Cow parsley

The delicate white flowers and fern-like foliage of cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) is a common along verges and grassy areas in spring. It is an early source of nectar for pollinators and beneficial insects but can become a weed if allowed to spread.

Cow parsley

Quick facts

Common name Cow parsley
Botanical name Anthriscus sylvestris
Area affected Orchards, paddocks and grassed areas
Main causes Spreads by seed and root sections
Timing Flowers from April to June; treat spring to autumn

What is cow parsley?

Cow parsley is a native biennial or short-lived perennial rarely encountered in well-kept gardens. Usually a wayside weed although if allowed to flower, it can be troublesome in orchards, paddocks, churchyards and similar grassed areas.

Appearance

Forms clumps of dissected, fern-like leaves. It flowers in spring (April–June), bearing umbels of white flowers on 1-1.2m (3¼-4ft) hollow stems. One of the earliest umbels to come into flower.

Detail of cow parsley foliage and purple-tinted flowering stem
    Detail of cow parsley foliage and purple-tinted flowering stem

    The problem

    Cow parsley will produce large amounts of seed which is easily spread by wind or water when dry. Also the deep tap root can regrow if damaged.

    Control

    Non chemical

    Cultural control is practicable where there is a limited infestation; use a fork to lift out the weed by the roots in late spring when the flowering stem has developed sufficiently to provide good purchase. It is important to prevent the seed from developing.

    Repeated mowing will exhaust and largely eliminate this weed from grassed areas. 

    Chemical control

    Where seed is known to have fallen on grassland, spray with lawn herbicides the following spring during the earliest stages of seedling development. At the seeding stage lawn herbicides containing 2,4-D plus dicamba or mecoprop-P will strongly check growth, but well-established plants are resistant to these lawn weedkillers. 

    Established plants are best controlled using a systemic herbicide such as glyphosate (Scotts Roundup).

    Glyphosate is best applied when the cow parsley is in full growth (April-May), as the more chemical you can apply to the foliage, the more effective the chemical is. Treatment after flowering is not effective.

    Unfortunately, glyphosate is non-selective, killing any green plant material it comes into contact with. However, as the cow parsley is a tall-growing plant it should be possible to spray the foliage of the weed without the spray coming into contact with the grass. Alternatively, plastic sheeting can be laid over the turf whilst spraying.

    Glyphosate can take 3-6 weeks to kill weeds, depending on weather conditions. It doesn’t remain in the soil so re-sowing can commence soon after the weed has died down. If the soil is to be cultivated, ensure that the weed roots are dead before digging to prevent live root sections being spread through the soil.

    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.

    Download

    Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners; see sections 1b and 4)

    Links

    Chemicals: using a sprayer
    Chemicals: using safely and effectively
    Chemicals: using spot and broad-scale
    Weeds: non-chemical control

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