Your gardening questions answered: How do I get rid of a rampant weed?

Creeping buttercup can become an invasive weed, especially in gardens with rich or poorly drained soils

Q: Any advice on the best way to tackle creeping buttercup without using weed killer? It’s starting to take over some of my flower beds, where it’s smothering perennials and smaller shrubs. MJ, Co Kilkenny

A: Creeping buttercup, or Ranunculus repens as it is known botanically, is a very persistent, resilient, native perennial weed that easily spreads by seed and can quickly form dense mats of low rosettes of foliage linked by the many long “runners” that each plant throws out. Left undisturbed, it can colonise very large areas of ground, which is why it is not unusual to see large meadows lit up by its brilliant yellow flowers in summer.

While the flowers are loved by pollinators, there is no denying the fact that it can easily become an invasive weed, especially in gardens and allotments with rich, damp or poorly drained soils.

There are several organically acceptable ways to effectively prevent it taking over your flower bed. Start by giving the latter a really good tidy-up (this is a great time of year to do so), cutting back old foliage and dead flower stems and clearing away any fallen leaves. All of these can go on the compost heap.


Next, use a mixture of selective hand-weeding and hoeing, reserving the latter only for areas where you are sure that you will not accidentally damage any herbaceous perennials or bulbous plants coming up through the soil.

Good tools that are fit for purpose are essential. For prising its stubborn octopus-like roots out of the ground, I recommend the hand-tool known as a daisy-grubber (also known as a “fulcrum weeder”), with a head shaped like a snake’s tongue. Favourite hoes include the oscillating hoe (choose one with a narrower blade for border work) and what is known as the swoe (, both of which use a very effective push-and-pull action.

For large areas of a flower bed that are very badly infested with creeping buttercup, the easiest and most time-effective solution is to temporarily dig perennials and small shrubs up by their root balls, carefully remove any weeds’ root systems from those root balls (divide any well-established clumps of perennials while you are at it) and store the plants to one side on a few sheets of cardboard or plastic. Then clear the ground completely of weeds before replanting and mulching the ground generously. Again, this is a great time of year to do so before plants burst into spring growth.

In beds where creeping buttercup and other stubborn perennial weeds such as ground elder, bindweed and scutch have run riot to the point where a combination of the above methods just aren’t effective enough, it is best to lift and move any plants that you want to keep to a “holding” bed or another area of the garden and then turn the afflicted bed over to lawn. Keep it regularly mowed for one-two years to kill off the weeds, at which point it can be turned back into a flower bed if desired by removing the top sod and working in home-made garden compost or well-rotted manure plus some coarse horticultural grit to improve drainage. Mulch any bare soil regularly to help keep it weed-free.

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Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon is an Irish Times contributor specialising in gardening