Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) is a fast-growing, perennial plant that can spread quickly to form a carpet of foliage that can crowd out less-vigorous plants in beds and borders.
Botanical name Aegopodium podagraria
Areas affected Beds, borders, new lawns, all soil types
Main causes May establish from seed, but usually arrives via rhizomes from neighbouring gardens, or stem fragments in composts or manures
Timing Leaves appear in spring and summer, but rhizomes and roots persist year-round
What is ground elder?
Ground elder is a herbaceous, perennial plant. It spreads via rhizomes (underground stems), which can regenerate from just a tiny fragment left in the ground. This page looks at options for gardeners when ground elder is becoming a problem.
Early in the year, shoots with dark green leaves burst from the soil. These are followed in late spring and early summer by tall stalks that support several flat heads of white flowers. There is also a form with variegated leaves. The flowers bear a resemblance to those of the elder tree (which is completely unrelated), and this gives the weed its common name.
Spreading by rhizomes, ground elder can easily creep in from a neighbouring garden or nearby wasteland. It can also be unknowingly introduced with new plants if pieces of its fleshy, white rhizome are hidden within the compost of the rootball or are tucked away among the roots of the plant.
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.
As its rhizomes are close to the surface of the soil, it is possible to reduce infestations of ground elder by removing it carefully with a garden fork. However, eradicating it completely needs vigilance as the smallest portion of root left in the soil will result in a new plant growing.
Tackling large infestations of ground elder in a well-planted bed can be difficult. To get rid of it completely requires time and patience. Try the following non-chemical approaches:
- Lift cultivated plants and carefully remove and destroy any pieces of ground elder rhizome from around their roots.
- After you are sure it has all been removed, replant your garden plants in clean soil or pots.
- The ground elder can now be evicted by digging, or by covering the ground with black polythene to starve the weed of light. It may take several seasons until the ground elder is completely destroyed.
In new lawns, ground elder will usually be starved by repeated mowing, and should not persist for long.
- Established ground elder can be controlled by spraying with a tough weedkiller containing glyphosate (e.g. Roundup Stump Killer, Doff Weedout Extra Tough Weedkiller or Westland Resolva Pro Xtra Tough Weedkiller)
- Protect cultivated plants with sheet polythene or by pegging them out of the way, and take care to avoid spray drift
- Apply the spray in mid-summer when there is lots of leafy growth, then reapply if necessary later in summer
- Spraying in the evening will be far more effective than spraying during the day as more of the chemical will be absorbed by the foliage
- SBM Job done Tough Weedkiller (ready-to-use only), SBM Job done Path Weedkiller (ready-to-use only) and Weedol Pathclear products containing glyphosate/diflufenican and can be applied once a season to natural surfaces where no plants are to be grown, and can also be applied under and around established woody trees and shrubs. This product kills off existing small green growth and prevents or checks developing growth. Check manufacturer’s recommendations before use to avoid damaging sensitive plants.
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.