Get rid of lesser celandine– It’s pretty, but it will take over your lawn

lesser celandine in Buffalo NY by Mike Fabrizio
It may look like a pretty flower, but you should dig up and get rid of this invasive plant called lesser celandine. Photo courtesy Mike Fabrizio.

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I’ve been noticing the pretty yellow blooms of lesser celandine all over my neighborhood.

It’s pretty, but it can take over your lawn.

Here’s an email I recently got from a reader:

I have this weed and it is now covering my entire back yard and is headed into the front. I literally have one-eighth of my back  lawn left.  I have been digging it out for years and years and it just keeps multiplying. There is now far too much to dig out. Can you help me find a solution? I need to do something drastic.

Jo Anne

Well, we covered the topic of lesser celandine a few  years ago. To see if there is anything new you can do, I again talked to Carol Ann Harlos, Master Gardener, garden writer and speaker.

Short answer: No, there’s nothing new.

Longer answer: If you’re desperate, you could try solarization.

“Lesser celandine is awful, really awful stuff,” Harlos said. “It’s a serious weed.”

She outlined the same strategies she described previously.

“You have two choices,” Harlos said. “You can either spend the time and dig it out or you can buy Roundup. Spray Roundup on the leaves and it goes into the roots.”

Killing the roots is critical. What makes lesser celandine so difficult to get rid of is that it produces tubers under the ground. If you try to dig it up and miss a tuber or even break a tuber, the piece left in the ground can generate a new plant, she explained.

I asked Harlos about covering the plants up, and she said you might try that if you’re desperate.

You’re not trying to kill the leaves, you’re trying to cook the roots, she explained. The process is called solarization.

Spread black plastic (not cardboard or newspaper) over the ground right away. The plastic will absorb heat. The soil needs to get hot a couple inches down. Keep the black plastic over the plants for a couple months.

You have to do it now while you can see the plants. The plants are spring ephemerals, which die down in the summer and will disappear.

Harlos hasn’t read about solarization being used on lesser celandine and doesn’t know how effective it would be. But if you have a large area to kill and are desperate, you could try it.

Another choice is to live with lesser celandine taking over your property. Harlos knows of a gardener that has made that choice. But she likes to see gardeners get rid of lesser celandine, especially if they live near woods.

That’s because lesser celandine is an invasive species that blooms before many native plants do. Lesser celandine gets the sunlight first, it gets the nutrients from the soil first and it flowers first. In addition, animals generally don’t eat it. With all those advantages, it can choke out the native plants that animals depend on.

If you decide to do nothing about lesser celandine, “That’s a personal decision,” Harlos said, “but realize that you will have lots more next year.”

Update, April 19, 2016 from Jo Anne Gerbec: Thank you so much!  I tried boiling water on it yesterday and this morning the leaves were all dead.  However I am not sure this is the best solution either.  I cannot  tell if the boiling water killed the root or the little bulbs.  The boiling water is just in the testing stage. Not sure it will work.  Not sure anything will work lol. I will keep you posted. Here is a pic of the nightmare I am facing.  🙂

lesser celandine in yard
Lesser celandine can take over your yard. Photo courtesy Jo Anne Gerbec


35 Comments on “Get rid of lesser celandine– It’s pretty, but it will take over your lawn

  1. Hi Denise, I am sorry for all the problems you’re facing. I appreciate you trying to get rid of the lesser celandine. Just do what you can. Thanks for your efforts!

  2. Richard, I’m on Long Island too. I remember seeing lesser celandine carpeting the woods in Nassau and thinking it was pretty ’til I learned about it. Over the last 5 years or so it’s been taking over my yard out in Stony Brook. At first I tried digging it out, screening the soil before replacing any of it…I’ve tried flaming, chemicals…it just keeps spreading. Now it’s in my flower beds.
    I have used Roundup before only on this and poison ivy. Now I won’t use it anymore. I have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, and one of the possible causes is exposure to Roundup. I’ve used very little of it, but here on Long Island we are surrounded by people dousing everything in these chemicals. Somehow I’m going to have to learn to live with the celandine, though I hate the idea of it spreading further because of me.

  3. Yes, lesser celadine is a devil weed, I rank it up there close to italian arum but not as bad. I have an acre of property and the back quarter acre is wooded. I guess it was about 3 years ago I noticed how aggressively this weed was moving toward my lawn as a solid mat, coming from my neighbors. That’s when the glyphosate applications began. I hate to use it but it has worked. I shudder to think of the gallons I employed, but I have basically beaten it back to the property line. I made my first “woods walk” today looking for it and found enough new clumps here and there to necessitate 2 more gallons of glyphosate – kill it before it flowers! When it’s in the lawn, I use another product with dicamba in it so as not to kill the grass. It’s less effective but if you are vigilant you can kill it. As for Italian Arum, if you get that, prepare to dig for years…no other option.

