How to combat Horsetail



How to combat horsetail is often a question asked many growers and gardeners. Horsetail (often referred to inaccurately as mare’s tail) has been plaguing gardens and allotments since the dinosaurs roamed the earth. They crop up along the side of railway tracks and soon spread from garden to garden. Their roots are deep and prolific…

How to combat horsetail is often a question asked many growers and gardeners. Horsetail (often referred to inaccurately as mare’s tail) has been plaguing gardens and allotments since the dinosaurs roamed the earth. They crop up along the side of railway tracks and soon spread from garden to garden. Their roots are deep and prolific and the plant itself can lay dormant in your soil for a number of years. Below are some ten strategies you can use to tackle this terrible weed!

how to combat horsetail weeds

10 Ideas on How to combat Horsetail

If found, dig out and tackle straight away and do not delay…

Horsetail roots go down as far two meters in some cases, so the deeper you dig the better. Getting as much of the root out is crucial when trying to keep horsetail under control.

If found – never put it in your compost heap – burn it

According to the RHS horsetail can persist for a number of years. Because rhizomes lay dormant for a number of years, they’ll quite happily survive in a compost bin, until you empty out your compost bin into your borders.

Once removed, plant something in that space – horsetail doesn’t compete well in the shade

It’s very difficult to get the whole plant and root structure out of the ground, it’s inevitable you’ll miss a bit. Once dug out, plant something else into the ground such as marigolds or dahlias to take up some of the moisture and create shade.

If you suspect it’s coming from a neighbour, try and place a physical barrier in the ground between you and them

More often than not the source of your horsetail infestation comes from next door – and it’s not their fault! If you have a border, bury some slabs or wooden boards around the edges – if you have a garden it may be worth taking a look at some fencing.

Lay Heavy duty matting for a year or two to restrict light to that area

If you have a large area that’s covered in horsetail – it can be back breaking work to dig this out manually. You’re better off covering the area with heavy duty black matting and leaving the area for a year or two.

Use any weed killer that contains glyphosate

Any weed killer that contains glyphosate will damage horsetail, both the tops and the roots. Like most weed killers apply directly to the plant over a number of dry days for maximum impact.

Apply white distilled vinegar

If you’d rather not use a chemical to combat horsetail – white distilled vinegar is a great alternative. Because vinegar is an acid, it’s non-specific as to what it will kill. You may need to check the condition of the soil by running a soil test once you’ve got to grips with the horsetail infestation.

Keep your soil a good condition overall – apply manure and lime

Well drained, weeded and fertilised soil will pay dividends when keeping control of not just horsetail… Good soil also means you’ll get a good return.

Plan your attack – see PhilG2’s three year approach here

Horsetail can often take years to combat – click on the above link to see how you can plan your attack against horsetail. Together with the points above – we’re on a winning streak.

Turnips are said to keep horsetail at bay

This thread here has some interesting (all be it experimental) points about plants that you can grow to combat horsetail.  Turnips in particular were used back in 2008!

Good luck folks – if you have any other tips please do let me know how to combat Horsetail!





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  1. […] did work for the majority of the area, but alas the inevitable horsetail still pokes through. Making grass paths isn’t something that I do very often which means […]

  2. Dougie

    I have been trying to eradicate this weed for 3 years now, with very limited success, and this is just an account of my experience so far! Weed killers do not appear to have much effect. They dry out and kill the exposed plant, but more just sprout up around it, seemingly undeterred.

    Pulling them out as soon as they are visible seems to help, this greatly reduces the nutrients that the rhizomes receive and appears to slow growth the following year.

    I would disagree with other plants slowing them down, this is because this weed successfully grew straight through my rhododendron and smothered it to the point where it dried out and went brown, with no apparent impact on the weed. And rhododendrons are notoriously hard to kill! It also assassinated many other plants and grew through the grass with no issue. (Keeping on top of the grass cutting will help here, they don’t appear to like being cut short)

    Perseverance seems to be the best solution. Also, pulling the spore carrying, brown coloured plant as soon as they appear might help, that’s what I’m trying this year. I’m even going as far as sealing the heads with a spray on adhesive before pulling them because you can see the clouds of spores escaping when you pull them. They are then getting deposited in the chimenea for incineration because whether you put them in the household waste of the garden recycling, you’re spreading them further.

