Ridding Your Garden of the Bishop’s Weed Scourge

A new, excited gardener wrote to me about goutweed, also known as ground elder or bishop’s weed, which is a tough customer. I had goutweed growing under cedars and along my fenceline about 20 years ago, in Maple Ridge.

It likes to be in shady places, and some ornamental types are really pretty. The leaves are medium green with white edges. I actually quite liked it as a native decorative plant, but then I never tried to eradicate it. That’s where love can turn to hate in a big hurry. Advertisement 2Story continues belowThis advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Gardeners beware – that lush groundcover blanketing your flowerbeds could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria) also called goutweed or snow-on-the-mountain is an aggressive perennial capable of smothering everything in its path. Read on to learn identification tips and battle-tested methods to eradicate this invasive menace for good.

Recognizing the Culprit

Bishop’s weed emerges in spring with clusters of white flowers held above mounded, rounded foliage. The leaves are comprised of three jagged, toothed leaflets, resembling a maple seedling. Plants spread rapidly via underground rhizomes to form dense colonies.

While the young plants may seem innocuous at first thick mats quickly overwhelm gardens once established. Getting rid of bishop’s weed becomes difficult but not impossible.

Digging In for Elimination

Vigorous repeated hand digging and weeding can control small infestations if you extract every piece of root and recheck often for regrowth. Use a spading fork to loosen soil and pull while plants are young with shallow roots.

For larger areas, smother with black plastic for a full year. Extend several feet past visible growth, burying edges to prevent escaping. Solarizing with clear plastic also works but takes longer – up to two seasons.

Combining digging and smothering tackles extensive infestations. Weed accessible areas, then cover remaining patches. Be prepared for a multi-year commitment.

Fighting Back in Plantings

Intermixed in gardens, bishop’s weed entwines with other plants. Lifting and potting desired specimens to isolate elsewhere permits eradication efforts to begin.

Mulch bare areas with newspaper or cardboard topped with organic matter. Around desired plants, meticulously extract every root fragment when hand weeding. Expect the battle to persist for a few seasons.

Preventing a Comeback

Even when bishop’s weed appears gone, stray root segments may lurk in waiting. Remain vigilant for new sprouts and stay on patrol for several years, attacking any growth promptly.

Amend soil before replanting to improve drainage and aeration. Test for proper pH. Introduce beneficial nematodes and microbes to suppress regrowth.

Choose aggressive spreaders like vinca minor to hold their own should the occasional weed sprout appear. Keep gardens thickly planted to prevent easy reestablishment.

When All Else Fails

In severely afflicted landscapes, the nuclear option may be required. Removing all vegetation and sterilizing the entire area with solarization can eliminate bishop’s weed before replanting.

Smother the area with clear plastic for 6-8 weeks in hot weather, heating soil to kill roots and seeds. Monitor for any escaping shoots. Repeat as needed before introducing vigorous new plantings.

Outsmarting This Invasive Threat

While challenging to remove, bishop’s weed doesn’t stand a chance against vigilant gardeners armed with persistence, prevention knowledge and containment strategies. Don’t let this invasive pest bully your landscape. With diligence and dedication, you can reclaim your garden beds for good.

The fight against bishop’s weed may seem never-ending, but don’t surrender your yard just yet. With a comprehensive eradication plan including smothering, increased plant competition and monitoring for regrowth, you can send this unwanted groundcover packing. It may seem daunting, but thousands of gardeners have ultimately emerged victorious. You can outwit this wily weed and win back a beautiful, bishop’s weed-free landscape.

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Gayle Nelson writes:

aegopodium podagraria how to get rid of

I am a newbie Gardner and avid reader of your column and blog. I saw this invasive plant getting into all the cracks and crevices of my healthy trees, grasses, and plants last year. It’s such a good enemy that I almost want to respect it, but I can’t believe how fast it grows. It smothers everything in its path, and now it’s even moving into the lawn. It has long, white runners with a pink- red root ball.

aegopodium podagraria how to get rid of

I just can’t get deep enough or fast enough to get it over the many runners it sends out. I’m stumped…. What the heck is it, and how do I send it packing? (My new hobby of gardening is getting beat up!)

On Gayle’s behalf, I consulted the experts at the UBC Botanical Garden. Douglas Justice teaches in the landscape architectureprogram and is the curator of collections for the botanical garden. Douglas responds, thusly:

Aegopodium podagraria. Pernicious as hell. Copious seeds and elastic rhizomes. Tolerates any kind of soil and full sun to heavy shade. Drought tolerant in deep soil. Only need a tiny rhizome piece to start a whole new colony. Dig it out and the roots go deeper. Very frustrating.

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Like other aggressive runners, extraction/elimination requires wholesale (though not necessary permanent) change to the affected area. Two things that might work are turning the area into turf for three years or using a lot of mulch (20 to 30 cm deep) made of leaf mold, chips, or anything else.

If nearby plants aren’t woody and pretty big, they should be pulled up, cleaned well, and either thrown away or planted somewhere else. Of course, this has to be done when the plants are dormant. Goutweed rhizomes will move to a higher level if you mulch deeply. If you keep the mulch loose, it will be easy to pull out, but you have to be very careful. A maintained sward of good turf (start with sod, not seed) will starve/exhaust/prevent regrowth. After three years, the rhizomes will be completely dead, but seedlings may be a problem when the area is turned back into a planting bed.

Otherwise, the plants are apparently “medicinal” and the new shoots edible.

I also received a response from the UBC Botanical Garden Hortline:

Indeed, “goutweed” is a real challenge to remove. As Douglas said, it’s important to get rid of any goutweed roots that are still on your plants. These roots grow back quickly, so even if you dig them up and put them somewhere else in your garden, they will soon send out new shoots. I got rid of a small patch of goutweed in my vegetable garden by digging down 2 1/2 feet and pulling out all the roots and plants. I then covered the area with black plastic and let it lie empty for 6 months. After six months I brought in new soil and re-planted. After 2 years there has been no return of goutweed. Advertisement 4Story continues belowThis advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content.

As a side note, solarizing is the best way I’ve found to get rid of really tough weed problems. Cover the area with a sheet of black plastic and let the sun cook everything.

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Bishop’s Weed

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