Weedy Wednesday - Dock
This week's weed is the farmer's scourge. Dock grows large and is hard to eradicate. And no, the leaves don't soothe nettle stings .....
In this weekly series, we take a quick look at common garden weeds. How they grow, what benefits they bring to the garden, and how to manage them. Organic growers recognise the importance of these native plants. Insects and birds need the flowers and seeds – and gardeners, cooks and herbalists can harvest some nutrient rich foliage.
We hope that this snap-shot view of bindweed, dandelion, nettle, bramble, thistle, goosegrass, plantain, fat hen, dock and yes, even ground elder, will help you to live with them. We also give advice on how to compost weeds. You may not love them, but you certainly won't be tempted to reach for the toxic weed-killer.
Dock Rumex obtusifolius
What: This broad-leaved plant grows throughout the UK. It's as well to make friends with it, as the dock is very long lived and hard to eradicate. Cutting will only encourage regeneration in the root system. Dock is closely related to the delicious herb, sorrel (Rumex acetosa). Both have reddish stems, broad green leaves and spires of flowers/seeds which turn red as they mature. Sadly it lacks sorrel's delicious tangy taste.
Habit: A perennial with a deep taproot. The broad leaves can grow up to 40cm long, and the whole plant up to 130 cm tall. Flower stems appear from June to September, consisting of large clusters of racemes which contain small greenish flowers that change to red as they mature. Seeds are reddish brown. A large mature broad-leaved dock can produce up to 60,000 ripe seeds per year. These seeds can survive ungerminated for over 50 years.
Benefits: Dock leaves can be eaten in salad or soup when very young - before they get too bitter. They contain high levels of oxalic acid (like spinach, sorrel and parsley). This is extracted and used in baking powder; as a bleach for wood, removing black stains caused by water penetration; and - interestingly - as a polish and sealant for marble. Despite the general advice, rubbing a nettle sting with a dock leaf does not alleviate the histamine sting.
Controls: These plants can be very long lived, forming compound crowns with multiple taproots. Their ability to regenerate makes it difficult to eradicate the plant. Cutting the leaves causes regrowth under, as well as above, ground. It is also possible for the plant to form new shoots if detached from the parent. Only by digging out all parts of the long taproot can you be sure to remove a dock. This is best done when the plant is young. As with all weeds, preventing seed dispersal is vital.