Dock weed control takes a little patience.
What we find is dock weed control usually isn’t done properly. And this results in the plants rebounding rapidly. Too, while you might want to get rid of your dock, there are also reasons you may want to cultivate some Rumex in your garden. That being said, if you’ve ever faced off with an unwanted patch of dock, odds are you’ve done something wrong in trying to destroy it.
So, let’s see about helping you make the most of this plant – with weeding tips, and useful ideas for dock weed too!
I’ve made my mistakes with this weed.
I’ve gotten frustrated with this tenacious plant. In fact, I’ve yanked at it, only to have the top growth detach from the tap roots. And those roots live to split and sprout another day. Plus, more than once a wily plant has managed to set seed while I was looking the other way. So, when the intent is to eradicate a patch of dock weed, control steps need to be timed right and done with care.
So what is dock weed exactly?
Dock weed is a part of the Rumex genus of plants. And, the Rumex genus includes a number of species including:
- Garden sorrel, R. acetosa
- French sorrel, R. scutatus
- Yellow or curly dock, R. crispus
- Broadleaf dock, R. obtusifolius
- Bloody dock, R. sanguineus
- and there are more.
Let’s get down to the root of the weeding issues.
Rumex has a few characteristics that make it hard to eradicate through hand pulling:
- It all begins with a tenacious taproot.
- In fact, most have several of these powerful, intertwined and very deep-rooted roots.
- Plus, they have leaves that readily tear off when pulled.
- So, even a young dock plant is best removed after the soil around the roots have been loosened first.
- In fact, if you yank on the leaves without loosening the soil, leaves are all you’ll get.
- And a slimy nub, attached to powerful roots will remain in your garden soil.
Now, let’s get into how best to control unwanted dock weed.
- Ideally, work on digging up Rumex in spring when the soil is loose and moist.
- Choose your tools carefully.
- In fact, we prefer a garden fork and a hori-hori style digging tool.
- Use your fork to loosen the soil around the plant.
- Then work carefully with your hand digging tool to remove the entire root.
- And don’t be surprised if the root (or roots) are over a foot long.
- If a taproot breaks, watch the area closely for new sprouts.
What if I have to pull my weeds when the soil is dry?
- If you wait until the dry season to pull, those tap roots will be extra hard to dig out.
- However, if you must dig it out in summer or at other dry times, water the plant well the night before.
- Yes, it sounds weird to water a weed, but it’ll make digging a lot easier and more productive.
- Remember: even a little bit of this root left in the soil will regenerate your dock patch.
What if the plant has seeds?
If you really don’t want this plant growing n your garden, don’t let your dock weed set seed. That’s because each plant can produce hundreds of tiny, papery seeds. And, those seeds will disperse to sprout into an entirely new patch of dock weeds.
Did you know that dock weed can be useful?
Don’t toss your weeds into the compost just yet! That’s because not everyone considers Rumex a must-destroy-it weed. In fact, it is used by chefs in the kitchen, herbalists in their apothecaries, designers in their gardens. And, even some offer it to their livestock (or not).
Using Rumex in the kitchen:
- Sorrel is a delicious, perennial leafy green for any kitchen garden.
- Plus, because the plant is so tenacious, it survives even heavy-handed harvests.
- And while you could try eating young leaves of many varieties of Rumex, two of the tastiest are R. acetosa and R. scutatus.
- Both of these have tangy, sour, lemon flavor, which comes from the plant’s oxalic acid*.
- Their leaves are delicious whipped into dressings.
- Or, tear young greens into mixed green salads.
- Plus, they’re tasty cooked — especially with mild fish or chicken.
- Take note: if you plan to cook sorrel, know that the leaves will turn an off-shade of green under heat.
- But they still taste great!
Rumex harvesting and pest management tip:
Both R. acetosa and R. scutatus are ready to harvest by late winter/early spring. And, that’s just before leaf miners tend to attack them in late spring. So, I mow my entire patch to the ground for things like sorrel pesto. And, I serve some to my chickens. This way, the leaf miners don’t make ugly work of my sorrel, and the plants will soon rise again from those tenacious taproots. Plus, by mowing it down this time of year, I also knock out any potential seed heads before they become viable and spread. Win-win!
Ways to use Rumex as an herbalist
Our friend and trained herbalist Jill Barnattan of Vital Equilibrium shares her thoughts and uses for R. crispus (yellow dock):
Spring is approaching, representing a time of renewal, growth and cleaning out what is no longer needed. Nature is quite brilliant in producing “weeds” that support the healthy function of our bodies, especially the liver, at this time of year. While you may think of yellow dock (Rumex crispus) as a pesky weed, consider making a healthy use of this fantastic herb as you remove it from your garden. In a nutshell, yellow dock has been used traditionally to aid in cleansing the liver, relieving constipation, cleansing chronic skin conditions and is a non constipating organic source of iron.
As you eradicate this plant from your yard, express gratitude to Mother Earth for providing free traditional herbal medicine. What a great opportunity to build your own home-grown herbal apothecary for first aid or everyday healing! The simple act of cutting up fresh Yellow Dock root, mixed with its equally irritating friend, Dandelion root and making an herbal decoction tea can provide support of the most important organ system of your body at this time of year. Consider adding the bitter leaves to springtime salads, making an herbal tincture, a blood boosting syrup with molasses or creating a springtime salve for cuts & sores. Yellow Dock is one of the herbs I use in Kaleidoscope Naturals Organic Hemp & Herbal Healing Salve, which has aided the healing of stubborn skin ailments for almost 20 years.
Using Rumex in your container and garden designs.
In my own garden, I’ve maintained a fairly tame bunch of R. sanguineus for years. That’s because shows its beautiful wine-veined leaves as soon as freezing weather has passed. As nearby peonies arise from the soil with reddish stems, the color play with adjacent bloody dock is stunning. R. acetosa and R. scutatus thrive in both hot sun and dappled shade.
Dock weed and livestock…
While weeding a patch of dock in horticulture school, a fellow student grabbed all of the leaves we had harvested to take home to her pet rabbits. According to her, they gobbled the stuff up. In the years since that happened, I’ve heard mixed things about feeding dock to rabbits. Some claim it is toxic to bunnies; others say it is safe only in early spring. And on our farm, the bunnies leave broadleaf dock, curly doc, and our French sorrel alone.
My friend Annie Haven, cattle-woman and proprietor of Haven Brand Moo Poo Tea Soil Conditioner tells us, “In general cattle with full bellies can consume it with little to no side affect, cattle that are hungry and consume it rapidly can suffer the toxic side affect from it. Fortunately I do not have it in my pastures. If I did I would eliminate it.”
Sadly, Annie passed away in early 2023. The world lost a bright light with her passing.
As for chickens, they love garden sorrel and french sorrel. But, they turn their beaks up at doing any kind of dock weed control work. And we’ve never seen our hens try to eat any part of duckweed.
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*Oxalic acid can prove problematic for those prone to kidney stones and other health issues. Always check with your health care provider before trying any new foods, herbs, plants, etc.