Dove’s foot cranesbill

Dove’s foot cranesbill (Geranium molle) is a common annual weed that can be troublesome in poorly growing lawns.

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Dove's foot cranesbill

Quick facts

Common name Dove’s foot cranesbill
Botanical name Geranium molle
Area affected Dry, poorly growing lawns
Main causes Explosive seed pods spread the fine seed over a wide area
Timing seen Spring to autumn; treat summer to autumn

What is dove's foot cranesbill?

A native plant, common to dunes and grasslands on dry sandy or calcareous soils, dove’s foot cranesbill is a member of the hardy geranium family that can prove a problem in lawns where its explosive seed pods release seeds over a wide area, quickly covering areas of lawn.

The flowers of Geranium molle are often visited by bees. It can be a useful addition to wildlife gardens or wildflower meadows, particularly on dry, free draining soils. 

Bees in your garden

Bees in your garden

Lawn and mini-meadow habitats

Lawn and mini-meadow habitats

This page looks at options for gardeners when Geranium molle is becoming a problem.

Appearance

Dove’s foot cranesbill grows up to 35cm (14in) high. Its foliage is hairy, grey-green, and divided beyond halfway into 5-7 rounded lobes. Deep pink to white flowers with deeply notched petals are borne from April to September.

The problem

Dove’s foot cranesbill like other geraniums, has bursting seed pods that can hurl seeds for some distance. If the weed is allowed to flower it can cover the whole lawn especially poorly growing, dry lawns.

Control

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

In lawns: The best control strategy is to mow low and often (removing the clippings rather than letting them fly), along with regular lawn feeding as this weed thrives in poor soil. Regular mowing discourages seed set and any seeds that do form, will be collected and removed from the lawn. Raking the lawn before mowing to lift the foliage and seed heads might also help. Bin the clippings rather than putting them on the compost heap.

There isn’t much in the way of vegetative spread by runners or roots, so hand weeding should also be effective if you have the patience to deal with this small plant.

Weedkiller control

In lawns

Apply two or three applications of weedkillers containing 2,4-D plus mecoprop-P or 2,4-D plus dicamba. Examples include Westland Aftercut All-in-One Feed, Weed and Moss Killer, or Vitax All in One Lawn Feed, Weed & Mosskiller (both contain fertiliser and moss killer).

Treated clippings

Do not add the first lawn clippings after application of a lawn weedkiller to the compost heap. To avoid possible contamination of compost, do not collect the clippings at all but mow frequently and allow the short clippings to remain on the surface of the lawn. These will quickly disperse to leave an acceptable finish.

New lawns

Weedkillers often cause severe damage if applied to lawns within six months of sowing or turf-laying.

See more on selecting lawn weedkillers.

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 section 1d)

Links

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

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