Creeping buttercup

Creeping buttercup is easily recognised with its bright yellow flowers which attract pollinating insects. It is commonly found in gardens, thriving particularly on wet soils. As its name suggests, it’s a real spreader if left unchecked and can form a dense network of shoots, runners and roots.

Creeping buttercup

Quick facts

Common name creeping buttercup
Latin name Ranunculus repens
Areas affected woodland beds and borders in shade
Main causes weed with spreading runners and seeds
Timing flowering in spring; treat in spring and summer

What is creeping buttercup?

Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) is a British native perennial commonly found on heavy soils and is found in moist grassland, marshes and along woodland paths. It flowers from May to August when it attracts flies, beetles and bees including honey bees. In gardens it can be a cheerful addition to a flower-rich lawn and a welcome source of pollen to many insects. Learn more about making the most of lawns as a wildlife habitat and ways to help our bees;



The foliage is poisonous to livestock as the sap containes protoanemonin but grazing animals usually avoid buttercups as the foliage has an acrid taste.

Creeping buttercup can become particularly troublesome in moister soils where it grows strongly and roots deeply. It can be found in lawns, borders and bare soil areas.

After mild wet winters and in heavy soils rich in clay, creeping buttercup spreads widely and is difficult to eradicate from amongst permanent plantings in borders and in the fruit garden. This weed’s presence often indicates the need for improvements to soil structure and drainage. This page looks at options for gardeners where creeping buttercup is becoming a problem.

Appearance

The classic glossy-yellow flowers of creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) are not unattractive from May to September but the foliage is coarser than meadow buttercup (R. acris) and it tends to stay more low-lying. Flowering may be absent in mown grass.

Creeping buttercup does not bear bulbs in the way lesser yellow celandine (R. ficaria) does.

The problem

Creeping buttercup spreads by means of long runners; strong white, deeply penetrating roots that branch from each leaf node. Sub-lateral runners develop to form a vigorous, firmly anchored network of stems.

Reproduction is usually from seeds but in moist conditions small nodal sections of stems may become established if severed and scattered when roots are beginning to form.

Control

First, consider whether this can be done using non-chemical means such as digging out or suppressing with mulch. Where these methods are not feasible, chemical controls may need to be used.

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.

Cultural control

Creeping buttercup in lawns

In spring, before mowing use a wire-toothed rake to lift the developing runners so that they can be cut by the mower. Aerate in autumn to improve drainage.

Creeping buttercup in borders

Dig out young plants and runners with a trowel in spring. Repeated hoeing through the summer will also eliminate this weed. Both processes will need to be repeated several times for full control.

Where very thick infestations occur there may be no option but to lift desirable plants removing any parts of the weeds and hold the cleaned plants in weed-free ground while the infested border is cleaned up over the summer using the methods described for bare soil.

Creeping buttercup on bare soil

Digging and hoeing will destroy this weed. Alternatively, smother it with a sheet of black plastic mulch. This should be left in place all summer.

Weedkiller control

Creeping buttercup in lawns

Most lawn weedkillers (e.g. Doff Lawn Weeder, Roundup Lawn Ultra Weedkiller, Roundup Lawn Optima Weedkiller or Westland Resolva Lawn Weedkiller Extra) will control creeping buttercup. Apply in spring when growth is vigorous and repeat if necessary.

Creeping buttercup in borders

Weedkillers based on glyphosate (e.g. Roundup Fast Acting, SBM Job done General Purpose Weedkiller or Doff Advanced Weedkiller) are effective in controlling creeping buttercup. However, as glyphosate is not selective in its action, it is essential to avoid spray or spray drift coming into contact with garden plants. If treating weeds in the immediate vicinity of garden plants, apply carefully using a ready to use spray or the gel formulation (Roundup Gel) in cool, calm weather. Branches or shoots can be held back, using canes, or by covering or screening while spraying, but make sure that the weed foliage has dried before releasing branches or removing the covering.

Creeping buttercup on bare soil

A weedkiller based on glyphosate (see above) will eliminate it very effectively, spraying in spring or summer.

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 1b, 4 and 5)

Links

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

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