Docks in the lawn, the battle continues.


With the grass-cutting season now well upon us I have begun to receive the usual queries from concerned lawn owners, such as "how often should I mow?" and "how do I dispose of the clippings?". For the record, mow twice a week if possible, and dispose of your clippings by either spreading them beneath your hedges, compost them, or recycle them as a fertiliser for your lawn by using a mulching mower. However one question concerning a particular lawn weed has risen to the top of queries this season, it's "I have docks growing in my lawn, how can I get rid of them?".

The dock in question is the curled dock, in Latin Rumex crispus, and as gaeilge copĆ³g chatach. You may also know it as curly dock, sour dock, yellow dock, or the narrow-leaved dock. Whatever name you label it with, its certainly a troublesome growth especially for those of us who do not cut our lawns with regular enough frequency, or for those us with sparse turf over damp, heavy clay.

Deep roots.

As well as thriving in neglected areas of grass, curled dock also crops up quite a bit in lawns based on acid soils, for example peaty districts or areas reclaimed where there once was lots of trees shedding their acidifying leaves. Where I have seen it in abundance is on a number of newly laid lawns where their creators unfortunately could not stretch the preparation to clearing the weeds roots by mechanical or chemical methods beforehand.

And what a weed root it is, upon digging you will be able to view the plants taproot, long, fleshy, and yellowish-orange in colour. It's a pity carrots and parsnips were not as easy to grow as the root of the dock.

As well as the telltale root the other identifying features of the curled dock are its rosettes of 15 to 30cm long lance to oblong shaped leaves with wavy margins. From spring onwards an up to 100 cm tall green stem is produced, which plays host to the plants flowers and following seeds. Its summer flowers on the upper portion of the stem consist of long clusters coloured greenish-white, which when mature change to reddish-brown seed heads.

This is where frequent mowing becomes a powerful tool in your fight against the dock, carry it out regularly and you will weaken the weed plus prevent stem, flower, and seed production. Less seeds equal fewer weeds.

Controlling the dock.

Also ensure your lawn is well fertilised as this promotes strong grass making it difficult for docks to become established. A yearly application of lime to lawns in acid situations will also help in the fight.

For those of you with a fair scattering of docks across your grass you may be forced to apply two or three applications of a spray or herbicide at 6-week spacings to shift them for this season. Suitable selective herbicides should contain the active ingredient MCPA (available in Verdone Extra Liquid Lawn Weedkiller) or the active ingredient 2,4-D (available in the Bayer Advanced lawn Weedkiller).

Should you be fortunate to have just a few docks to deal with you could always dig them out with the tip of garden trowel or a small spoon. But try to ensure you remove as much of the root as possible to prevent further resprouts. Should you get regrowth then continue to dig them out and you will weaken the weed to a point that the grass can overtake it.

Like moss on the lawn, the dock leaf seems to be a constant thorn in the side of the Irish gardener, but our European neighbours may have finally found a positive use for this annoyance. Experiments carried out in Switzerland have found that the roots of the common dock weed are effective in the control of powdery mildew on a wide range of plants.

Mature dock roots were blended and mixed with water at the rate of 15 grammes per litre. After an hour soaking they were then sprayed on the foliage to good success. Docks, a future cash crop for Ireland, it would not surprise me one bit.

View further information on this topic in the Irish gardeners forum >>>>

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