  4. Hi Vidya, first let me say the obvious: Burning things is dangerous. You don’t want to start a grass fire.

    Will using a flame wand burn the tubers? I don’t know. Burning off the leaves for several years may kill off the tubers, but it may not. It’s an interesting idea, though not the first thing I would recommend.

    Yes, we all need to be very careful of chemicals that we use in our gardens because we don’t want to pollute our creeks and rivers and lakes or affect insects and other creatures. Whenever you use an herbicide, follow the directions carefully.

  5. I bought a flame wand that attaches to a propane tank and attacked some early growth. The leaves are very succulent and they shrivel right up. I guess doing this several years will help, but it’s not a one and done solution.
    I heard that treatment with strong acetic acid helps, but haven’t tried that as I am close to water and I don’t know how acid will affect things like earthworms.

  6. Moving may seem a bit drastic but if you’re overrun with the devil weed it’s probably the only viable solution. Good luck.

  7. So…i fou d an answer to my lesser demanding problem. I moved!!!! I checked my whole property and found some at the new place. Dug it out immediately. Double bagged it dirt and all. I will walk the property again to see if there is any more.

  8. John, you can see a newer article here, but the recommendations are pretty much the same as this article. Common active ingredients found in herbicides for lesser celandine are triclopyr, glyphosate and dicambia, said Andrea Locke, coordinator of WNY PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management). Roundup is one of the brands that contain one or more of these active ingredients. I don’t know whether one brand is better than another. Whatever you choose, make sure you carefully follow package directions. Try digging out as much lesser celandine as you can. You don’t want to use an herbicide unless you really have to, but this is one of those cases where you may have to. If you need more information, contact the Master Gardeners in your area. See this article for ways to contact Master Gardeners in WNY during the pandemic. I hope that helps.

  9. I have the same problem. I think I will try to dig out the clumps in my beds and spray the larger areas in the lawn with Round up. I wanted to avoid using an herbicide.

  10. Alice, you don’t have to live near woods to get lesser celandine. It’s in many parts of Amherst that aren’t near woods. Thanks for keeping on top of it. Good luck!

  11. I live in an inner suburb, not close to an woods, so it surprises me that lesser celandine has appeared in one backyard bed and in my front lawn. I dug out the small patch from my back planting bed (maybe it snuck in with a plant I bought and planted last year?), but The patches in my front yard are very difficult, as my soil has lots of clay and is pretty compact. I might just dig out the half-dozen or so patches of it in my lawn, digging out some extra soil and grass to make sure I get it all, and then leave them in a black plastic bag for quite a while. I’ll have to fill in the holes with top soil and seed with grass seed, I guess. Unfortunately, I also need to tackle the ajuga problem, too…

  12. Richard, you can find information online about whether it is edible. I don’t want to make any recommendations about eating wild plants, especially ones that could make you sick. Please note that lesser celandine, which we are discussing here, is totally different than greater celandine.

  13. Erin, thank you for that positive attitude! It does feel like you’ve accomplished something when you dig out all those tubers!

  14. Yes, there are so many as they can get up to a couple of inches long. I always wondered if they were edible and had any nutritional value.

  15. It’s oddly satisfying to dig them out when you get the massive root ball. There’s just so many of them!

  16. Richard, the herbicide that is sprayed on lawns may kill lesser celandine. Common active ingredients found in herbicides for lesser celandine are triclopyr, glyphosate and dicambia. Find out what your neighbors are using. Of course, the herbicide may also kill ferns and other plants you want to keep.

    We don’t have natural controls for lesser celandine here. Maybe scientists will be able at some point to safely introduce something to keep it check.

    So for now, your choices are dig it out or use an herbicide.

  17. That doesn’t sound very promising for me. I have large areas of Christmas ferns that the Lesser Celendine invaded. Do they have as big a problem with this weed in Europe where it came from as we have here? Maybe there is an insect or disease that controls it there. Another thing I don’t understand is If there is not target herbicide that kills it then why is my property covered with it and when I look over in my neighbor’s yards I don’t see any of it and they have lawn services and don’t do much gardening at all. Do the herbicides they put on lawns control it at all?

  18. This has been very helpful! I’m in the process of digging out as many of these plants as I can with the hopes of not having as many next year. We have a mostly wooded backyard and they took over one section that used to be ferns. I’d love for the ferns to come back but I don’t see that happening.

