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A horsetail plant, stately and tall, can add both splendor and a clean-cut look to your garden. Its slender vertical stalks and vibrant green color make it a perfect accent plant.
Black lines across the stalks (these are in fact leaves!) create a striking contrast, making it visually appealing.
Horsetail plants grow well along streams and in swampy areas in full sun to partial shade. They grow across North America and throughout the temperate northern hemisphere.
But there’s a problem with horsetails and a dark side to them. Having a wide-spreading root system, they can take over your garden, becoming hard to get rid of.
Here are a few ideas on how to use horsetails to add beauty and structure to your garden. You’ll also learn ways to grow and control them in an eco-friendly way.
What Is a Horsetail Plant?
The horsetail plant or snake grass belongs to the Equisetum family. It resembles bamboo but is actually related to ferns. Like ferns, it reproduces via spores and like bamboo, it has grass-like, jointed stems.
The plant’s sterile stems are the ones that earned the plant its name as they resemble horse tails.
You’ll probably grow either rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) or field horsetail (Equisetum arvense). These two are the most common horsetail species used in landscaping.
Horsetail plants grow 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide on average. There are slight variations across the species and there are more than 25 of those.
Horsetail Species to Grow in Your Garden
Here are just a few examples to help you figure out what you’d want for your gardening project.
- Common or field horsetail (E. arvense) reaches as little as 1 to 2 feet tall. Often, when the soil is dry it’s reduced to 8 inches tall to the most.
- Rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) also known as scouring rush ranges between 2 to 6 feet tall.
- Giant horsetail (E. telmateia), the subspecies native to western North America, can reach up to 7,5 feet tall.
How to Landscape Your Garden Using a Horsetail Plant?
A horsetail boasts beautiful stems and the ability to grow where not many other plants can. Good to have a plan B at hand when other options are lacking, right?
You can have a well-defined hedging and a strong visual impact all in one plant.
But how do you incorporate horsetail into your backyard landscape?
Horsetail plants are excellent edging plants. But to unleash their full potential, plant them in full sun and you’ll get a dense wall of exotic greenery.
Once you do that, your possibilities are endless.
- Use it to accentuate different features in your garden. Create tall vegetative screens and separate sections in your yard. Use it as a border plant along the fence, or trim it for a shorter groundcover.
- Horsetail does great as a standalone feature plant. But it blends well with companion plants such as hostas, herbs, and small shrubs.
- It’s ideal for creating contrast with trees and other herbaceous perennials. But you’d want to be watchful of its spreading tendencies. Plant horsetail at a safe distance from the other plants so it doesn’t overtake them.
Containing your horsetails in pots is a clever way to tame their wild weedy nature. Here are a few ways to do this:
- Put them in large pots and containers instead of ornamental grass. Start small by setting two horsetail seedlings per planter. This should do it, as the reed spreads quickly. However, this will depend on your planter size.
- Combine your scouring rush with foundation plants. The first that pop to mind are wetland sedges, swamp milkweed, and variegated grass.
- Plant horsetail in bottomless containers to highlight areas in your garden. This will keep the plant in place and give you more freedom with the design.
Make your horsetail a feature plant in water gardens, wetlands, and ponds. The horsetail will tolerate any soil type but it enjoys damp, moist areas.
Planted en masse near a water feature, horsetail plants have a striking visual effect. If lack of space isn’t a concern for you, give your horsetails plenty of room to grow. You can expect them to spread 1 to 6 feet wide.
Bonus tip: Why not leverage the horsetail spreading habit when you can? Set your seedlings 4 feet apart. The plant will naturally spread and you will end up saving money.
How to Control Your Horsetail Plant in an Eco-Friendly Way
So far so good. You might already have a perfect spot for your horsetail. But to grow it you also need to learn how to contain it in areas where you want it.
These plants are so aggressive that gardeners often treat them with liquid Glyphosate. As you may know, it’s not the most eco-friendly way to get rid of your weeds.
The herbicide label advises applying it farther away from drinking water sources. That’s a clear signal for an earth-conscious gardener to start looking elsewhere.
And we did the hard work for you. Here a few clever ideas (all eco-friendly) on how to keep your horsetail in bounds.
- Cut the stems back of your overgrown horsetail patches to ground level. Prune the fertile, spore-bearing stalks using good gardening shears. Use plastic bags to dispose of the cut stems immediately.
- Apply 2 pounds of dolomite lime per 100 square feet. Use a shovel to work it into the top layer of soil. When done, remember to water the treated soil.
- Use sheet mulching. First, apply organic nitrogen, then add thick cardboard and a layer of fertilizer. Top it off with whatever good mulch you have around. This will help eradicate horsetail weeds little by little.
- Gardening websites advise digging the weeds up to deal with unwanted horsetail.
But the plant is so deep-rooted that much of the digging will end up futile. And whatever else you’ve managed to dig out will probably regrow, as tiny pieces of the root can remain in the soil. Instead, use an electric weed killer.
This nifty device will cut off the water supply from the root and kill the weed. All at the press of a button!
Over to You
Beautiful tall horsetail stems make this full-sun plant a staple in modern landscaping. It’s the latest gardening fad that’s here to stay.
As long as you know how to keep your horsetail from going haywire, you’re safe growing it.
You can safely let it spread, but still, keep it from going all over the place.
Once you’re in control, horsetail can adorn your garden in a way not many other plants can.
Take Your Eco-Friendly Gardening to the Next Level
Care to get more environmentally-sound gardening tips? Clean Air Gardening has you covered. That’s thanks to our more than 20 years of experience in organic gardening,
We’re here to answer all your questions on organic gardening. And that’s not all.
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