Sorrel Weed Control: How To Control Yellow And Red Sorrel Weeds
By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Where soil has poor drainage and low nitrogen, you will undoubtedly find sorrel weeds (Rumex spp). This plant is also known as sheep, horse, cow, field, or mountain sorrel and even sour dock. Native to Europe, this unwelcomed perennial summer weed spreads by underground rhizomes. Let’s learn more about getting rid of sorrel.
Sorrel Weeds: Toxic Weed or Herb?
Stems can grow up to 2 feet (61 cm.) tall and bear arrowhead shaped leaves. Female and male flowers bloom on separate plants with male flowers being yellow-orange and female flowers are reddish with three-angle fruits.
The leaves of this bitter plant, when eaten in large quantities, can cause death amongst livestock but are considered safe for human consumption when eaten raw or boiled. For this reason, many people actually choose to grow sorrel weeds in their herb garden. However, it is a good idea to know about getting rid of sorrel in areas where livestock will be present.
How to Control Sorrel
Obviously, people who have large pastures with acidic soil and grazing livestock are interested in sorrel weed control. Controlling sorrel in pastures or crops requires changing over to annual crops that can handle some tillage.
Infestations can also be managed by adopting a four year rotation as follows:
- Plant a clean-cultivated crop the first year
- Plant a grain crop the next year
- Plant a cover crop the third year
- Plant a pasture or perennial crop the final year
Improving soil structure by liming and fertilizing encourages the growth of other plants that hopefully will crowd out sorrel weeds.
Chemical treatment can be used in non-crop areas and there are several selective herbicides that are effective.
In a small garden, sorrel weed control may only require digging up the plant with a sharp garden shovel, making sure to get all of the rhizomes. Getting rid of sorrel weed plants is not that difficult and if you know someone that enjoys the weed, you can simply allow him or her to pull them up and add the plants to their herb garden.
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How to Get Rid of Oxalis Weeds
Oxalis is one name for members of the Oxalidaceae family, commonly called woodsorrel, sorrel or shamrock. These small herbaceous plants spread quickly, and resemble clover, but are more tender and lighter in color. There are several varieties native to Europe and the United States, including creeping woodsorrel and common yellow sorrel, along with other, more regional, varieties. They are often planted as attractive groundcover, and are not always easy to eradicate, as they form underground mats with bulbs and roots.
Killing oxalis is best done with targeted herbicides like Oxalis-X or Weed-B-Gon if these are unavailable, general herbicides like Roundup, Ally and Escort also work. Mix them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Add dish detergent to the herbicide for more stickiness and thorough application to the small plants. A few tablespoons of detergent for a gallon of herbicide mixture is enough.
- Oxalis is one name for members of the Oxalidaceae family, commonly called woodsorrel, sorrel or shamrock.
- They are often planted as attractive groundcover, and are not always easy to eradicate, as they form underground mats with bulbs and roots.
Spray the herbicide mixture onto the plants just before they flower, before new bulbs have formed. This may be from late fall to early summer, depending on the climate and oxalis variety. Repeat a few days or weeks later if needed.
If chemical controls are ineffective or undesirable, try solarization. Lay down black plastic sheeting before the start of the growing season, covering the oxalis infestation completely. Some gardeners prefer to use a layer of cardboard covered with wood chips.
After the plants are dead or the cardboard and mulch are decomposed--after at least one entire growing season--seed a competitive planting over the top. The oxalis should be unable to come back with new growth.
- Spray the herbicide mixture onto the plants just before they flower, before new bulbs have formed.
It's easiest to kill Oxalis when the area it covers is small. Large mats may take several years to eradicate entirely the best method of controlling oxalis is to prevent its spread in the first place.
Removing oxalis by hand or with digging is usually a no-win situation, as this encourages more seeding. Oxalis likes disturbed soil, and handling the bulbs and seeds usually results in spreading them further. If you hand-pull oxalis, do it at the right time--before new growth in the late spring.
Red sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is a type of perennial broadleaf weed native to Eurasia and Great Britain. However, it has also been introduced to a large proportion of the northern hemisphere. It is particularly common throughout California and Ohio, as it prospers in dry environments like deserts and dunes.
It is also known, variously, as sheep sorrel, red sorrel, sour weed, and field sorrel. Like many other broadleaf weeds (common purslane, for example), red sorrel is safe to eat. In some regions of the world, it is used as a garnish or salad ingredient. However, it offers little nutrition and can be toxic in large amounts.
The species is a common sight on disturbed land. It can take hold on roadsides, fields, gardens, cultivated ground, and around former mining sites, as long as the soil is not too acidic. The plants are particularly familiar to blueberry farmers, as they favor similar conditions.
