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7 MIN 29 Nov
Last update: 19 Dec 2023

How To Identify & Treat Ragwort in Your Garden

Is ragwort poisonous? Learn what it is, where it can be found, its benefits for wildlife and the dangers associated with it.

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Have you spotted tall, pretty, daisy-like flowers in your garden? Are the leaves toothed and deeply cut, growing from a single rosette? It sounds like you might have ragwort in your garden. 

Table of contents:
Show all
  • What is Ragwort?
  • The Many Names of Ragwort
  • Where Does Ragwort Grow?
  • The Benefits of Ragwort
  • The Harmful Side of Ragwort
  • How to Control Ragwort
  • Weedkiller Control
  • Ragwort Legislation
  • Should I remove ragwort?
  • FAQs

But don’t panic! It’s not necessarily bad. 

However, ragwort, scientifically known as Jacobaea vulgaris, has a notorious reputation among gardeners and farmers alike. And while this plant may seem harmless with its bright yellow flowers, its potential for inflicting harm on grazing animals gives it a villainous reputation.

Find out about this fascinating “weed” in this article, which examines how to identify and tackle ragwort in your garden. Or you might want to let this charming bi-annual grow. 

Ready? Let’s go! 

What is Ragwort?

Ragwort in full bloom

Ragwort, a member of the daisy family, is a biennial wildflower native to the UK and many parts of Europe. This means the plant only lives for two years, flowering in the second. 

The plant grows as a foliage rosette in its first year before blooming into a tall, erect plant (up to 90cm) with yellow daisy-like flowers in its second year. The leaves are finely divided and toothed, giving it a distinctive appearance.

The Garden Doctor:
Remember: Damage to the rosette will make the plant behave like a perennial — in other words, disturb the plant, and you’re likely to permit the plant to grow indefinitely, as new rosettes appear each year.

The Many Names of Ragwort

Ragwort goes by various names, including: 

  • Cankerweed
  • Staggerwort, and 
  • Tansy ragwort 

Its Latin name is Senecio jacobaea L., which falls under the category of Perennial Broad-leaved Weeds

Where Does Ragwort Grow?

A single ragwort flower

The plant’s natural habitat is sand dunes, but it thrives in light, low-fertility soils and overgrazed grassland. 

It’s a common sight along roadsides, railways, grazing land, and even rubbish tips. However, it doesn’t grow on acid-peaty soils and is rarely found in arable fields.

The Benefits of Ragwort

Despite its bad reputation, ragwort plays an essential role in our ecosystem, providing sustenance to various vital pollinators and other wildlife.

Ragwort’s Value to Wildlife

This hardy plant serves as a food source for around 35 insect species and hundreds of other wildlife species, including the black-and-yellow-striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth, for which ragwort is a crucial source of larval food, pollen, and nectar. 

Birds also eat the seeds, distributing them around the land through their droppings. This makes it challenging to eradicate ragwort from your garden completely. 

However, ragwort can make a stunning addition to a wildflower bed, so they can be very welcome, especially in urban areas. 

Ragwort in Gardens

In gardens, ragwort is typically seen as a weed. 

However, wildlife gardeners who appreciate its value to insects and birds often leave areas of ragwort to thrive. After all, all plants are weeds if they self-seed and are unwanted.

Ragrow is well-suited to growing in wildflower meadows, adding diversity and supporting a variety of pollinators. So they can bring genuine value to your outdoor space. 

The Harmful Side of Ragwort

forest with a ragwort covered ground

And here’s the crux: ragwort has a reputation as a poisonous, hazardous spreader. 

But: 

Is Ragwort actually Poisonous?

Ragwort is mildly toxic due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids present in the plant. 

However: 

These toxins make the plant poisonous to mammals, particularly horses and cows, which can develop liver poisoning if they consume large quantities of ragwort. 

And while sheep and goats are considered less at risk, all farmed animals can be affected by ragwort poisoning.

Additionally, ragwort is poisonous to cats and dogs, so removing it is a good idea if you have roaming pets. 

Ragwort and Human Health

While ragwort could potentially harm humans, it’s only mildly poisonous, and one would need to consume an enormous amount to cause harm. 

