Sheep’s sorrel

Sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is a relative of dock whose tangy young leaves in long grassland are favoured by foragers. However, in gardens especially on sandy, acidic soils it can be a troublesome weed.

Sheep's sorrel

Quick facts

Common name Sheep’s sorrel
Botanical name Rumex acetosella
Area affected Common in dry, sandy, acid borders and lawns
Main causes May establish from seed but difficult to eradicate as it can regenerate from small sections of root 
Timing Leaves appear in spring but root persist all year; treat from summer to autumn

What is sheep's sorrel?

Sheep's sorrel is a common, perennial weed of dry, sandy well-drained acid gardens. It mainly spreads by underground roots but produces abundant seed making it a troublesome weed. A common native found on heaths, grassland, roadsides and in the garden with dry, sandy, well-drained acid soils.

Appearance

Sheep’s sorrel has a basal rosette of oblong arrow-shaped leaves. Tufted plant to 30cm (1ft) and distinguished from common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) by its small size. Flowers May to August. Male and female flowers are on separate plants.

The problem

Sheep’s sorrel has a relatively shallow, spreading root system which can regrow from small sections of root left in the ground. If allowed to flower it produces large amounts of seed.

Control

Non chemical

Sheep’s sorrel is difficult to eradicate by cultural methods alone as it can regrow from sections of root left in the soil. It is more vulnerable to hoeing in spring.

  • Liming: Lime borders to pH 6.5-7 unless ericaceous plants are grown. Mulch with spent mushroom compost which is alkaline and would act in a similar way to liming
  • Top-dressing lawns with lime to raise soil pH to 6.0-6.5 will reduce the vigour of the weed as it prefers acid soils. Apply lime as suggested by a test kit or soil analysis
  • Top-dressing lawns with calcium nitrate at 35-70g per sq m (1-2 oz per sq yd) will raise the pH quicker than lime and feed the lawn
  • Avoid using ammonia and urea fertilisers if sorrel is present as these acidify the soil

Chemical control

In borders:

  • Apply glyphosate as a spot treatment to individual plants or spray areas that have been cleared of cultivated plants
  • Glyphosate is a non-selective weedkiller applied to the foliage, where it is translocated throughout the weed. Tougher formulations are worth trying (e.g. Scotts Roundup Ultra, Bayer Garden Rootkill Weedkiller, Bayer Garden Super Strength Weedkiller or Doff Maxi Strength Glyphosate Weedkiller)
  • Being non-selective, it is essential to avoid spray drift onto neighbouring plants. It is important to have good leaf coverage so that as much chemical is absorbed as possible
  • Sprays are most effective if applied from early June to mid-August
  • As this weed is so persistent several applications may be necessary

In lawns:

  • Sorrel can usually be eradicated in lawns by one or two applications of lawn weedkiller containing 2,4-D plus mecoprop-P or 2,4-D plus dicamba. Examples include Doff Lawn Spot Weeder and Westland Resolva Lawn Weedkiller or Scotts Lawn Builder Lawn Food Plus Weed Control (also contains fertiliser). See more on selecting lawn weedkillers
  • Apply when both turf and weeds are growing strongly with a second application four or five weeks later

In rough grassland:

  • Apply a selective weedkiller which contains triclopyr (SBK Brushwood Killer) as this would leave the grass unharmed
  • This herbicide is systemic, travelling from the weed foliage down into the root system
  • However as it is non-selective any broad-leaved plants will be damaged (e.g. wildflowers) and so should only be used in grass where such action is acceptable

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 1a,b,c 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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