Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), often called mare’s tail, is an invasive, deep-rooted perennial weed that will spread quickly to form a dense carpet of foliage, crowding out less vigorous plants in beds and borders.
Botanical name: Equisetum arvense
Areas affected: Beds, borders, lawns, paths and patios
Main causes: May establish from spores, but usually arrives via rhizomes from neighbouring gardens, or stem fragments in composts or manures
Timing: Seen in spring and summer; treat in late summer.
What is horsetail?
Horsetail is an invasive, deep-rooted weed with fast-growing rhizomes (underground stems) that quickly send up dense stands of foliage. This page looks at options for gardeners when horsetail is becoming a problem.
Horsetail is easily recognised by its upright, fir tree-like shoots that appear in summer.
In spring, fertile light brown stems, 20-50cm (10-20in) tall, appear with a cone-like spore producing structure at the end of the stems.
In summer, sterile green shoots develop into fir tree-like plants, 60cm (2ft) tall.
The creeping rhizomes of this pernicious plant may go down as deep as 2m (7ft) below the surface, making them hard to remove by digging out, especially if they invade a border. They often enter gardens by spreading underground from neighbouring properties or land.
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.
Removing horsetail by hand is difficult. Although rhizomes growing near the surface can be forked out, deeper roots will require a lot of excavation. Shallow, occasional weeding is not effective and can make the problem worse, as the plant can regrow from any small pieces left behind. However, removing shoots as soon as they appear above the ground can reduce infestation if carried out over a number of years.
If horsetail appears in lawns, it can be kept in check by mowing regularly.
Infestations of horsetail can be weakened with weedkiller.
- On vacant soil, where there are no herbaceous perennials, bulbs or crops, you can use SBM Job Done Path Weedkiller (ready to use only) and Weedol Pathclear products containing glyphosate/diflufenican to inhibit new shoots
- Tough weedkillers containing glyphosate (e.g. Roundup Tree Stump & Rootkiller, SBM Job Done Tough Weedkiller (soluble sachets only), Doff Weedout Extra Tough Weedkiller or Westland Resolva Pro Xtra Tough Concentrate or for spot treatment use Roundup Gel) can be applied in late summer when growth is strong. Before using, bruise the shoots with a rake to ensure effective penetration
Remember: horsetail is persistent, and several applications – possibly over a number of years – may be necessary to completely eradicate the problem.
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 4 and 5)
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.