Indeed, there have been no documented cases of ragwort poisoning in humans in the UK. Nonetheless, I definitely wouldn’t recommend eating it!

However:

Ragwort can trigger an allergic reaction (known as compositae dermatitis) if you touch it. However, this isn’t caused by the alkaloids but by other compounds commonly found in the sunflower family. 

How to Control Ragwort

jacobaea vulgaris

While there’s no health-related reason to eliminate ragwort in a domestic garden, you may wish to eradicate the plant if you want a more curated look. And if your grounds are used for grazing, you’ll want to ensure your livestock does not ingest the plant. 

Here are some ways of controlling ragwort in a garden:

Check the Government’s Code of Practice

Ragwort is one of five injurious weeds covered by the Weeds Act 1959 and the Ragwort Control Act 2003. These codes relate to livestock and horse owners, not general garden owners. 

However, if you are a landowner with grazing animals, check out the Code of Practice on How to Prevent the Spread of Ragwort.

Cultural Control of Ragwort

Non-chemical options for controlling ragwort are limited. 

Reduce seed production by cutting at the early flowering stage. However, this can still stimulate the growth of side shoots, which can produce more vigorous growth the following year. 

So, pull or dig up ragwort where weed numbers are low. However, the benefit is generally only temporary because any remaining roots in the soil will give rise to new plants.

Remember: wear gloves when touching ragwort as it could trigger a rash. 

The Garden doctor:
Remember that the cut plants remain a risk to grazing livestock if eaten, so burn the cuttings after removing them from the ground.

Weedkiller Control

You may need to consider chemical control when non-chemical means aren’t feasible. 

Use approved weedkillers, including Glyphosate. For example: 

  • Roundup Ultra
  • Rootblast Super Strength Total Weedkiller
  • Doff Advanced Concentrated Weedkiller
  • Westland Resolva Pro Xtra Tough Concentrate

Use these to clear small infestations.

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Lawn and Grassland Weedkillers

In more heavily infested grassland areas, MCPA and 2,4-D (Vitax LawnClear 2) are particularly effective against ragwort. 

For gardens, consider using triclopyr (Vitax SBK Brushwood Killer) in rough grassed areas and lawn weedkillers for lawns.

Ragwort Legislation

As mentioned, ragwort is covered by the Weeds Act 1959 and the Ragwort Control Act 2003 in the UK, providing guidance on preventing the spread of the plant. 

However, it’s not compulsory for landowners to remove ragwort.  But you may be ordered to remove it by local authorities or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Should I remove ragwort?

While ragwort is often viewed as an enemy in the garden and pasture, it’s important to remember its role in the ecosystem.

The key is to manage its growth responsibly, ensuring that it doesn’t pose a risk to livestock while still providing a habitat for pollinators.

Ultimately, understanding this balance is crucial in maintaining both our animals’ health and our environment’s biodiversity.

FAQs

Should I get rid of ragwort?

Ragwort can perform a valuable role in your garden’s ecosystem, providing sustenance to many insect and wildlife species. However, the plant is poisonous to grazing animals, so it’s wise to remove it if it’s likely to be ingested. 

Is it OK to touch ragwort?

Touching ragwort with your bare hands is not recommended because it can trigger an allergic skin reaction. So, carefully handle this common garden and grassland weed, wearing waterproof gloves whenever you make contact with it. 

What is the best weedkiller for ragwort?

I’d always recommend going for non-chemical weed control if you can, so dig up or pull up ragwort plants before the flowers have gone to seed. Wear gloves to protect your skin, as it can cause an allergic reaction. However, if that doesn’t work, use a glyphosate-containing weedkiller to control the spread and growth of the plant effectively.

Any questions?

I hope I’ve provided answers to all your questions about how to control ragwort in your garden. But if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Or check out our comprehensive Help & Advice section for expert articles on everything related to garden and lawn care. 

Thanks for reading!   

Louis Hooft
Founder & Lawn expert
Introducing Louis Hooft, the founder of MOOWY and your reliable expert. With a profound love for stunning lawns and extensive experience in garden maintenance, Louis is here to assist garden enthusiasts in achieving a greener and livelier outdoors than ever before. Count on Louis for invaluable tips, clever tricks, and top-notch products to make your garden flourish!
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