Ground Elder Fight Club - how to rid the garden of ground elder organically?

Do you have ground elder in your garden? If so, how have you controlled it organically? Weed killer isn’t an option for me.

In our new garden there is a very healthy patch of ground elder, Aegopodium podagraria that is growing in a border underneath an established shrub Magnolia and a very old established privet hedge, Ligustrum ovalifolium. It also runs under the boundary dry stone wall.

As an organic gardener, I don’t want to use chemicals of course, which leaves three options:

  1. dig out!
  2. cover over for at least 2 - 3 years
  3. let it grow and not worry about it

Number 3 isn’t really an option because of the style of planting I want to grow here, I want to establish a natural plant community and the ground elder would run wild. I do plant to cover some of it (no.2) and the rest I’ll dig (no.1).

However! In a bare area of soil I would not be worried, I’d keep it empty and dig it out and over the number of years I’d be rid of it. But with the drystone wall, the privet hedge and magnolia, the ground elder has some strongholds at their base and roots. There is no real way to give out all of their roots.

So the question is, how to I remove this plant permanently?! Any tips very welcome.

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Our ground elder is quite well behaved. Since I gave up on trying to get rid of it ~10yrs ago it has barely changed. This year the patch has actually shrunk a bit because some angler grass has seeded beside it. It’s down the side of our shed so I’m going to just let the two plants do their thing. If it was in a visible part of the garden I would have to remove the angler grass, as that is a far worse thug than ground elder in our Sheffield garden.

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I’ve got quite a lot in a packed border, pretty hard to get to so I just cut it to ground level when I spot it in the hope that it will weaken it and it’ll b… r off and bother someone else. Just don’t get me started on bindweed!!

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I took over an allotment that was overgrown with ground elder and similar weeds (”rotogräs”in Swedish stands for root-un-grass). There are no walls but parts where I can’t get to the roots. The solution: pick the new green and turn it into ground elder pesto. I know people who put ground elder into quiche. The plant is edible, so eat it.

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Is picking it like that enough to keep it under control from spreading?

While I was digging some out, it came out as easily as bind weed and couch grass. So although all of these are a pain, it does seem fairly easy to control in bare soil at least.

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Local lore in Stockholm says that it takes two summers to eradicate ground elder if you do it by pinching out new growth, if you cannot remove the roots by digging. Some say if you cut the plant five times while it is still small, it will be enough to wear out the roots. Note sure about the figure, could be eight times. In a small area, it is easy to keep it under control, in my experience strawberries are much more work to keep from spreading. However, important to pull out the roots if you can.

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Ha I can believe that with strawberries! Thank you this is encouraging :blush:

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I have seen a number of times when looking for ideas on tackling ground elder a claim that Tagetes minuta (Mexican marigold) gets rid of ground elder. It seem a bit too good to be true, and indeed you would need to have the right growing conditions for the tagetes (which we don’t–the ground elder that’s started spreading from our neighbour’s garden is invading a shady, damp border). I don’t know if it can be grown among other plants or if a whole area needs to be devoted to the tagetes as a single crop. (So far we are just trying to dig the ground elder out to keep it in check.)

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I’ve read about this and always doubted it but that’s a bit silly - the best way is to try it! I guess I’ll have to wait until spring now but I will give it a go. I’m a bit nervous it could affect the hedge but there’s certainly a strip on the otherside of the wall beyond the hedge worth trying it on.

I’m happy to dig it out across most of the bed but beneath the hedge is now the main problem. If the targetes work without killing the hedge, they could be the secret weapon!

Either way it’s good to put the myth to bed one way of the other. Thanks for mentioning it Tom!

Will be interesting to hear if it works. (Some miracle solution for bindweed would be wonderful to discover too, that’s running rampant in our garden this year, and far more widespread than usual!)

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I have it. It runs along the hedge and can make it’s way into the beds. I’ve stopped worrying about it so much. I used to strim it, but now I pull out by the roots in spring each year to keep it in check and I do have less than I did have, but I don’t completely remove as I like the flower and it works in my planting. But, if it wasn’t already there I wouldn’t have planted it. :sweat_smile:

It’s just a shame the slugs don’t scoff it.

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I guess it’s exactly the same routine as their roots and spread are so similar.

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Haha yeah why don’t the slugs like it!

I’ll be happy if I can control it to keep confined to under the hedge and out of the main planting areas. We shall see next year! I quite enjoy digging it out where to soil is bare as it’s quite easy and you see the immediate impact. It’s just where it can’t be removed from plant roots it’s a problem. Fingers crossed the dig and rip routine works for us too!

Where we have it, emerging from under a boundary fence over the last two years, a couple of goes at digging it out not very thoroughly each spring, before it gets difficult to access, seems to have kept it in check, more so than I expected - I’ve had look today and there are a few ground elder leaves here and there but it’s not out of control. Of course that might be because it’s not ideal growing conditions or it’s just getting established and I may regret being so blasé! Although there isn’t room in this border, we’ve gradually added access paths between other borders and hedges, not least to allow easier access to control weeds, and being able to spot them early is useful.

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That’s good to know thanks Tom. I need to get digging our patch this week and then I’ll repeat the process in spring like you.

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I have learned that either constantly pick the foilage off to slowly kill the roots and leave it be. as we all know it can spread like wildfire in disturbed ground so if you can avoid any soil disruption around it it may stay contained. its only if i departly need to use the area i dig out as much as i can the follow up with removal of foilage. takes a long time but get;s there eventually

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Thanks Nick, I will try this - I’ve dug out some areas and perennials so I can get a clear run of the soil patch next year. I’m hoping to fight it back at least toward the hedge to keep it under there and not out in the main planting areas where it will just continue to spread.

I’m actually looking forward to seeing what works, I’m going to try and variety of the suggestions here in different areas.

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I have spent years trying to get rid of it in many parts of my garden. Before I knew the down side of putting carpet on weeds I layed some and left it for about 7-8 years. Guess what, the white roots were still there looking strong and the green plants grew as soon as they got light. I am digging it up assiduously in some areas but l will have to leave it on others so wondering about putting vertical sheets of metal of some sort as a barrier to stop the spread. Not sure how far down these would need to be in the ground.
Any thoughts on this before I detonate my entire garden :wink:
Oh and it’s started growing in my compost so I may have to dismantle the bins, get rid of it and reconstruct :sob:

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The roots don’t seem to go down that far to me, especially the spreading rhizomes so it might be worth a try. Once ours is under control I may do the same.