Sheep’s sorrel

Sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is a relative of dock whose tangy young leaves in long grassland are favoured by foragers. However, in gardens especially on sandy, acidic soils it can be a troublesome weed.

Sheep's sorrel
Sheep's sorrel

Quick facts

Common name Sheep’s sorrel
Botanical name Rumex acetosella
Area affected Common in dry, sandy, acid borders and lawns
Main causes May establish from seed but difficult to eradicate as it can regenerate from small sections of root 
Timing Leaves appear in spring but roots persist all year; treat from summer to autumn

What is sheep's sorrel?

Sheep's sorrel (Rumex acetosella) is a common native perennial, found on heaths, grassland and roadsides. It can also be found growing in gardens with dry, sandy, well-drained acid soils where it can be left to grow in flower-rich lawns. Learn more about making the most of lawns as a wildlife habitat and ways to help our bees;

Bees in your garden

Bees in your garden

Lawn and mini-meadow habitats

Lawn and mini-meadow habitats

The lemon-like flavoured leaves of sheep's sorrel can be eaten fresh in salads or cooked. They contain high levels of oxalic acid which is responsible for their tart flavour, and so should only be eaten in small quantities.
Sheep's sorrel mainly spreads by underground roots but produces abundant seed making it a troublesome perennial weed of dry, sandy well-drained acid gardens. This page looks at options for the gardener when sheep's sorrel is becoming a problem.


Sheep’s sorrel has a basal rosette of oblong arrow-shaped leaves. Tufted plant to 30cm (1ft) and distinguished from common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) by its small size. Flowers May to August. Male and female flowers are on separate plants.

The problem

Sheep’s sorrel has a relatively shallow, spreading root system which can regrow from small sections of root left in the ground. If allowed to flower it produces large amounts of seed.


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

Sheep’s sorrel can be eradicated by cultural methods. The roots are shallow, so can be dug or forked out of the ground. Hoe off seedlings, this is best done in spring. 

  • Liming: Lime borders to pH 6.5-7 unless ericaceous plants are grown. Mulch with spent mushroom compost which is alkaline and would act in a similar way to liming
  • Top-dressing lawns with lime to raise soil pH to 6.0-6.5 will reduce the vigour of the weed as it prefers acid soils. Apply lime as suggested by a test kit or soil analysis
  • Top-dressing lawns with calcium nitrate at 35-70g per sq m (1-2 oz per sq yd) will raise the pH quicker than lime and feed the lawn
  • Avoid using ammonia and urea fertilisers if sorrel is present as these acidify the soil

Weedkiller control

The RHS does not support the use of weedkillers and recommends that alternative control methods are used. However, we do note that when gardeners struggle to control plants with cultural methods, regulated weedkillers/pesticides for home gardeners are available for use legally. Garden centres and large retailers selling weedkillers have trained staff who can advise on suitable products for your needs.

Weeds: non-chemical control

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