions of years.

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  33. Hi, I've been trying to clear my garden of stinging nettles (my entire garden was stinging nettles...) and had sprayed with glyphosphate. The stinging nettles are now dying back, but now the entire garden is mare's tail! I'll just keep digging and cutting back any new shoots, I can't afford much more weedkiller! Good thread, thank you

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    1. Thanks for the appreciation 'unknown'. Don't be sucked into buying expensive ready to use glyphosate it will cost more than sixty times the price of diluted commercial glyphosate. Read my post http://www.nodiggardener.co.uk/2012/10/buying-glyphosate.html

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