The Q&A Archives: Horsetails

Question: I have tried everything to kill horsetails in my garden but they just keep coming back. They even grow in the middle of my plants. Is there something out there that will kill them?

Answer: Equisetum is the botanical name of the weed that's causing all the frustration for you. It sounds like the area is moist enough to promote the growth of this wetland plant. Horsetails are a "primitive" plant with a vascular system such that herbicides will only kill the top of the plant, but not travel down to the roots. As you've discovered, the roots can grow both down and sideways for 10 to 12 feet. It's a formidable opponent of more desireable plants in the garden. If you're persistent you can keep the tops of the plants cut down as they sprout, and eventually you'll starve the roots out. Perhaps if you improve the drainage in the area, it will lose its competitive edge against your garden plants. In lawns, simply mowing the grass at regular intervals is sometimes enough to wipe the horsetails out -- but it can take two or three years. Some gardeners have had success with the flame weeders -- torches designed to burn weeds out of tight place, such as between concrete walkways and driveways. If you use a flamer, you don't need to cremate the weed, just pass the flame over the plant's tissues long enough to heat the fluids, which in turn rupture the leaves and stems. If you're persistent with your eradication treatment, you'll prevail.

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