Recognising Common Garden Weeds – Perennial Weeds

recognisign Field bindweed

Willow herb

Perennial Weeds
Perennial weeds come up every year from the same plant and are difficult to get rid of but not as hard as they are often made our to be. Most have deep tap roots which need to be removed but once this has been done smaller regrowth can be dealt with relatively easily. Other perennials with different growth habits are daisy, plantain, sliverweed and creeping buttercup which all need vigilance to remove tenacious shallow roots but are still relatively easy to eradicate.

Perennial weeds will be your biggest problem when starting a new vegetable garden on a new plot but once you have got rid of them they will be much less of a problem than annual weeds.

Weeding Tools Available Here

recognisign Field bindweedField Bindweed
Bindweed  is a very invasive climbing shrub with white or pink trumpet shaped flowers. Hedge bindweed is easier to control by continually pulling any small stems you see or using a trowel to remove any accessible roots. By constantly removing any foliage the roots will starve and eventually die after on or two years of constant attention.

Field bindweed is not as easy to see and is more enduring with constant removal of roots difficult and time consuming. A thick mulch can help suppress its vigour but infested areas will probably always need some annual attention.

recognise bramble or blackbery seedlingBramble
Brambles always look far more difficult than they actually are due to their tangle of long thorny stems. Get a good thorn proof pair of gloves first and remove all the stems, removing the roots is actually relatively easy by forking out.

Mulching will help after the ground has been cleared though strong stems can push through. Digging any new stems over a period if a year or two should see a problem patch successfully cleared.

regognising creeping buttercupCreeping Buttercup
Creeping buttercup is a weed common to waterlogged ground and can be difficult to remove because of its tough, shallow roots. Mulching is effective outside the growing season but when growing vigorously roots will need to be dug out. Roots are shallow and tenacious so will need to be lifted with a good amount of soil and shaken off.

Remember the ‘creeping’ part of the plant name because, like strawberries, buttercup will produce rhizomes with new plants at every node so will quickly colonise an area.

Skutch grass leaf and rootCouch Grass or Skutch Grass
Couch or Skutch Grass is very common in most gardens and is very likely to be seen in ground which has been compacted or over cultivated at any stage. If growing through light friable garden soil it is relatively easy to remove by following the roots and gently pulling them out. New grass will grow from any root particles left in the soil so 2 years may be a more realistic time to clear you plot.

Skutch grass is also kept under control by applying nurtient rich mulches to the surface of the soil as it prefers a more compact and less fertile soil.

recognising creeping thistleCreeping Thistle
Creeping thistle can be relatively easily eradicated by continually pulling up small plants making sure you also remove the long tap root. Loosen the soil around the thistle with a trowel and with gloved hands grasp the fleshy stem and gently pull as much root as you can.

You will not be able to extract all the root so keep pulling any new seedlings that may come up which will soon exhaust the parent roots by cutting off its source of sugars. Large patches of creeping thistle can initially be daunting but can be cleared with persistence.

recognising dandelion weedDandelion
Dandelions will take 6 to 9 months to get rid of by digging out small roots with a trowel or removing larger specimens with a spade. Try to remove as much of the parent root as possible so there is little left in the soil to re-grow.

Although dandelions are a common weed which spread easily from their root fragments or from their many windblown seeds they are also valued for their medicinal qualities and culinary uses. Dandelion is from the same family (Asteraceae) as lettuce and endive and so share their bitter taste. The leaves are diuretic which cleanse the liver and can be eaten in salads for their rich mineral content.

recognising dock leavesDock Leaves
Dock leaves look much more difficult to get rid of than they actually are. They can be more tricky if growing around the woody stem of a plants like currants or raspberries (which is why you should always make sure your site is clear before you plant) but if out in the open they are relatively easy to eradicate with a sharp spade.

Slicing through the tap root about 15cm (6inches) down and removing as much as possible will usually prevent it from re-growing. Smaller plants can be pulled in loose soil or dug and removed with a trowel.

Once seed heads mature they produce large clusters of brown seeds which are best burnt rather than risked in a hot compost pile. Dock leaves without seeds can be composted with other green material. Remember Dock leaves are friends and well as foe and will soothe skin stung by nettles by rubbing on the affected area.

recognising ground elderGround Elder
Ground elder will regrow from roots left in the ground so try to dig along their length and remove rather than breaking them. The roots travel horizontally rather than vertically and wind themselves around the roots of other plants which can make them difficult to eradicate in busy beds. Digging root fragments is the only option, when you see a new seedling emerge followed by mulching to exclude light.

