Japanese knotweed

Although rather attractive, Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is a real thug as it spreads rapidly. In winter the plant dies back beneath ground but by early summer the bamboo-like stems shoot to over 2.1m (7ft), suppressing all other growth. Eradication requires steely determination as it is very hard to remove by hand or with chemicals. New legislation now covers its control – see below.

Japanese knotweed

Quick facts

Common name Japanese knotweed
Latin name Fallopia japonica (syn. Polygonum cuspidatum)
Areas affected Waysides, beds, borders and paving
Main causes Weed with creeping roots
Timing Seen late spring to autumn; treat in summer

What is Japanese knotweed?

Japanese knotweed is a strong-growing, clump-forming perennial, with tall, dense annual stems. Stem growth is renewed each year from the stout, deeply-penetrating rhizomes (creeping underground stems).

New legislation

An amendment to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 includes Japanese knotweed and other invasive non-native plants. Full details of how this will work for the homeowner are not yet available, but here are some key points:

  • It is not illegal to have Japanese knotweed in your garden
  • On your property, you should aim to control this plant and other invasive non-native plants such as Himalayan balsam and giant hogweed, to prevent them becoming a problem in your neighbourhood. If they have a "detrimental effect of a persistant or continuing nature on the quality of life of those in the locality", the legislation could be used to enforce its control
  • Control can be carried out by the homeowner (see the control section below) and doesn't require a specialist company. However, a specialist company will be skilled at control and can dispose of the plant waste
  • Identification is important. Japanese knotweed can be confused with other plants including Persicaria microcephala (e.g. P. microcephala 'Red Dragon'), Leycesteria formosa and Houttuynia cordata
  • Where problems with Japanese knotweed occur in neighbouring gardens, we suggest that you speak or correspond directly with your neighbours (who may already be taking action to control this difficult weed). These informal steps should be taken before contacting your council to talk about control using the legislation

For more information, see the Home Office Information Note: Japanese knotweed.

Appearance

In spring and summer, bamboo-like shoots grow to 2.1m (7ft) tall. Leaves are up to 14cm (5½in) in length and the creamy-white flower tassels produced in late summer and early autumn reach up to 15cm (6in).

The stems die back to ground level in winter.

    Japanese knotweed is a perennial weed, producing tall canes, up to 2.1m (7ft) in height during the summer. The canes have characteristic purple flecks, and produce branches from nodes along its length. These branches support shovel-shaped leaves.Bare stems typical of Japanese knotweed's appearance in winter

    The problem

    Japanese knotweed was introduced from Japan in 1825 as an ornamental plant. The plant is not unattractive but its rapid annual growth and relentless spread, allows it to easily overwhelm other garden plants. Where established as a wayside weed, native plants are also aggressively over-run.

    Although it does not produce seeds, it can sprout from very small sections of rhizomes and, under the provisions made within the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to cause Japanese knotweed to grow in the wild. Much of its spread is probably via topsoil movement or construction traffic.

    Control

    Non-chemical controls

    When tackling Japanese knotweed, cultural control methods pose some problems;

    • Digging out is possible, but due to the depth that the rhizomes can penetrate, regrowth usually occurs. This method also creates problems over disposal as Japanese knotweed is classed as 'controlled waste' under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This requires disposal at licensed landfill sites. Specialist Japanese knotweed contractors are usually licensed to safely remove the weed from site but check first before employing their services. Alternatively, it can be destroyed on site by allowing it to dry out before burning. On no account should Japanese knotweed be included with normal household waste or put out in green waste collection schemes 
    • If digging out is attempted, remove as much root as possible, then repeatedly destroy regrowth. In this way the energy reserves in the remaining underground parts will be gradually exhausted; a process which may, however, take several seasons

    Biological control

    • A plant sucker (psyllid) is being released in the UK as a biological control for Japanese knotweed. It is currently only being released at a handful of trial sites and is not available to gardeners. However, if successful it will be released more widely and will become widespread in Britain over the next five to ten years by natural spread

    Chemical controls

    Glyphosate

    • Perhaps the most effective and simplest method for the home gardener to tackle Japanese knotweed is with the glyphosate-based weedkiller Scotts Roundup Tree Stump & Rootkiller. This has label recommendation for controlling Japanese knotweed, instructing it to be applied to the cut canes. Bayer Garden Super Strength Weedkiller also has label control for this weed
    • Alternatively, try other tough formulations of glyphosate (e.g. Scotts Roundup Ultra 3000, Scotts Tumbleweed, Bayer Tough Rootkill or Doff Maxi Strength Glyphosate Weedkiller)
    • Glyphosate is usually applied to the foliage and is passed within the plant to the underground parts
    • It is useful to cut away old stems during the previous winter to allow good access. The best time for spraying with glyphosate is at the flowering stage in late summer. However, it is difficult to spray at this stage, when the weed is 2.1m (7ft) or more high
    • A more practical approach is to allow Japanese knotweed to grow to about 90cm (3ft), which will usually be reached in May, and spray then. There will be regrowth and consequently a second application in mid-summer is useful. Check during September and if it has grown once more, spray again before growth begins to die down in the autumn. Check again the following spring
    • Avoid spray coming into contact with garden plants. Glyphosate-treated knotweed will often produce small-leaved, bushy regrowth 50-90cm (20in-3ft) in height the following spring. This is very different in appearance to the normal plant and it is essential that this regrowth is treated
    • It usually takes at least three to four seasons to eradicate Japanese knotweed using glyphosate. Professional contractors, however, will have access to more powerful weedkillers that may reduce this period by half

    Residual control

    • The residual weedkiller Bayer Ground Clear Weedkiller containing glyphosate/flufenacet/metosulam comes in a soluble sachet. It may provide a moderate check in growth, but because of the extremely persistent rhizomes, is unlikely to eradicate the weed

    Download

    Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners; see sections 4 and 5)

    Links

    Chemicals: using a sprayer
    Chemicals: using safely and effectively
    Chemicals: using spot and broad-scale weedkillers

    Other related species

    Several species of Persicaria and Polygonum, including Persicaria lapathifolia and Persicaria maculosa can also be troublesome weeds. Where possible, attempt control at the seedling stage by hoeing or using a proprietary formulation of diquat. Once established amongst soft-stemmed plants (such as herbaceous border plants, bedding plants or vegetables) removal by hand or by hoe is the only safe approach.

    Spot the difference

    The plants mentioned above are from the same genus as many well-known, garden worthy plants. So identification is key before removing useful ornamental species. These are some that you may wish to grow in your garden: Persicaria.

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    • trueglory avatar

      By trueglory on 30/04/2014

      I have just been told I have Japaneese Knotweed in my back garden, I have plans to build a single story extension on part of the area where the knotweed is, work is due to start in 5 weeks time. Do I need to put the building work off and what are my options to eradicate the problem?


      This comment has been reported and is currently under moderation.

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