admin on August 1st, 2008
I realize that this post is somewhat outside the normal content for a site with “workshop” in its name, but I’ve felt this post boiling inside me since I found the first little green sprout of evil in my garden. The year following that discovery has seen endless battles, with both gardener and weed declaring success several times, only to have the enemy reorganize and come back nastier and more committed than ever. Right now, I have beaten the horsetail in my garden back to where I can rest for a few weeks, which is the only reason I have time to write this post.
Horsetail is also known as field or common horsetail, equisetum arvense, bottle brush, and a whole bunch of other innocent sounding names, but don’t let that fool you. Horsetail is really an entirely diabolical weed that is completely invulnerable to being pulled out of the ground (it has super deep roots and tubers) and to most herbicides. I first realized how much trouble I was in when on the first couple of forums I found, responses to inquiries about horsetail usually started something like “Ooh, that’s too bad” or “You have my deepest sympathies”.
The picture above shows both forms that horsetail takes. I’m not a plant expert and am therefore unable to decode most of what this website says, but I think the gist is that the green stalks are sterile and the brown stalks are fertile. The fancy cones on the end of the brown stalks are actually some sort of seed or spore pod, and should therefore not be smashed. Better yet, there’s a sort of backup reproduction system involving a huge network of underground roots. Do you begin to see why I think horsetail is the spawn of the devil?
My personal battle with horsetail started the way most battles do: with blissful ignorance. I saw a weed and I pulled it. The next day there were two, which I pulled. The next day, well, you get the idea. By the time I started researching, there was quite a lot of horsetail. I sprayed it with Roundup and it actually seemed to grow faster. I cultivated the ground and pulled out a bucket of roots and it appeared again almost immediately. It eventually appeared not only in my garden, but also in the yard, and I knew I was in trouble.
The good news, if there is good news, is that there are a couple of things that do seems to really slow horsetail down. One of them is vinegar, which I admit I didn’t try, and the other is any herbicide containing 2,4D, which is a widely-available broadleaf weed killer that sounded nastier to me than vinegar. With 2,4D, the trick is to spray all of the horsetail you can see, after which it turns brown and looks really dead (see picture at right). It’s not, of course, because it’s evil. Then you have to pull out all of the dead-looking stuff and wait. A few days later, new shoots appear and you have to be ready to blast them, wait, pull out the dead stuff, and wait again. I discovered this process a few months ago and I’m happy to report that the frequency of the new shoots appearing has decreased and the time it takes for them to work back to the surface has increased.
Before I congratulate myself too much, it’s more than likely that evil roots of horsetail are simply regrouping, developing a new strategy, and one day I’ll come home from work to find my whole house enveloped by 2,4D resistant horsetail. Such is life in times of war…