How to Clear Ground Elder

Ground Elder in Garden Borders

Over winter it is easy to forget about some of those nasty perennial weeds that lurk beneath the soil. One of the most rampant, vigorous and downright stubborn of these is ground elder.

It is also known as gout weed, bishop weed and most appropriately jump about. Left unchecked, it will spread from one tiny corner of the garden. It will invade all useful growing space by spreading its network of underground stems (rhizomes). In an alien like fashion it can regenerate into a new plant from just a tiny fragment of those underground stems. 

Step by Step Guide to clearing Ground Elder

For a serious invasion of ground elder you will need time, patience and maybe lots of black polythene!

1) Dig up any cultivated plants in the area that you want to keep.  Gently tease out any ground elder rhizomes from their roots making sure you get every last part. Do not put the weeds in the compost! 

2) Dig up any plants you want to keep and replant in pots or clear soil and make sure to check for any Ground Elder before you plant back when your bed has been cleared.

3) Dig out the ground elder. You will need to dig to a depth of about 2 foot and be very thorough, making sure that you get out every last scrap of those rampant rhizomes.

4) Leave the area for a few weeks then do a second digging over to catch the ones that you missed. 

The Roots of Ground Elders

The Easy way to get rid of Ground Elder

Alternatively, after stage 2 or 3, you can cover the area with black polythene to starve the ground elder of light.

This will take at least a year and possibly two.

How long does it take to dig out Ground Elder?

As an example we cleared a large patch of ground about 12ft square. We didn't want to stare at black polythene for two years so decided to dig out.  The digging took us a few weeks and we seeded the area with grass and mowed it regularly which seemed to work very well.

Should I use weedkiller on Ground Elder?

You can, of course turn to a glyphosphate weedkiller, but there are many reasons this isn't a good idea.  Firstly they are pretty nasty chemicals but for a large patch of ground it could also be very expensive.  So, it is much better to get digging and keep on top of any new growth after an initial clearing. 

Can I compost Ground Elder? 

No!  Do not compost ground elder as it is likely to start growing again.  But, there is one saving grace for this pesky perennial, that it is edible. The young leaves are slightly nutty and can be used in a salad or cooked in butter like spinach. So if you can't beat it, eat it! 

How to avoid perennial weeds spreading

Avoid this in future by planting ground cover plants or green manures.  Find out how here Green Manure for better Soil

Nicola Wallis