Ground elder

Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) is a fast-growing, invasive, perennial weed that can spread quickly to form a carpet of foliage that will crowd out less-vigorous plants in beds and borders.

young growth on ground elder.

young growth on ground elder.

Quick facts

Common name Ground elder, gout weed, bishop weed, jump-about
Botanical name Aegopodium podagraria
Areas affected Beds, borders, new lawns, all soil types
Main causes May establish from seed, but usually arrives via rhizomes from neighbouring gardens, or stem fragments in composts or manures
Timing Leaves appear in spring and summer, but rhizomes and roots persist year-round

What is ground elder?

Ground elder is an herbaceous, invasive, perennial weed. It spreads via rhizomes (underground stems), which can regenerate from a just a tiny fragment left in the ground.

Appearance

Early in the year, shoots with dark green leaves burst from the soil. These are followed in late spring and early summer by tall stalks that support several flat heads of white flowers. There is also a form with variegated leaves. The flowers bear a resemblance to those of the elder tree (which is completely unrelated), and this gives the weed its common name. 

The problem

Spreading by rhizomes, ground elder can easily creep in from a neighbouring garden or nearby wasteland. It can also be unknowingly introduced with new plants if pieces of its fleshy, white rhizome are hidden within the compost of the rootball or are tucked away among the roots of the plant.

Control

As its rhizomes are close to the surface of the soil, it is possible to reduce infestations of ground elder by removing it carefully with a garden fork. However, eradicating it completely needs vigilance as the smallest portion of root left in the soil will result in a new plant growing.

Non-chemical control

Tackling large infestations of ground elder in a well-planted bed can be difficult. To get rid of it completely requires time and patience. Try the following non-chemical approaches:

  1. Lift cultivated plants and carefully remove and destroy any pieces of ground elder rhizome from around their roots.
  2. After you are sure it has all been removed, replant your garden plants in clean soil or pots.
  3. The ground elder can now be evicted by digging, or by covering the ground with black polythene to starve the weed of light. It may take several seasons until the ground elder is completely destroyed.

In new lawns, ground elder will usually be starved by repeated mowing, and should not persist for long.

Chemical control

Glyphosate

  • Established ground elder can be controlled by spraying with a tough weedkiller containing glyphosate (e.g. Scotts Roundup Tree Stump & Rootkiller, SBM Job done Tough Weedkiller (soluble sachet only, SBM Job done Tough Tree Stump Killer (soluble sachet only), Doff Maxi Strength Glyphosate Weedkiller or Westland Resolva Xtra Tough Weedkiller)
  • Protect cultivated plants with sheet polythene or by pegging them out of the way, and take care to avoid spray drift. The gel formulation (Scotts Roundup Gel) may be easier to apply in such a situation 
  • Apply the spray in mid-summer when there is lots of leafy growth, then reapply if necessary later in summer
  • Spraying in the evening will be far more effective than spraying during the day as more of the chemical will be absorbed by the foliage

Residual control

  • SBM Job done Tough Weedkiller (ready-to-use only), SBM Job done Path Weedkiller (ready-to-use only)
    and Scotts Weedol Pathclear products containing glyphosate/diflufenican and can be applied once a season to natural surfaces where no plants are to be grown, and can also be applied under and around established woody trees and shrubs. This product kills off existing small green growth and prevents or checks developing growth. Check manufacturer’s recommendations before use to avoid damaging sensitive plants. This product kills off existing small green growth and may prevent or check developing growth of ground elder at the base of hedges or other woody plants. Check manufacturer’s recommendations before use to avoid damaging sensitive plants

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 4 and 5)

Links

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


Gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Did you find the advice you needed?

RHS members can get exclusive individual advice from the RHS Gardening Advice team.

Join the RHS now

Get involved

We're a UK charity established to share the best in gardening. We want to enrich everyone's life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.