Horsetail, or marestail, is a common problem every gardener will encounter.
It is an instantly recognisable weed and one that frightens a lot of gardeners.
My advice is simple, treat it as more of an annoyance than a world-ending problem. This plant was around when the dinosaurs were, so your chances of getting rid of it are pretty slim.
So rather than focusing on eradication, learn to live with it. And with patient work and time, it won’t be much of a problem at all.
How I Deal With It
My method is very simple indeed; whenever I see some poking up out of my bed, I pull it out by hand.
Get your hand in below the soil level and try to pull it by its roots rather than the leaves, this way, you bring more of the root structure with you.
Horsetail spreads through its roots, creeping under the soil. The photo above gives you a good idea of how it grows.
If you keep on top of it like this, and remove it whenever you see it, then it won’t ever be much of a problem.
Each time you remove it, you weaken the plant, and even severe infestations can be reduced over time to little more than a few sprouts here and there.
Improving your soil also helps; horsetail thrives in poor soils but doesn’t do too well in rich soil. So if you continually improve your soil, as you should be, you will notice the problem lessen again.
Digging it out
You can completely remove horsetail by digging out all of the roots. While at first, this may seem like the way to go, let me stop you.
The roots of horsetail are deep, really deep. In fact, they can be up to 10ft deep.
So unless you plan on turning your garden into the Somme, you will not get it all. Any little piece of missed root will grow back over time.
And even if you somehow did get rid of every last centimetre of the root, it will probably just creep back into your garden from a neighbouring area.
Don’t get me wrong, digging up more of the roots weakens the plants and is definitely the way to go. But like I said earlier, focus on weakening and living with horsetail – rather than eliminating it.
I am not a fan of weedkillers to begin with, so I don’t recommend them. But for horsetail, they are particularly ineffective.
That is because the leaves of horsetail are small and have a rubber texture, and contain a high level of silica.
As most weed killers work by being absorbed through the plant’s leaves, they don’t work too well on horsetail, and they just wash off.
Some people advocate for scrunching and damaging the leaves first before then applying weed killer.
But in my mind, if you are going to all that effort, then pull the plants up. After all, people use weedkillers because they are the easier, less labour-intensive method.
I believe there are specialist weed killers made for horsetail but that they are pretty nasty, so I stay well away from them.
Watch Out For The Spores
As well as spreading through their rhizomatous roots, horsetail also spreads through spores.
These appear as brown shoots in early spring before the rest of the plant appears.
Immediately removing these spores as soon as you see them is key to stopping the plant from spreading.
A weed burner can work well here, and with this appearing early in the year, there is normally little else growing for you to worry about damaging.
You can also pull them up but be careful not to inadvertently spread the spores.
Putting a small plastic bag over the top of the plant before pulling it up is one way to prevent this.