How to Control Burdock Weed

Common burdock weeds are invasive plants. They are commonly found growing along roadsides or in pastures. The ability to quickly grow and spread means that if they get into your garden they can quickly overrun a lawn or flowerbed.

Our guide to controlling burdock weed is designed to help you manage the weeds before they overtake your garden.

1 Burdock weed may look attractive but it is an invasive plant
Common burdock weed may look attractive but it is an invasive plant. If left unchecked it will quickly colonize lawns or flower beds. Common burdock (Arctium minus) should be kept in check as soon as possible. 

How to Identify Burdock Weed

Common burdock weed is a biennial plant. New growth if visible from early spring onwards. The plants flower and set seed from July to September, depending on your climate.

Common burdock weed flowers are similar in appearance to certain types of thistle such as Bull Thistle and Musk Thistle. Instead, common burdock weed is usually identified by its foliage.

The large leaves are often described as being similar to “elephant’s ears.” They can be oval or triangular in shape. The top side of the leaf tends to be dark green. It can be either smooth or hairy. The underside of the leaf is usually covered in lots of small hairs and is pale green in color.

2 Burdock’s flowers bear similarities with many types of thistle
Burdock’s flowers bear similarities with many types of thistle. Instead it is the distinctive foliage of the plant that helps you to identify it. 

If left unattended, in their second year burdocks will go to flower, or bolt. This process sees the plant reach heights of between 3 and 10 ft. It also produces numerous small flowers in various shades of purple, pink or white.

Why Control Burdock Weed?

Common burdock weed is not only difficult to eradicate, it is also quick to spread. If allowed to flower the plant will set seed. Each seed head, or burr, contains up to 40 seeds. A single plant can produce up to 17,000 seeds.

The wind often carries dry heads over a considerable distance, scattering thousands of seeds in the process. The plant’s seeds are also spread by its prickly burrs attaching themselves to passing animals or people.

In addition to its invasive tendencies, another reason for controlling burdock weed is that it can cause allergic reactions in some people. This happens when the bristles contact the skin. Additionally, the burrs can also cause eye infections, mouth sores and skin problems in livestock.

Finally, common burdock weed can also host diseases such as root rot and powdery mildew. If the plants are left unattended these diseases can spread to other plants in your garden.

3 The plant’s prickly seed head attaches itself to passing people or animals
The plant’s prickly seed head, or burr, can attach itself to passing people or animals. This helps the plant to spread its seeds over an area. Contact with the burr can also cause allergic reactions in some people and animals. 

How to Kill Burdock Weed

There are a number of different ways to eradicate or control burdock weed. Manual control is often difficult and hard work. However, it is also both the safest and most effective way to eradicate the plant.

If you are unable to physically dig up the plant, chemical, organic, and homemade weed killers can be applied.

How to Dig Up Burdock Weed

The best time to dig up weeds is when the plant is young, before it has reached its full size. Leaving the plants in place allows them to return bigger and stronger the following year.

Larger plants can also be pulled up. However, as the plant grows it develops a large taproot. This can reach over 1 ft in size and spread. This makes it difficult to completely eradicate larger or more mature plants.

Aim to pull the plants when they are young, ideally before the leaves reach their full size. The best time to pull up weeds is in early spring, when the soil is soft and wet. These conditions help you to pull up intact root systems.

To pull the plant, grip the base of the leaves. Firmly pull up the plant, applying pressure evenly all around. This should be done as slowly as possible to ensure that the root doesn’t break as you pull.

Once the plant is pulled up dig around the root with a spade. Dig widely and deeply enough to expose the entire root. Remember these plants develop large taproots, so you may need to do a lot of digging.

Once the root is exposed pour undiluted, distilled white vinegar on the base. Carefully pour the vinegar between the leaves of the plant. Aim to cover as much of the foliage and root system as possible. White vinegar is also useful for controlling ant infestations.

Allow the dying plant to sit in place for 2 days. During this period the leaves will soften and begin to turn brown. As the foliage changes color and dies, pull the leaves and any connected burdock roots.

If the root shows signs of producing fresh foliage apply more distilled white vinegar. A weed eater can also be used once a week to keep the plant cut down to the ground. Continually cutting back new growth and applying distilled white vinegar prevents the root from harvesting the necessary nutrition, causing it to die.

Remember, once pulled, to dispose of the plant in the correct manner. Either burn the weeds or place them in your household waste. Don’t add the plants to your compost heap.

Taller or mature plants can be cut or mowed down before exposing the roots and dowsing in vinegar. Aim to do this before the plants set flower. Mowing plants that have set seed only helps to spread the seeds over a wider area.

After removing the plant remember to re-seed any bare patches of lawn.

Other Control Solutions

There are a number of organic controls available. You can also make your own homemade weed killer. Homemade solutions are just as effective as chemical or commercial products. They also come with the added bonus of allowing you to know exactly what you are putting in your soil.

Chemical controls or herbicides, such as Roundup Max Control, are also available. These should only be used for the specific purpose they are intended for. When not in use, store the herbicide in a safe place, away from children.

Herbicides should only ever be used as a last resort. Organic and homemade solutions are just as effective and far more environmentally friendly.

If you do choose to use a herbicide remember to wear the appropriate protective clothing. Pets and young children should be kept inside while you are applying the herbicide.

Whichever control method you choose to apply, make sure to follow the instructions on the packet. You should also use only as much as you need. Avoid applying herbicides on windy days and in close proximity to ponds or other bodies of water. These steps help to prevent chemicals from spreading to unaffected areas of your garden.

Finally, if digging the plant is too difficult you can try starving it of light. To do this, cut the plant down to ground level.

Cover the plant and surrounding area with a sheet of thick, black plastic. Use bricks to hold the black plastic firmly in place. This helps to prevent light and moisture from penetrating the sheet and feeding the plant. A season under the black plastic will effectively kill off burdock weed.
4 Burdock’s thistle like flowers seem attractive
Burdock’s thistle-like flowers seem attractive. However this invasive plant, if allowed to establish itself, will spread through a lawn or flower bed. 

Effective control of common burdock weed can be difficult to achieve. Control is usually most successful if you are able to identify and remove plants when they are young. Early detection prevents the plants from developing their large taproot and from setting seed. It will also help to keep your garden neat and problem free.

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