Q&A: Rooting out ragwort

Q: One of my paddocks has a ragwort problem in the summer and I root it out every year. As there is such a lot, however, I’m reluctant to turn my horse out. Can you suggest a weedkiller specifically for this problem, which can be sprayed by hand, and when and how it should be used?

Gavin Strathern, a freelance agricultural contractor and specialist in pasture management, answers: Pulling ragwort by hand, making sure that you completely remove the root, is one way of controlling the problem. Unfortunately, as ragwort is a very deep-rooted weed, it is difficult to eradicate completely.

There are a number of chemicals on the market that can greatly reduce the growth of ragwort in your paddocks, and, as long as you follow all the manufacturers’ guidelines, you can usually expect a kill rate of between 70 and 99%.

When you are applying weed-killing chemicals, remember to:

  • Carefully follow the instructions for application and personal safety. Guidelines will also detail how long you should keep your horses off the grazing after treatment
  • Be aware of any local pond life, as the chemicals will kill fish if the water becomes contaminated
  • Apply the weedkiller during early spring for maximum efficiency. At this time – normally between late March and late April – the ragwort is at the rosette stage of its growth and has formed some leaf surface area. A growing weed will absorb the chemicals much more effectively
  • Weather conditions are very important to the kill rate, so avoid the midday sun and any imminent rain

For optimum results, I suggest you contact a local farmer or agricultural contractor who can blanket-spray the entire area. But if you decide to spray your paddocks by hand, I would recommend using a mixture of the chemicals MCPA (bought under the trade name of Agritox) and 2-4-D (trade name Depitox).

These can be purchased from most agricultural country stores, and clear guidelines are given on the packaging. The suggested application rate of chemicals is usually to mix two litres of MCPA with two litres of 2-4-D per hectare, at a cost of around £25 to £30 per hectare (£10 to £15 per acre).

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