Expert advice from HORSE magazine on identifying and controlling deadly ragwort

Ragwort grows all over Europe, Asia, Siberia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and North and South America.

It will grow on many different soil types, although it is more common on areas of poor, over-grazed pasture.

Identifying ragwort

  • Ragwort’s Latin name is Senecio Jacobaea but it is also known as tansy ragwort, ben weed and staggerwort.
  • Ragwort is a biennial or short-lived perennial. This means it germinates in the first year to form a rosette of leaves and then flowers in the second.
  • In the early stages of growth, ragwort grows close to the ground with a dense rosette of leaves.
  • It flowers from June onwards and is easily recognised by its bright yellow, daisy-like flowers.
  • It grows to an average height of around 65cm, although it has been recorded at two metres.
  • During the second year, the flowers are replaced by fine, white, hairy seeds that are carried by the wind.
  • A single ragwort plant is capable of producing 150,000 seeds.
  • Ragwort seeds have an average 70 per cent germination rate.
  • The seeds can lie dormant in the soil for up to 20 years.
  • Ragwort is an “injurious” weed, under the 1959 Weeds Act. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), as well as local authorities, have the right to serve clearance notices on areas where ragwort grows.

Controlling ragwort

Primary responsibility for the control of weeds rests with the owner of the land on which the weeds are growing.

Cutting ragwort will not stop it growing but, if it’s cut in the early flowering stage, this can reduce seed production.

The best and most effective time to tackle Ragwort is when it is at the rosette stage – still in its first year.

Ragwort can be pulled up, butyou should always wear gloves and ensure the whole root is removed.

Spraying is effective on seedlings, but older plants may show some resilience. For grazing pasture, the land should be sprayed in April or May, but if the land is to be used for hay it needs to be sprayed in September or October.

Yearly application of a herbicide, such as MCPA, Barrier H or 2,4-D, every spring or every second autumn is effective when used with good pasture management.

Regular application of fertilisers will help the root development of grasses and help prevent Ragwort growing.

All traces of wilting or dying ragwort plants need to be removed from grazing land and burned.