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Curly Dock Control – How To Kill Curly Dock Plants In The Garden

Curly Dock Control – How To Kill Curly Dock Plants In The Garden


By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer

We’ve probably all seen it, that ugly, reddish brown weed that grows alongside roads and in roadside fields. Its red-brown color and dried out, shaggy appearance makes it look like it’s been heavily doused with herbicides or burned. From the look of it, we expect it to wilt over dead or crumble to ash any second, yet it persists in this dead-looking stage, sometimes even poking its dried brown tips right through snow banks of winter. This ugly weed is curly dock, and when the plant is in its mature reddish-brown phase, it isn’t dead; in fact, curly dock can seem nearly impossible to kill.

Curly Dock Control

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) is a perennial native to Europe, Asia and parts of Africa. In its native range, different parts of curly dock are used as food and/or medicine. However, outside of this range it can be a problematic, aggressive weed.

Also known as sour dock, yellow dock, and narrowleaf dock, one reason controlling curly dock weeds is so hard is because plants may bloom and produce seeds twice a year. Each time, they may produce hundreds to thousands of seeds which are carried on wind or water. These seeds can then lie dormant in the soil for 50 years or more, before germinating.

Curly dock weeds are one of the most widely distributed weeds in the world. They may be found along roadsides, parking lots, pastures, hay fields, crop fields, as well as in landscapes and gardens. They prefer moist, regularly irrigated soil. Curly dock weeds can be a problem in pastures, as they can be harmful, even toxic, to livestock.

In crop fields, they can also be a problem but specifically in no-till crop fields. They are rare in tilled crop fields. Curly dock weeds also spread underground by their roots, forming large colonies if left unchecked.

How to Kill Curly Dock Plants in the Garden

Getting rid of curly dock by hand pulling is not a good idea. Any part of the root that is left in the soil will only produce new plants. You also cannot employ animals to graze on curly dock as a control because of the plant’s toxicity to livestock.

The most successful methods of controlling curly dock are mowing it down regularly, where applicable, and the regular use of herbicides. Herbicides should be applied at least twice a year, in spring and fall. For best results, use herbicides containing Dicamba, Cimarron, Cimarron Max or Chaparral.

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Weed Control

There is an old saying that ‘one years seeding is seven years weeding’. Unfortunately this is very true.

Most annual weeds spread thousands of seeds that lie in the ground until conditions are right then appear. Turning over the soil brings seeds from yesteryear to the surface and up they pop.

Luckily, most of these annual weeds are pretty easy to deal with. Just hoe through them, leave them to dry or collect them for the compost heap. Catching them young is most effective – better to hoe little and often .

There are other weeds that present far bigger challenges. These are perennial and live from year to year, As a general rule, hoeing them just cuts the top off and they pop back from their deep roots – it seems with more vigour as well!

For some weeds the only method (realistically) is chemical sprays but where possible I prefer non-chemical methods. I’ve listed both the chemical method and Organic method so you have the choice.


Understanding Weeds

Dandelion Patch – An Edible Weed

Before you hit the garden to control weeds, first you need to understand your adversary. Cultivated gardens have only been around for a few thousand years. Weeds, on the other hand, have had tens to hundreds of thousands of years head start on your garden.

Nature’s Perfect Plants

Weeds, otherwise known as plants that have been planted by nature, have become perfectly adapted to the conditions where they sprout. They are particularly suited to the ups and downs in temperatures in the regions where they have evolved for generations. They have learned, season after season, how to thrive in their environment.

Fail Safe Weed Seeds

Additionally, weeds are smart. Just in case stuff goes wrong with the weather, they have fail safes in place to ensure their survival. For example, they tend to create enormous amounts of seeds.

Some of those seeds are specifically designed by nature to stay dormant in the soil for years. Some are even intentional outliers created by nature to sprout in cooler, warmer, drier, or wetter conditions than are typical for the region they grow in.

Endurance Athletes of the Plant World

In other words, weeds are like the professional endurance athletes of the plant world. They have incredible resilience when performing the functions they’ve spent their long genetic histories training for.

Like many athletes, though, weeds are best suited for the conditions they’ve trained for. And those conditions are the ones that existed before you start growing a fertility-based organic garden.

That fact, my homesteading friends, is your key to conquering weeds. Er, well, maybe not quite conquering, but at least peacefully co-existing!


There isn't a really good choice for controlling curly dock at this time. The plants have put on a substantial amount of growth already and most products are at best going to toast some of the leaves off of the plant. However, with that said here is some additional info on managing simple perennials such as curly dock:

With any herbicide program, complete control of an entire perennial root system is unlikely with one herbicide application. Follow-up applications the next season(s) are necessary to achieve the desired level of control. Controlling perennial weeds in no-till systems takes persistence.

Controlling perennial weeds with herbicides often calls for special application methods:

•Use wipe-on applicators to apply nonselective translocated herbicides, such as glyphosate (e.g. Roundup Weathermax) to weeds taller than the crop

•Spot treat to control or suppress perennials prior to planting, in the crop, and at preharvest.

•Monitor fences rows, field borders, and other non-crop areas. Spray perennial weeds that can spread into fields.

•Remove by hand simple perennial weed such as pokeweed and curly dock. A large portion of the root or crown must be removed.

Depending upon how many curly dock weeds that you are trying to manage, either the spot treatments with Roundup in a hand sprayer or digging the individual weeds out with a shovel may be your two most effective ways of eliminating curly dock before it goes to seed again. Also depending on how far the curly dock is in its seed development, digging them out and dropping them on the ground may not be a good practice. If the seeds are far enough along in their development, they could still complete their development even after they are pulled out. They may need to be carried out of the field.

Spot treating with Roundup or another glyphosate product might be very effective at this time in curly dock's development. They should be flowering or setting seed now which means that movement of materials within the plant are going to be directed toward the roots. This will carry the glyphosate to the roots and give a better overall kill of the entire plant.


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