First consider non-chemical control options;
In uncultivated areas, forking out is possible in lighter soils, as much of the underground stem system is fairly shallow, but it is easy to leave behind small sections of rhizome in the ground. These quickly regrow and need to be removed before they form a new network of rhizomes.
In cultivated areas, hand weeding can be done where there are small isolated infestations among herbaceous perennials. This is best done in early spring when the plants will soon re-establish and around bulbs as the bulb foliage is dying, but is not practical around trees, shrubs and roses where roots may be considerably damaged.
Strip off infested lawns and dig out any remaining couch grass roots before re-turfing.
Glyphosate-based weedkillers (e.g. Scotts Tumbleweed, Bayer Garden Rootkill Weedkiller, Doff Maxi Strength Glyphosate Weedkiller or Westland Deadfast Weedkiller; or for spot treatment use Scotts Roundup Gel) are very effective and, if correctly applied, should kill even heavy infestations of couch.
As these products are not selective, care is needed to prevent spray landing or drifting on to other cultivated plants and causing damage. Protect them with polythene while spraying and remove only once it has dried. Follow this advice for spraying:
- In spring, spray when the new growth has reached a minimum 10-15cm (4-6in) high with each shoot having not less than four or five new leaves. Spraying at this stage of growth, in mild conditions when growth is active, will usually be very effective
- If attempting control in the autumn, the best period for spraying is early October to mid-November, but before the first frosts. Try to avoid drought conditions, as results can be disappointing
- In heavily couch-infested areas it may be better to dig up cultivated plants, carefully tease out any couch grass roots that may be in the rootball and relocate them temporarily while treatment takes place. It is unnecessary to remove bulbs that have died back where no part of the plant is visible above ground
- Couch grass should die back within three weeks; but treat any regrowth as soon as possible. Do not cultivate the soil until the grass has been completely killed
There are no selective lawn weedkillers that will kill couch grass while leaving the rest of the grass unharmed.
Infested lawns should therefore be sprayed off with glyphosate until the grasses are fully killed. Only then can the area be dug over and prepared for re-sowing or re-turfing.
*A note on glyphosate May 2016: After reviewing glyphosate, the European Parliament has given the go ahead to relicense it but proposes disallowing certain uses such as public open space and restricting it to professional use only. The final resolution will be decided by national authorities this summer which may mean the withdrawal of glyphosate-based weedkillers for home gardeners in the UK. Check the RHS website for further updates.
Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners; see section 4)
Image: © GWI/Jacqui Dracup. Available in high resolution at www.gardenworldimages.com