While red sorrel is a vital food source for the American Copper butterfly, it still treated as a noxious weed by gardeners. It can be challenging to control and remove because its creeping rhizome root structure is capable of producing new plants if divided or split.
If you need a suitable weed control or lawn maintenance strategy for the red sorrel in your garden, make sure that you positively identify the species first. One of its most distinctive features is the dense patches of above-ground roots which form when the plant is mature. These roots are yellow but may have a pinkish tinge.
The plant has arrow-shaped leaves with two small lobes at the base. It grows close to the ground, so rarely climbs to a significant height (0.4 m at the most). Its stems are a red or rust-brown color, and the flowers are very small. They grow in clusters right at the top of the stems. The female flowers are green and the male flowers yellow or red, but both can exist on the same plant, at the same time.
The best way to control this weed is with careful pulling. As long as the entire plant and its rhizome root structure are removed, it should not grow back or threaten your lawn. It is best to destroy or isolate the roots after removal. Always consider hiring a lawn service to take care of this weed for you.
Sheep sorrel's not all bad, but here's how to get rid of it
This past fall, sheep sorrel invaded my border of creeping phlox so severely that I don't know whether the border can be saved. Is there any way to eradicate this weed and save the phlox?
Sheep sorrel, or Rumex acetosella, is a weed native to Eurasia and North America.
With its lemony flavor, it can be used as a garnish in salads.
It also has been used medicinally, though that should be done under the guidance of a doctor because some people develop an allergic reaction to it. Beneficial properties associated with the plant include stimulating cellular regeneration, reducing fevers and increasing oxygen levels in the blood.
Sheep sorrel self-propagates both by reseeding and by underground rhizomes. It does best in compacted acidic soils low in nutrients with poor drainage.
Aerating, fertilizing with a balanced product (all the numbers the same) and adjusting the soil pH should be your first step in combating this invasive weed.
You can dig out sheep sorrel but you need to remove all of the rhizomes any pieces left can sprout and grow into new plants.
Chemical controls such as roundup can be used, but only when the plant is growing, and several applications may be needed to kill the rhizomes.
To kill weeds growing within a desired planting, try the "glove method."
Treat one old cloth glove with an herbicide, then use that hand to reach in and wipe the foliage of the offending weeds.
Use your ungloved hand to retreat the glove when needed and to help avoid touching desired plants.
I have used that method for many years and it works great. If you're squeamish, use a rubber glove underneath the cloth one.
Getting amaryllis blooms
I have a dozen or so amaryllis bulbs that I've acquired over the years. I put them in the yard until September, then bring them in and let them dry out. Then I repot them in water and place them in a sunny window. I get beautiful foliage, but they never bloom. What is the trick to get them to bloom? Also, after asparagus dies, should I cut off the tops or leave them?
- Mary Norman, Virginia Beach
You should bring amaryllis bulbs inside in early September. Do not water, and let the foliage die back completely, then move the bulbs to a cool dark place for two months to rest. That is critical.
After this rest period, move them to a warm room with plenty of indirect light, and water lightly to begin new growth.
How to Get Rid of Wood Sorrel Weed
Wood sorrel is a troublesome weed that is difficult to control, especially in mild climates were it blooms year-round. The weed spreads through seeds and by horizontal stems that take root where the joints touch the ground. Each seed pod has the potential to hold as many as 5,000 seeds, but usually contains 10 to 50 seeds. When the pod matures the seeds are expelled forcefully, and may land as far as 10 feet away. The seeds travel greater distances by adhering to clothing, garden tools, pets and wildlife. Watch for shamrock-like foliage that folds down the middle on especially hot days and at night. The flowers are bright yellow and less than 3/4 inch in diameter.
Pull up young wood sorrel plants before they have a chance to bloom. Dig up mature plants with a hand trowel, making sure that you get the entire tap root. The weed will reemerge if you leave bits of root in the soil. Use a hoe to dig up plants in severely infested sites.
Cover the ground with a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch in infested areas to prevent the seeds from germinating. The mulch blocks out light, which is necessary for wood sorrel seeds to germinate.
Treat wood sorrel growing in cool-season turfgrass such as Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, tall fescue and bentgrass with a postemergent herbicide containing the active ingredient triclopyr. Herbicides come in varying strengths and forms and may contain additional ingredients, so it is essential to carefully follow the label instructions regarding mixing, timing and method of application.
Treat wood sorrel in warm-season turfgrass such as Bermuda grass, Buffalo grass, St. Augustine grass, and zoysiagrass with a postemergent herbicide containing the active ingredient fluroxypyr. As with triclopyr, follow the label instructions precisely.
Spot-treat wood sorrel plants in ornamental beds by spraying them with an herbicide containing the active ingredient glyphosate. Take care not to get this herbicide on your landscape plants. It is non-specific and will kill any plant it contacts.