Burdock Management: Tips For Controlling Common Burdock Weeds

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By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

Burdock weeds are troublesome plants that grow in pastures, along ditches and roadsides and in many other disturbed areas across the United States. The weed is recognized by its large, oval or triangular “elephant-ear” leaves. The upper surface of the dark green leaves may be smooth or hairy and the lower leaf surface is typically wooly and pale green. The plant bolts in the second year and can reach heights of 3 to 10 feet. The small flowers, which are numerous, may be lavender, white, purple or pink.

Why are burdock weeds so troublesome, and why is burdock management so critical? Read on to find out how to get rid of this weed.

Reasons for Controlling Common Burdock

It’s extremely difficult to eradicate burdock. Seeds spread quickly when the seed heads dry and break, scattering thousands of seeds far and wide. The weeds also spread when the prickly burs catch a ride on passing people or animals.

Some people may experience unpleasant allergic reactions when the bristles contact the skin. The burs can cause real problems for livestock, resulting in eye infections, skin problems and mouth sores.

The plant can also host root rot, powdery mildew and other diseases that can spread to agricultural plants.

How to Kill Burdock

Digging, hand pulling or plowing can be effective ways of controlling common burdock when the weeds are small. These techniques don’t work well on larger plants because it’s difficult to remove the entire taproot. You can mow taller plants, but mowing must be done before the plant has bloomed or you will simply spread the seeds.

A number of herbicides are useful for controlling common burdock, including dicamba, 2,4-D, picloram, glyphosate and others. Unfortunately, burdock often grows in difficult, hard-to-access areas. Manual removal is often the only recourse as well as the most environmentally friendly.

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