Gardening projects… and horsetail

The bulbs have been planted… or most of them have. Unfortunately it looks as if it will be too cold this weekend to go digging and planting the last of my bulbs. Still, not to worry – a couple of warmer days next week are enough.

Meanwhile I got a couple of gardening projects going. I got myself a part of someone’s allotment just a five minute walk from home. However the reason I got this patch of land was because it was all a bit too much for the person who had the allotment: she’d dug the soil over but I found loads of roots from horsetail – probably the field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) I have in my own small garden.

Gardening projects with field horsetail

Ever found this in your garden? These are the fertile bits of the field horsetail.

So I’ve spent several hours on half of my little patch of ground, removing as many parts of root as possible. They’re black, which makes it harder. The best thing is that unlike in the garden, most of the soil is bare. The bad thing about that is horsetail is made for covering bare soil. Last spring I noticed for the first time mushroom-like brown stalks. They are in fact a lot like mushrooms and release spores when touched or shaken. I found an image on the Dutch version of Wikipedia that’ll show you what I mean.

Any bare spot is a potential home for new baby horsetail plants. As for getting rid of the roots… let me put it this way: the easiest way is to pull up the plants this horsetail is growing through and look for the black roots from the underside then pulling the entire plant out backwards. Even then there’ll be roots hidden lower down. But it will take more time before they re-appear.

I noticed bulb-like growths on some of the roots I pulled up. These could well develop into the ‘mushrooms’ in spring, so I’m removing every one I can find.

How to deal with horsetail? Well, Wikipedia tells me Equisetum Arvense is edible and has medicinal uses, but every other horsetail is toxic. So I won’t eat them…Now, since I’m not going to use anything poison to remove them, pulling up as much of the plant and its roots as I can is the only way to keep it contained.

But what’s next? You can’t put it on the compost heap, it’ll keep growing from every bit of root. What you can do is use the nettle approach – which I used by accident.

Horsetail soup for plants.

Put all the stems and roots in a bucket with a good amount of water. For preference, put a lid on (almost shut) so hardly any light can get in (or midges). Leave it for a couple of weeks until just a whiff makes you say something like “phooooah thaz reelly hor’ble”.

The smell means the contents are well-rotted. At this point, you can use the ‘water’ as a ‘green manure’; the nettles or other weeds – their yukky remains – can go onto the compost heap. I didn’t dare do that with the horsetail just yet. So I poured the whole soup into a plant container where I’d sown seeds but the soil was spent so nothing seemed eager to grow. I haven’t seen horsetail peeping out, but every other seed and plant has started to grow since that day a couple of months ago.

Bits about horsetail

  • One reason horsetail is so hard to get rid of is the root system, which gets nutrients from a very large area and concentrates it in its roots to send up new stems every time.
  • Horsetail can grow in very soggy conditions. After a shower the stems are covered with droplets for hours. This plant may even help other plants grow in places where they’d give up on their own.
  • Poor and bare soil is best for horsetail. If you remove them and plant your garden densely, they’re not that much of a nuisance. You do need to keep an eye on any bare spot, including your terrace. And pull out any stubborn, floppy specimen growing through the hedge.
  • One more thing: horsetail is tough stuff from the age of the dinosaurs. It’ll grow where other plants give up – even in contaminated soils.

What I like about my accidental experiment and reading about horsetail is that in the end, even this ‘horrible weed’ can be put to good use. That makes it worth the effort of having to pull the stuff out now and then!


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