  19. Richard, you have described the problem beautifully. This is why I encourage gardeners to dig up those small clumps before lesser celandine becomes a problem in their gardens or in natural areas. I hope you can get it under control.

  20. Thanks for your suggestions and advise Connie. Unfortunately I think it would be next to impossible for me to get anyplace trying to dig these things out. It’s gone too far. The insidious weed is all over my .6 acre and currently covers 75% of my lawn/field area. My beds are too large an extensive and the Celendine is interwoven into everything. It would take many people many weeks just to put a dent in it and I have no help and many other projects beside my property The obnoxious weed gets into everything and little ones sprout up all over. Large areas of my woods are covered with it. All my plantings are informal and I try to have everything in my field and wooded areas look as if they occurred there naturally. There are no formal beds. Initially I thought naturalizing my property would mean less maintenance but I believe it wound up being more. It was really very beautiful in its prime and allowed me to be quite creative with a variety of plantings and landscaping. Like a miniature of some of the large Long Island Gold Coast estates I used to tree work on in my earlier days. I’ll just keep plugging and make the best of it. Next Spring perhaps I’ll try some herbicides before the hated weed has a chance to flower.

  21. Richard, will the ferns and Myrtle die? I don’t know, but you shouldn’t leave the lesser celandine. I know it’s a difficult mess in your yard, but imagine that in a natural area. In a natural area, it will crowd out the native plants and the native plants will disappear.

    Can you dig out at least some of the ferns and make sure there are no lesser celandine tubers in the clump? Then dig out all of the lesser celandine in the bed and start over. Inspect your clumps of ferns or other perennials again to make sure there are no lesser celandine tubers in the clump. The ferns will spread again and you are doing your part for the environment.

  22. Good idea, I’ll get on it! Goats would probably relish it. Problem being they would eat everything else along with it. Question: Will the Lesser Celendine, left to itself, eventually crowd out and kill a lawn or a bed of ferns or Myrtle. When you dig those things out there is such a mass of tubers that you wouldn’t think there was much room for the roots of anything else. Lesser Celendine is definitely the most obnoxiously invasive plant I have ever encountered. Truly a cancer to my property. If only the whole plant would go away like the foliage does.

  23. Richard, maybe we need a spray that makes lesser celandine tasty to deer. Let me know when you have invented it!

  24. Thank you Connie. It appears that not only is there no easy way to get rid of wide spread lesser Celdndine but there doesn’t seem to be any viable hard way of getting rid of it either. If someone could come up with an environmentally safe herbicide that would only target this incredibly invasive weed they would be super wealthy overnight. I live in western Suffolk County, Long Island and between general property maintenance, the Lesser Celendine and the fairly recent arrival of hordes of deer who are worse than locusts (except on the Celendine) I am getting closer to a houseboat with a couple of windowboxes.

  25. Rebecca, thank you for helping us balance out the pros and cons. Yes, we should use herbicides only when necessary and should be extremely careful when using them.

  26. Please be aware and extremely careful when using Roundup. If you can, don’t use it. I am highly allergic to it, and when my neighbors use it, it is in the air. My face swells and I have trouble breathing. It is like I have a chemical burn all over my body. NOT FUN.

  27. Richard, glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. I am sorry, but there is no easy way to get rid of this invasive plant once it has spread so widely.

  28. This horrible weed has taken over my once beautiful half acre . It has covered my lawn areas and has invaded my beds of Myrtle and ferns to the extent that physical removal is next to impossible. I haven’t yet tried this Glyphosate that I have just read about and I would like to know if it would be harmful to my Myrtle, Christmas and Cinnamon ferns. There is no way to apply it without getting some in these plants. Two years ago I tried Roundup in a large bed of Christmas ferns trying to be very careful not to get any on the ferns and the result was I lost all of the ferns along with the Celendine. Does anyone know how the Glyphosate may affect the Myrtle or the ferns.

  29. Be verycareful when using a lawnmower on lesser celandine. The tiny bulbs get trapped and carried to other parts of the lawn. In my case it is now in my front lawn can tell it’s from the mower by the width of the path.

  30. I have that “problem” with violets in my small back yard lawn. Now I have a beautiful purple lawn that doesn’t need mowing in the month of May. The rest of the yard is gardens and the violets are good ground cover.

  31. I love anything yellow this time of year, however, courtesy of the the Town of Tonawanda, and a water main repair project,and their re-seeding program, I now have this weed in my lawn. Dig, may I say this again, DIG and then use a liquid mixture of your choice!!! Good Luck…..

  32. We have found that cutting lesser celandine with the mower to 1 1/2 to 2 inches, removing the flower and leaves, on the first lawn cutting, then spotting it with 2-4- D, will stunt its growth in lawns.

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