Ground Elder is a member of the Umbellifer family (celery and carrot) and has edible leaves which can be used as a filling for omelettes in early Spring when little other greenery is available.

Mare's tail horsetail recognisingMare’s Tail
A very difficult weed to get rid of due to the fact that the smallest fragment of root will produce a new plant. The plant is a remnant from a prehistoric time which will give you some idea of its vigour, it has deep roots and spiky, jointed foliage.

Digging the roots is not a good idea as you will spread the plant. The best way of dealing with is with a heavy mulch followed by very frequent hoeing to starve the roots, this can take 3 years or more. If you are tempted to use the dreaded roundup it also puts two fingers up to Monsanto, it doesn’t seem to have any effect whatsoever.

Broad leaf plantainPlantain
There are two types of plantain; the broad one (pictured) and the narrow leaved variety. They are more commonly seen in poorly maintained lawns but can also be seen in the vegetable garden especially on paths where soil is compacted.

Dig and remove plants before they have had a chance to set seeds which they do in tall spear like seed heads. Plantain has a long tap root, you will need to remove as much as possible as smaller parts of root will re-generate.

Plantain does have an antiseptic quality and can be used to relieve itching and redness form mosquito bites by crushing a leaf and rubbing on the wound.

recognising willowherbRosebay Willowherb
Willowherb is an invasive weed both from seed as well as root. Immature plants can be initially mistaken for lamb’s lettuce. If small seedlings are allowed to grow they will send out tenacious roots and white stems just below soil level that will remain for many years. If you are persistent stems can be removed quite easily by digging with a towel followed by a light excluding mulch.

Attractive pink flowers (see header of this article) are borne on long stems in late Summer which quickly produce hundreds of seeds. If this is allowed to happen Willowherb will be a problem for many years.

recognising silverweedSilverweed
Silverweed gets its name from the silvery underside of its leaves, it is common on lawns and paths but can also easily invade the vegetable garden. You are more likely to encounter silverweed in wet compacted soil with poor drainage so it is unlikely to be a big issue in your vegetable beds.

If pulled or hoed silverweed will quickly re-root so will need to be dug out. The plant will also reproduce like a strawberry by sending out rhizomes which root at the nodes and produce new plants.

Recognisisng stinging nettleStinging Nettle
Nettles are not too difficult to get rid of by forking out plants and levering out the main mass of yellow roots, small roots will not regrow. Mature plants produce hundreds of seed which will germinate readily but can easily be hoed.

Wear thick gloves when handling large plants as stinging can be pretty unpleasant and last a long time depending on your reaction.

  1. Hazel Luskin Glennon

    Thanks for the clear pictures in helping to identify these weeds. I have Lesser Celandine in my garden and find it very difficult to control. I know it dies down as Summer progresses but it is a nuisance in the first half of the year.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Hazel. Yes, Lesser Celandine can be a bit of a nightmare. The problem is if you try to dig it out you will spread its small root tubers unless you are very careful. It can be controlled with weedkiller but it is not something we like doing so would rather not recommend. Mulching can help keep numbers under control but will not be a complete solution.

    2. eli

      you could harvest it and use the plant to make a medicine for hemmeroids! maybe the weed is a pain in the ass but its not as bad as piles!! it is poisonous but the poison is killed by cooking and also doesnt develop untill the fruit arrives so you can see many people eat this plant in spring. im always happy when a weed has some use as then i can feel i have grown a crop for free without having to tend it or plant seeds. it just depends on how you look at things that are out of your control, are they opportunities or curses? depends on how you use them. i find it wont grow in my garden as it is too dry and too much light and people pay mnoney to buy herbs from herbalists to treat their issues! maybe you could make a buck or two and i think if you cut the leaves the tubers do not get enough energy to grow and spread so it would also keep it from spreading hopefully.

