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.

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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.

Appearance

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.

Control

First, consider whether this can be done using non-chemical means such as digging out or suppressing with lime. 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

Sheep’s sorrel is difficult to eradicate by cultural methods alone as it can regrow from sections of root left in the soil. It is more vulnerable to hoeing 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

In borders

  • Apply glyphosate as a spot treatment to individual plants or spray areas that have been cleared of cultivated plants
  • Glyphosate is a non-selective weedkiller applied to the foliage, where it is translocated throughout the weed. Tougher formulations are worth trying (e.g. Roundup Ultra or Rootblast Super Strength Weedkiller)
  • Being non-selective, it is essential to avoid spray drift onto neighbouring plants. It is important to have good leaf coverage so that as much chemical is absorbed as possible
  • Sprays are most effective if applied from early June to mid-August
  • As this weed is so persistent several applications may be necessary

In lawns

  • Sorrel can usually be eradicated in lawns by one or two applications of lawn weedkiller containing 2,4-D plus mecoprop-P ( Vitax All in One Lawn Feed, Weed & Mosskiller or Westland Aftercut All-in-One Feed, Weed & Moss killer (also contains fertiliser and moss killer)). See more on selecting lawn weedkillers
  • Apply when both turf and weeds are growing strongly with a second application four or five weeks later

In rough grassland

  • Apply a selective weedkiller which contains triclopyr (SBK Brushwood Killer) as this would leave the grass unharmed
  • This herbicide is systemic, travelling from the weed foliage down into the root system
  • However as it is non-selective any broad-leaved plants will be damaged (e.g. wildflowers) and so should only be used in grass where such action is acceptable

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 1a, b, d and 4)

Links

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

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