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Stinging Nettle Organic Weed Control

Nettle weed
Stinging nettle
Stinging nettle

Stinging nettle is a perennial plant. Skin contact with stinging nettle commonly causes welts.

Description and Life Cycle:

  • Grows from 2 to 6 feet tall.
  • Spreads by underground stems or rhizomes to form dense colonies.
  • Stems are erect, four-angled, and bristled.
  • Leaves to 6 inches long; usually long stinging hairs and bristles.
  • Hairs on leaves contain formic acid which stings and burns bare skin.
  • Oval to slightly heart-shaped leaves with coarsely toothed margins are opposite each other on stem.
  • Stipules on leaves are large.
  • Small green flowers grow in panicled spikes.
  • Grayish-brown fruits.
  • Blooms early summer to late summer.
  • Prefers moist, shaded sites.

Root System: Stinging nettle has an extensive underground root system of rhizomes that can spread more than 5 feet in a season. Fibrous roots are produced along the rhizomes. New plants can be established from rhizome fragments. Stinging nettle often grows in dense colonies.

Organic Control:

  • Mow or cut young plants to keep them from growing up.
  • Dig the plant out root and all using a sharp spade. Wear protective clothing and gloves. Avoid touching the plant.
  • Rhizomes must be removed; otherwise dense colonies of stinging nettle can spread.
  • If plants re-emerge, continue to cut them down. Cutting a plant down just before it flowers will weaken it significantly as stored energy has moved to the top of the plant for blooming.
  • When top growth is removed cover the site with heavy landscape fabric or cardboard topped with bark for one season.
  • It may take several seasons to control spreading nettle.

Range: Eastern half of the United States, except Florida; eastern Washington state, Idaho, Colorado, and into northern Texas. Southern Canada.

Scientific Name: Urtica dioica; a related plant is burning nettle or small nettle (Utica urens)

Four Quick Ways to Control Weeds:

  1. Weed early. Control weeds in the first month after they germinate.
  2. Weed often. Hand weed every two weeks through the season.
  3. Weed by hand when the soil is wet (best to get roots).
  4. Use a hoe if the soil is dry. Decapitate weeds before they flower and drop seed.

 

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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