    1. This weed, excuse the pun – is a real bind!

      In my experience, weed killers that don’t contain glysophate don’t tend to do much – but these such weed killers are being phased out for better or for worse.

      Sorry to hear about your Rhododendron! I hope it recovers – I hear adding used tea leaves can help with these plants.

      Perseverance, is definitely the most effective weapon against this weed. I took up a routine of hoeing regularly and pulling it out when I see it and this has worked wonders I have to say.

      Good luck and we mustn’t give up against this foe!

  3. […] How to combat Horsetail […]

  4. Liz

    The recognised stuff to kill it cost an arm and a leg so I bought the two active ingredients and use a mixture of Glyphosate and clopyralid and I mix the two together using the percentages of the expensive stuff and it’s neat – no added water. The leaves if you can call them that are waxy and any liquid the consistency of water just runs off. So I mix a bit of wall paper paste up and stir the weedkiller in (PVA doesn’t work and mixing the paste into the killer doesn’t work either). It’s a hands and knees job. Wear rubber gloves. Small thin sandwich bag over the hand, grab the whole of the weed, paint the solution on the whole of the weed liberally with a small paint brush. Turn the bag inside out over the whole of the weed, twist it up tight and clip at the base with a clothes peg. Then crush the bag. This breaks the wax coating to allow the weed killer in but the bag and the peg stop any bits escaping. Wash the brush. Leave for as long as you can. It works pretty quick but don’t remove anything until the bag breaks off the stem. Wash the pegs, burn the bags.
    This worked well last year but you are right about the source – my neighbours paths are absolutely rife with the stuff. They have a dog, so I’m going to try the white vinegar option over the fence first.

    1. Goodness me, that sounds very elaborate – but effective! Do you tackle this with each individual plant/clump? Also does the mixture have any effect on the ground for years to come? It sounds like a non-specific chemical mixture on the face of it… Lastly – where do you get these ingredients exactly? At the moment, I’m still at the point of picking it where I see it and keeping it separate from the compost bin. There’s a bonfire on the horizon for these pickings.
      I wouldn’t have known about the type of leaves if you hadn’t have mentioned it so thank you – it makes perfect sense!

      1. Liz Baker

        A neighbour of mine has a rampant problem from the empty property next door and he has spent about £50 on Kurtail. For my much smaller problem I was loath to spend £50 so I looked up the active ingredients and the percentages and bought a lawn weed killer with clopyralid – Vitax – just off the internet and neat glyphosate – Rosate – from good ole e-bay for a total of about £25.00. I read somewhere that gardeners were mixing it with wallpaper paste and painting it on and it does work very well. With a few mathematical calculations I use the same percentages as closely as I can. By bagging it up it keeps the rain off and stops it from leeching into the soil as much as possible. I think the white vinegar will have more effect on the surrounding soil than how I’m using the other concoction. I treat every single weed separately unless they are close enough to bag up together. Morrisons are delivering the white vinegar this weekend. I’ll let you know how I get on over the fence!

  5. George

    I’m having a driveway laid in September and we have a horse tail problem, so I’m going to attack it now with white distilled vinegar first let’s see how that goes, if it works I shall keep on until drive is laid if it doesn’t I’ll be on to more expensive solutions fingers crossed.

    1. Keeping my fingers crossed for you! I’ve heard vinegar is effective, but also more recently, you need to harm the plant or break it’s flesh so that the weed killer, whatever it make be can be absorbed properly by the plant. Good luck!

  6. lee r

    i bought a house and 3 years all was good, the nexdoor asked me last year if i had ever seen this plant, it had over run her garden in 2 weeks it was full of marestail, on closer look on the street quite a few other gardens had it..

    last year i chopped it half down and applied glyphosphate and depitox 500.. then 25 kgs of salt.. it didnt take long to kill everything…
    this year its not shown a stem, all the other gardens without kept gardens in the area are full of this thing !!

    1. Liz Baker

      I hadn’t thought of salt Lee. I’ll give that a go as well. I’m still using a mixture of Roseate and Vitax but I dilute it a bit with white vinegar. I’m prepared to try anything. Still can’t do anything about the source of it as the dog is still alive :). I decided to grow gravel where it comes up from next door so it’s easier to deal with. I’ll definitely give the salt a go.

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