How To Kill Horsetail Weed Like A Lawn Professional

While all kinds of weeds often spell danger for a beautiful lawn, horsetail weed is possibly one of the most troublesome. 

It’s invasive, spreads quickly, and is highly toxic to most types of livestock. 

Fortunately, we’re going to look to the pros for tips on how to control and eliminate this pesky plant–permanently.

The best way to kill horsetail weed is to use both a pre-emergent herbicide every spring and a post-emergent herbicide containing 2,4-D or prodiamine. Providing better drainage to your lawn and making your soil pH less acidic will also prevent the horsetail from returning.

Keep reading to learn more about horsetail weed and why it’s so dangerous and difficult to get rid of. 

We’ll also go over a few crucial tips and methods for killing the common horsetail weed for good, like a real lawn professional.

how to kill horsetail weed 1

How Do You Get Rid of Horsetail Weed?

Suppose you don’t want to see unattractive horsetail shoots and cones sprouting up all over your yard. 

In this case, you’ll need to take some pretty severe measures and be very persistent to kill the flowerless weed off entirely once you’ve identified it. 

Thankfully, while horsetail is very tricky to get rid of, it certainly isn’t an invincible threat–it merely needs a bit more attention and planning to kill than most typical weeds. 

Below are 6 steps you should follow to get rid of horsetail plants and prevent them from returning in the future.

Use a Pre-Emergent Herbicide Every Spring

The best method of keeping horsetail out of your yard by far is prevention. 

If you live in an area where horsetail is known to thrive, using a pre-emergent herbicide every spring will go a long way in keeping this weed and its ugly cones and shoots out of your yard for good.

Although horsetail is notoriously resistant to many key ingredients in common herbicides, there are a few ingredients it succumbs to pretty quickly. 

Avoid your typical Roundup or anything with glyphosate, as they aren’t enough to prevent horsetail from sprouting and spreading. 

However, two of the more effective ingredients for killing horsetail are 2,4-D and prodiamine, which are commonly used in pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicides. 

We highly recommend using something like The Andersons Barricade Professional-Grade Granular Pre-Emergent Weed Control for your pre-emergent treatment. 

In addition to being reasonably inexpensive to cover a large area.

Check out the best time to apply 2, 4-D in our article at the link.

The Andersons’ Barricade contains 0.48% of its active ingredient, prodiamine. 

This is usually enough to prevent horsetail from sprouting in your yard if you haven’t seen it show up yet or if you’ve eliminated it previously and don’t want to see it return.

Applying this pre-emergent herbicide is simple:

  • Mow around the area beforehand.
  • Apply the granules with a spreader of your choice.
  • Add water (or use it just before it rains) to take effect. 

Adding water is essential, as the herbicide needs to penetrate the soil pretty deeply to prevent future weed growth.

What’s great about this product and prodiamine in general is it’s not only effective on horsetail–it also works well on lots of other types of highly stubborn and damaging weeds, like crabgrass and foxtail.

Trim the Horsetail Weed Before Applying Weed Killer

If you already have a horsetail weed problem on your hands, there are a few steps you’ll need to take to get rid of it permanently. 

Horsetail isn’t just any weed, after all–it’s one of the most destructive, invasive, and fast-growing weeds on the planet. 

It’s established itself on nearly every continent and causes issues for homeowners and gardeners every year.

At this point, you’re probably thinking you need to start selecting an appropriate post-emergent weed killer, but don’t get ahead of yourself just yet! 

Before applying any kind of weed killer, you should make an effort to trim the horsetail weed as far down to its roots as possible. 

Remove the spore-filled cones with care to prevent spreading them around too much, and cut the plant’s tall, bamboo-like stalks down as far as you are able to before disposing of them, again, with extreme care. 

This will cut down on the current amount of growth present and make your yard look better in the meantime while you follow the next steps in getting rid of every hint of the horsetail weed’s roots, spores, and all.

Trimming any current visible horsetail weed growth will also mean the post-emergent weed killer you eventually apply won’t need to work quite as hard since it’ll be able to access the plant’s roots much more quickly and effectively.

Use the Right Kind of Weed Killer

Once you’ve trimmed the horsetail weed as far down to its roots as possible, you’ll need to then reach for a highly effective, selective, post-emergent weed killer.

Then take a few additional preventative steps to keep it away permanently, which we’ll get to soon.

As we touched on earlier, 2,4-D is incredibly effective against horsetail infestations specifically, especially when combined with some of the other tips listed here. 

The only downside is it’s also reasonably toxic to certain kinds of wildlife like insects, fish, and other small animals like birds and rodents. 

Thankfully, its toxicity towards humans is relatively low (and it’s also non-toxic to honeybees, which is probably nice to know if you happen to be a beekeeper). 

It is still toxic to most smaller mammals like dogs and cats, though, so keep your pets away from any areas you treat with the chemical.

We highly recommend using something like Compare-N-Save’s 2,4-D Amine Broadleaf Weed Killer for your post-emergent herbicide. 

Like the previous product mentioned, this doesn’t only control horsetail weed–it works on 150 different kinds of damaging, stubborn weeds! It’s designed to be mixed with water and applied to the soil directly.

Once you’ve applied your weed killer, you aren’t done just yet! 

Remember, this is horsetail you’re dealing with, so you’ll have to think ahead of its fast-growing roots to keep it out of your yard for good.

