Removing Ragwort at the Plant Stage
Once you've identified common ragwort in an area where it needs to be controlled, you'll need to remove it safely to prevent further spread.
Ragwort is biennial and its seeds lie dormant within the ground. This means removal methods may have to be used annually until the weed is brought under control. A combination of different removal methods may be needed, along with good pasture management.
It’s vital that dead ragwort is removed from the ﬁeld - once it has wilted and dried it becomes more palatable to horses but is still just as toxic. It’s advisable to wear gloves when handling the plants.
Option: Herbicide Treatment
- Animals must be moved to alternative grazing before the herbicide is applied to the land.
- To effectively control mature plants, herbicides should be applied in late April or May.
- A risk assessment must be completed.
- Approved products are listed on the Pesticide Safety Directorate at pesticides.gov.uk. Local agrochemical companies can help.
- Some products require a qualified specialist to carry out the application. Details are available from the National Association of Agricultural Contractors at naac.co.uk.
- Established plants are less susceptible to spraying, particularly when the stem increases in length (normally early June).
- Apply the herbicide on a mild, calm day, ensuring the vegetation is dry and that rain is not expected for at least a few hours.
- Because wilting or dead ragwort is still toxic and palatable, it’s only safe to return horses once all the ragwort plants have fully decayed and, as necessary, been removed from the land. This can take a few weeks so follow product specific instructions carefully.
- Herbicide applied between September and November (in ideal conditions) will help control summer seedlings the following year.
Option: Hand Pulling
- Feasible for smaller areas.
- A heavy infestation will need a strategic plan for the amount that can be realistically pulled up.
- To be effective and prevent regrowth, the whole root must be removed.
- Ragwort-specific hand tools are available to help with successful root removal.
- Best results are achieved when the soil is damp.
Option: Mechanical Pulling
- Practical for land with a heavy infestation.
- Sufficient height difference is needed between the ragwort and other plants to avoid all vegetation being removed.
- Cutting should only ever be used as a last resort to prevent seed dispersal.
- The plant will not be destroyed as the roots will remain unaffected by the process, which means the ragwort can regrow.
Option: Improve Pasture Management
- Ragwort thrives on poorly-managed land. Taking no action will result in seed dispersal on the land and further spread of the plant. Horses are also more likely to eat ragwort if there is no other grazing.
- See BHS advice on Pasture Management (pdf).