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There’s gold in those horsetails!


Horsetails can be a pain in the garden. Rip ‘em out and more appear. Try a chemical approach and find out why horsetails were the first plants to recolonizeMount St Helensafter she blew her top.


They are survivors, predating humans and even the dinosaurs. And it’s reasonable to presume horsetail will be among the species that inherit the earth, long after humans have left the scene.


A few horsetails, we tell ourselves, would not be so bad – a novelty. But try digging them out and you’ll discover one of the keys to their survival; an interconnected root system that goes on forever and guarantees that where there’s one horsetail, there’s hundreds more.


Ecological approaches to controlling horsetail involve changing soil conditions, requiring patience and time. Horsetail does best in acid, nutrient-limited soil, and needs moisture, at least early in its life cycle.


So the theory is that by adding lime to lower soil acidity, and organic material to provide nutrients, you’ll eventually discourage the horsetail while encouraging most of the other plants you want to see growing in your garden.


I’m trying the liming approach on one site, and reducing soil moisture by limiting irrigation on another. Only time will tell me how these experiments will work. I’ve also read that continuing to pull the horsetail will eventually reduce its vigour, although you have to be careful not to spread bits of root and contaminate your soil even further.


So as you weed horsetail from your garden, take time to appreciate one of nature’s success stories. And remember, there’s gold in those green stems. Horsetail has the ability to accumulate gold in its cells, as much as four-and-a-half ounces in one ton. Trouble is, no one has yet figured out a way to extract it profitably. There’s a challenge to occupy your mind, as you’re on your hands and knees in the garden, pulling away.


Norm Wagenaar is a landscaper and writer based in Cedar. For more information, see

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