  2. Cormac Walsh

    I have Ground Elder in my Hen pen is there any weed killer i can use too try and get rid off the weeds but protect my hens

    1. Andrew

      Hi Cormac
      We have a Neudorff brand weedkiller that is effective against ground elder and uses a bled of natural ingredients. It will need to be sprayed at least 4 times to completely control ground elder but it will control it with repeated applications. As regards using it around poultry I would need to check but expect you definitely could not use it when the hens are in the enclosure. I will send a mail to Neudorff today to get their advice on the subject.
      I hope this helps

    2. eli

      ground elder is also edible when its shoots are coming up a bit like ferns, just before the leaves unfurl. you can also make a tea with it to help arthritis and gout, its full of vitimin c and a and if its edible for humans its probably edible for hens. it has antimicrobiala nd antifungal properties so you could also use it as people do other herbs to add to the bedding of your hens house to keep mold away. like you might add citronella or lemon balm leaves to the hen house to keep things away. you can feel curses by it or blessed and make the most of what nature has given you. i would love to have some of the weeds poeple complain about but not every weed will grow in my garden.

  3. Tommy

    Hi, Just planted a new lawn and what looks to be Plantain leaves are popping up in all the patchy areas and intermingled with the grass so impossible to pull. Any suggestion? I have bees so would love am enviro friendly solution. The lawn is big and seed was planted a month ago. grass is up about 2 inches.

    Docks are a problem too but I’m pulling them when they get big enough.

    Thanks for any suggestions.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Tommy

      I would get a trowel and dig out the plantain roots if you are bothered by it. Otherwise just leave to and let it become part of the lawn. My grass has all sorts of weeds in it including plantain and still looks great. Just keep your lawn cut and you won’t really notice it. You can get weedkillers that will target broad leaf weeds and not effect the grass but these are not environment/bee friendly.
      I hope this helps

  4. Ursula

    This is very useful. I am battling an infestation of scutch grass in my veggie patch & compost heap. Currently digging the whole thing out to get all the roots. I am amazed at how it spreads, it’s a nightmare!

  5. Palia

    I’ve noticed mares tail in one tiny area locally, having never seen it before I found it an oddity, it is always the bare weird asparagus looking stem I’ve seen so it seems scary when you don’t know! (as an asparagus eater!) Thanks for the information, now I can look at it and say mares tail knowingly to myself!!

  6. Pegs

    Doh! I have been cultivating Willow herb [unbeknown till now that it is a weed!] in my garden for the last 3 years and congratulating myself on it’s successful spread! I love the purple flowers and it sits proud at the back of my borders along with the foxgloves and crocosmia. I will certainly thin it out and control its spread now but what a shame, it’s so pretty. This is a very useful site with good clear info. Thank you very much.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Pegs
      If you enjoy the flowers leave it be. The only downside is it does spread quickly both from seed and underground rhizomes. Every plant has it’s place and ‘weeds’ can be a lot more beneficial to wildlife as they tend to be native plants.
      Thanks for your kind comment, I am glad you found our post helpful.

  7. Cathy Flanders

    I have a purple 2 ft tall weed in my perrienial garden, It’s pretty but spreading should I pull it all up to stop it from spreading.

    1. Andrew

      Hi Cathy
      The tall purple weed is likely to be rosebay willowherb. It is a very pretty flower but it does spread quickly so is probably unsuitable for a smaller garden. I would be inclined to take it out unless you are trying to create a wildflower planting scheme.
      I hope this helps

  8. Paudie McCarthy

    I have two kilmarnock willows about 20 years old they seem to have got a mould or must on them and are attracting wasps at this time of year should trim them back or take them out altogether Paudie

  9. Linda Ash

    Excellent website , most helpful thankyou. Lovely pictures of beautiful bee friendly flowers , I don’t know why people don’t want to have them in the garden. They are the very best pollen and nectar sources , as well as caterpillar food for insects. ( Rose bay willow herb for instance , food plant of elephant hawk moth ) , why not give them space ? That are all beautiful flowers.

  10. Roy Hobbs

    Mares Tail can be killed off with “Kurtail”. It is nearly impossible to dig it out. I have tried everything to get rid of it and the only chemical was “Kurtail” which turns it black and it withers away. Very effective.

  11. Reika

    I have seen willows with wasps on them in a playground. Sadly they were killed. The wasps had been attracted by the sticky sap coming from aphids. If it does not rain regularly it builds up. If the plants are not too big they could be hosed.

  12. Reika

    Let the weather help with weeding. I find it makes a big difference if the soil is wet/heavy or dry./crumbly. Heavy wet soil is great for removing tap root like docks or dandelions. While dry crumbly soil is better for removing clusters of roots like grass or creeping buttercup.

  13. J Corb

    I have a new lawn weed leaf for you to identify. It only appeared this year for the 1st time. It resembles a spinach leaf, a bit waxy. Love to send you photo.
    How can I do that?

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