Provide Better Drainage to Your Soil

how to kill horsetail weed 2

Aside from just applying pre-emergent and post-emergent weed killers and trimming any visible growth, one of the most important things you’ll need to do to kill off all of the horsetail in your yard is to provide better drainage to the affected area. 

While trimming the horsetail and spraying it with weed killer will probably get rid of it for a few days or weeks, you’ll be battling it forever if you don’t make some changes, so your lawn is less hospitable to this frustrating weed. 

As we touched on earlier, horsetail loves and thrives in hot, wet, and low-elevation areas like marshes and swamps, but it’ll also take up residence anywhere there’s a warm puddle.

This is why providing better drainage to the area where the horsetail tends to grow is one of the key ways to keep it from returning. 

A few things you’ll potentially be able to do to accomplish this include:

  • Dig a drainage ditch* or trench near the horsetail
  • Adding compost to the soil to improve soil structure and prevent compaction
  • Add plants to the ground which thrive in wet conditions
  • Turn the area into a pond
  • Install a drain tile system

*Drainage ditches are effective but don’t look great; check out these ideas to make your drainage ditch look awesome.

By gradually improving the drainage in the area where the horsetail weed tends to grow, you’ll make it far less welcoming for the plant, making it less likely to return.

Make Your Soil Less Acidic

Another great way to make your yard a lot less hospitable to horsetail weed is to improve your soil conditions. 

Horsetail strongly prefers neutral to acidic soil with very little oxygen and nutrients. 

This means you’ll likely need to make your soil less acidic to persuade this pesky weed to leave your yard alone permanently.

If you aren’t sure what your soil’s exact pH level is in the affected area, you have the option of conducting a soil test to get a more precise reading. 

However, just by the presence of the horsetail weed alone, you’ll be able to tell right away the underlying soil is probably somewhere between 4.5 and 6.5, the ideal range for the plant.

One of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to lower your soil’s acidity is to use agricultural lime, also known as calcium carbonate. 

Something like Down to Earth Organic’s Garden Lime Calcium Carbonate will do just fine–just be sure to add water to the soil when applying it, as it needs moisture to become effective.

Interestingly, wood ashes are also often used to make soil pH levels less acidic in a pinch. 

Wood ash has many vital nutrients like calcium and potassium, so it will also improve your soil quality. 

Look Out For Additional Horsetail Shoots

Once you’ve completed steps one through five, your final step will be to simply keep a close watch on the area where you eliminated the horsetail weed.

For very severe cases, there’s a chance you’ll need to repeat these steps once or twice, especially the herbicide application, to get rid of the plant’s roots and spores completely. 

This is normal, as horsetail is extremely persistent and resistant to most conventional weed removal methods thanks to its fast-growing rhizomes and hardy nature.

Check the area you’ve treated daily for the presence of any re-emerging horsetail shoots poking up from the ground. 

The shoots will be thin and bamboo-like with a waxy stem and a single small, brown cone at the top beginning to grow. They may be either green or brown.

Remove any returning horsetail shoots immediately with some durable garden shears, and dig out any deeper roots remaining if possible.

If the shoots keep returning, don’t give up! 

Keep treating the area and improving your soil drainage and conditions, so the soil is less wet and acidic. 

The less welcoming you make your yard to this awful weed, the better, as it will be less likely to return and more inclined to send its spores elsewhere.

What is Horsetail Weed?

Horsetail weed is a non-flowering, highly invasive perennial weed related to ferns. 

It thrives in warm, wet environments throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and even the Middle East. 

The typical horsetail weed is primarily a tall, thin, green, bamboo shoot-like stem. 

Lots of smaller, thinner branches emerge from the central shoot, making the plant resemble a small fir tree from a distance. 

The plant typically reaches 10 to 20” inches in height.

The top of the invasive weed produces a single brown cone containing spores. 

These spores spread quickly and easily, and their roots are very deep and branching, making it very difficult to eradicate once it has established itself. 

Horsetail also tends to form very large colonies upon finding a suitable environment to grow in, and it prefers very wet and acidic soil. 

It is commonly seen in swamps and marshes and low-elevation areas with a lot of water runoff. 

In addition to being very damaging to lawns and most other plants it encounters, horsetail is also extremely toxic to most types of livestock, such as: 

  • Goats 
  • Sheep 
  • Horses 
  • Cows 

What Does Horsetail Weed Do to Lawns?

Because horsetail weed spreads so quickly and is challenging to eliminate, it can take over entire lawns and choke out desirable plants like flowers, crops, and grasses. 

Its roots grow very deep and spread laterally very quickly, and its spores are lightweight and easily carried long distances by even mild winds.

Horsetail weed is also a very old plant, and it hasn’t needed to evolve much in many, many years. 

It’s extremely resilient even to some of the most effective weed killers, and if you attempt to dig it up or smother it, it will usually return even if there are just a few remaining roots or spores left behind.

In addition to being damaging to plants and grasses, horsetail sometimes even damages buildings and other man-made structures with its tall, strong stems and extremely fast-spreading rhizomes. 

This offending weed can grow through tiny gaps in pavement and returns with a vengeance when it is trimmed or dug up.

Overall, horsetail weed is a major danger to having a beautiful lawn and should be eliminated as quickly as possible to prevent it from taking over your entire yard. 

Even though it truly thrives in very wet, warm, low-elevation areas, horsetail is more than able to spread beyond its ideal environment with ease.