The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner. For example, where pests, diseases or weeds pose a serious threat to the wider environment, to important heritage specimens, to habitat, or to native wildlife.
Plants that out-compete other more desirable plants or simply invade half the garden are classed as weeds and require control. First, consider whether this can be done using non-chemical means such as pulling or digging out, or suppressing with mulch. If this can't be achieved, consider using chemical methods.
The main method of non-chemical control, and usually the most appropriate, is pulling or cutting the plants before they flower and set seed. Conservation authorities regularly organise ‘balsam bashing’ work parties to clear the weed from marshland and riverbanks.
Where non-chemical control methods are not feasible, chemical controls may need to be used. Choose a weedkiller that is most appropriate for the purpose by reading the label carefully before buying or using. Contact weedkillers and glyphosate have low persistence in the soil, being virtually inactivated on soil contact. Residual weedkillers persist in the soil for several weeks or months and can move deeper or sideways in the soil, leading to possible damage of underlying plant roots.
Before using weedkillers alongside waterways it is necessary to contact the Environment Agency (see telephone directory for your local office). It can advise on suitably qualified contractors, as can the National Association of Agricultural and Amenity Contractors.
Take care when applying weedkillers near ornamental plants. Cover them with plastic sheeting while spraying, and only remove it once the spray has dried on the weed foliage.
It may take a couple of seasons to obtain good control of Himalayan balsam, as additional weed seedlings germinate after the parent plants are killed off.
Fatty acids, acetic acid and pelargonic acid
The non-selective contact weedkillers acetic acid (Weedol Gun! Fast Acting, Ecofective Spot On Fast Acting Weedkiller, ResolvaFast Weedkiller, Vitax Garden Weedkiller), fatty acids (SBM Solabiol Super Fast Weedkiller) or pelargonic acid (Doff 24/7 Fast Acting Weedkiller, Neudorff Weedfree Plus, Westland Resolva Xpress Weedkiller, Roundup NL Weed Control) can be applied before flowering.
Himalayan balsam can be controlled with a weedkiller based on glyphosate (e.g. Roundup Fast Action, Westland Resolva Pro Xtra Tough Weedkiller, SBM Job done General Purpose Weedkiller or Doff Weedout Extra Tough Weedkiller). Glyphosate is a non-selective, systemic weedkiller that is applied to the foliage. It is inactivated on contact with the soil, so there is no risk of damage to the roots of nearby ornamentals, but care must be taken that the spray doesn't drift onto their foliage. Used with care, glyphosate is safe to use around the base of non-suckering woody plants, as long as the bark is woody, brown and mature. Glyphosate is most effective when weed growth is vigorous. Treat Himalayan balsam at early flowering stage to ensure the weed is knocked back before it has chance to self-seed.
Inclusion of a weedkiller product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.
Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners; see sections 3 and 4)
Chemicals: using a sprayer
Chemicals: using safely and effectively
Chemicals: using spot and broad-scale weedkillers
Weeds: non-chemical control