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Nettles can engulf borders and rough ground in a short space of time, competing with garden plants for water and nutrition and giving an uncared-for look. Control of pernicious weeds such as nettles is challenging, but possible.
Perennial nettles (Urtica dioica) and the annual nettle (Urtica urens) are usually considered to be weeds, although if you have the space to leave some, they can be an excellent source of food and habitat for butterflies such as the red admiral, peacock and small tortoiseshell.
Nettles are hardy perennials that form large clumps up to 1.2m (4ft) in height.
Unlike deadnettles (Lamium), stinging nettles (Urtica) have stinging hairs that make them quickly apparent to the gardener when weeding. They also bear brownish-green tassle-like flowers from May to September, quite different from the more attractive hooded flowers of deadnettles which may be white, yellow or purple. Male and female flowers are on separate plants.
The perennial stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a perennial, herbaceous plant with creeping roots. It is perhaps most troublesome in loose, newly cultivated soil, especially where phosphate levels are high. The creeping surface stems can extend for some considerable distance, rooting at the nodes and producing aerial shoots.
The annual nettle does not have long-lasting roots, but does produce very large numbers of seeds from an early age. Like its perennial realtives, it relishes fertile soils rich in organic matter and is a serious weed in vegetable gardens.
Nettles are very tolerant of extreme climatic conditions, germinating readily from seeds. Individual plants or clumps are either male or female and when both sexes are growing close together female plants produce large numbers of seeds.
The best time to apply weedkillers to nettles is when they are in vigorous growth, but have not yet flowered. Digging up the plants can be done at any time of year. They can be controlled using non-chemical or chemical methods.
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.
Chemicals: using a sprayer
Chemicals: using safely and effectively
Chemicals: using spot and broad-scale weedkillers
Weeds: non-chemical control
Brambles and other woody weeds
RHS video: weed control
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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.