Ten Nightmare Perennial Weeds Common in Britain

In Britain our gardens are under constant threat of invasion! The enemy? These nightmare Common British perennial weeds (not to mention the annuals you can read about here). Perennial means they live for more than one year and have a nasty habit of hanging around, seeding or spreading everywhere and if left untreated can be a nightmare to get rid of.

How to deal with these nightmare perennial weeds

If you’re an organic gardener, the only real eradication method is digging out as much of these plants and roots as possible. They often send huge tap roots deep into the soil or multiply by spreading out widely, so removing them by hand is no mean feat (although it is rather satisfying when they don’t come back. If they’re rhizomatous – a rhizome being an underground spreading stem – it’s important to dig out as much of these rhizomes as you can.  But, be warned!  If you break off even a small piece it’s pretty likely that it will return. If they have deep tap roots, they can regenerate so be sure to remove as much as physically possible (best done when the soil is wet and growth is active in late April or very early May before they set new seeds.

Regular hoeing or cutting back of regrowth will significantly weaken the plants over time, but cannot guarantee complete removal. Similarly, you can weaken them by covering the flower bed with thick black polythene or a very thick layer of wet cardboard weighted down with compost. Your prized plants must be carefully removed first though, ensuring no weed roots come out with them. You’ll also have to leave the polythene in place until September to ensure effectiveness.

If you’re gardening in an eco-friendly way, persistence and patience are key.

If you are looking for more ideas on how to kill weeds without the use of chemicals this RHS list shows you how.

The weeds

1. Brambles

Ten Nightmare Perennial Weeds Common In Britain - Brambles

Latin name: Rubus fruticosis agg.

Other common names: Blackberry

Insight: Stems can grow up to 2m in length and root when the tip touches the ground.

2. Couch grass

Ten Nightmare Perennial Weeds Common In Britain - Couch Grass

Latin name: Elymus repens

Other common names: Scutch grass, twitch grass

Insight: Spreading rhizomes which can tangle around the roots of other plants, making removal trickier.

3. Creeping buttercup

Ten Nightmare Perennial Weeds Common In Britain - Creeping Buttercup

Latin name: Ranunculus repens

Insight: Runners develop from each leaf node, each forming a strong root network when touching the ground. Seeds and severed nodes also aid its spread.

4. Creeping thistle

By Isidre blanc – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikipedia

Latin name: Cirsium arvense

Insight: It has a deep tap root as well as many seeds carried on the wind. Its roots also spread out and are brittle, meaning any snapped off during extraction can re-shoot easily.

5. Dandelion

Ten Nightmare Perennial Weeds Common In Britain - Dandelion

Latin name: Taraxacum officinale

Insight: We’re all familiar with its fluffy seed heads that fly around between March and October. It also possesses a deep tap root from which it can regenerate.

6. Dock

Ten Nightmare Perennial Weeds Common In Britain - Dock

Latin name: either Rumex obtusifolius or R. crispus

Insight: It has a branching, thick tap root delving up to 90cm deep. Its seeds can survive in the soil for up to 50 years. Digging out at least the top 12-15cm of the tap root should however prevent the individual weed’s regrowth.

7. Ground elder

Ten Nightmare Perennial Weeds Common In Britain - Ground Elder

Latin name: Aegopodium podagraria

Other common names: Gout weed, bishop weed, jump-about

Insight: Another troublemaker that creeps via its rhizomes, needing careful digging out

8. Hedge bindweed

By Hardyplants - Own work, CC0
By Hardyplants – Own work, CC0 via Wikipedia

Latin name: Calystegia sepium

Other common names: Bellbind

Insight: Its white trumpet-like flowers are pretty, but this is a major pest. It’s rhizomes can spread up to 2m a year and the smallest segment of rhizome will regrow.

9. Horsetail

By MPF - Own Work, CC BY-SA 3.0
By MPF – Own Work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia

Latin name: Equisetum arvense

Other common names: Mare’s tail

Insight: Easily recognisable as it resembles miniature pine forests. It’s the opposite of hedge bindweed, sending its roots up to 2m down into the earth. Its rhizomes spread quickly and up spring dense clumps of foliage.

10. Perennial nettles

Ten Nightmare Perennial Weeds Common In Britain - Perennial Nettles

Latin name: Urtica dioica

Insight: We all know these varmints from their sting. The roots creep under the surface and can send up shoots reaching a maximum of 1.2m in height.

This article on common British perennial weeds was updated in May 2024