Act now to get rid of lesser celandine

yard covered in lesser celandine
The Tonawanda yard on the right is completely covered in lesser celandine, and the invasive plant is making its way into the neighbor’s yard on the left. The photo was taken in 2020 when the plant was blooming. Photo by Sabina Missana


by Connie Oswald Stofko

Lesser celandine is an invasive weed that can take over your lawn and gardens.

“Whatever you do, don’t ignore it,” said Master Gardener Lyn Chimera.

It’s pretty, but…

Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna, formerly Ranunculus ficaria) is easy to ignore, Chimera acknowledges. It’s a spring ephemeral and dies back, so it’s easy to forget about it once it disappears–but it will return.

And because it’s pretty, many people don’t recognize it as a weed. Chimera was one of these people. Twenty years ago, she saw the plant blooming in her mother-in-law’s yard.

“It grows in shade and was beautiful, so I dug some up and planted it in my garden,” Chimera said. “I thought it was marsh marigold.”

Chimera is still trying to get it out of her yard.

lesser celandine leaves with nickel to show size
It’s easy to overlook lesser celandine. This is what it looks like before it flowers. It’s very low growing; I moved some blades of grass so you’d be able to see the leaves better in this photo. Get rid of lesser celandine now before it flowers. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

It’s horrible, too!

Lesser celandine spreads exponentially, doubling every year, Chimera said.

It can reproduce in three ways:

  • Tubers on the roots. They look like tiny potatoes. If you don’t dig up every single tuber, you’ll get new plants. It’s easy to miss some tubers because they are so small.
  • Bulblets on the leaf stalk. These bulbets fall off easily.
  • Seeds. When the plant flowers, it produces seeds. If the plant is near water, the seeds can be carried downstream. Birds that eat the seeds can also poop them out far from the original plant. (Because bird poop is a good fertilizer for plants, the seed comes out covered in fertilizer, Chimera noted. Sigh.)

“It spreads like crazy” in wild areas, she said, and out competes native plants. Lesser celandine gets a headstart because it comes up early in spring. It also has a dense root system that chokes out other plants.

If you leave it in your lawn, you’re going to have an unhealthy lawn.

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

How to get rid of lesser celandine

Timing is important.

If you want to use an herbicide, you must use it before the plants flower. Herbicides won’t work after the plant flowers. See details below.

Other methods are best done before the plants flower, too.

Dig it all up

Chimera suggests digging up lesser celandine.

tubers of lesser celandine next to penny by Stofko
To get rid of lesser celandine, you have to kill or dig up the roots. See how tiny the tubers are? If you leave any tubers in the ground, this plant can spread. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

It’s important that you get as many of the tubers as possible. Dig around the plant as far as the leaf mass goes, she said.

Don’t knock the extra soil off the plant. Place the plant, soil and all, in a plastic garbage bag.

“It makes for very heavy bags,” she acknowledged.

Gardeners hate to part with their good soil, but the soil could contain tubers that you have missed.

Try to dig up lesser celandine before it flowers. Otherwise you may be dropping those bulblets from the leaf stalks into your garden.

Don’t try to pull the plant out; you’ll leave tubers behind.

Carefully dispose of the plants so they don’t spread. Don’t put the plants in your compost and don’t put them out for your town to pick up with yard waste such as sticks. Put your plastic bag out with your trash to go to a landfill.


Synthetic herbicides

You can use an herbicide, but it must be applied in early to mid-April, said Andrea Locke, coordinator of WNY PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management). If you wait until you notice the flowers, it’s too late.

If you spray the plants with an herbicide after they flower, you can kill the leaves, but it won’t kill the tubers. The plants will just come back next year.

Common active ingredients found in herbicides for lesser celandine are triclopyr, glyphosate and dicambia, she said. You can find these herbacides in garden centers and other stores.

You may have to apply again the next year.

Follow the directions carefully when using any herbicide.

Don’t use vinegar

One reader was considering using industrial strength or horticultural vinegar on lesser celandine. Chimera doesn’t suggest using it on lesser celandine for several reasons.

Horticultural vinegar is 10 to 20 percent acetic acid.

“It’s very toxic and it can burn your skin,” Chimera said, and it’s more harmful to animals than synthetic herbicides.

Perhaps more to the point, horticultural vinegar doesn’t work on lesser celandine. When you spray it on the leaves, the leaves will die, but not the tubers. The plant will just grow back. (Household vinegar, the kind you have in your kitchen, won’t work, either.)

If you drench the soil with horticultural vinegar, you’re killing all the beneficial microbes in the soil that your plants need to grow.

Chimera doesn’t use synthetic herbicides such as glyphosate, but “it has its place, and this is one of them,” she said. “It’s a personal decision” on whether you want to use a synthetic herbicide.

Smother it

If you are faced with a large garden bed filled with lesser celandine, smothering may be your best best.

First, dig out any perennials you want to save. Hose off all the dirt from the roots to make sure there are no lesser celandine tubers hitching a ride. Place your perennials in pots.

Then take lots of newspaper (several days worth, Chimera says) and lay it on top of the plants. (She prefers newspaper over cardboard because it gets soft after a year and you can cut through it more easily when you want to install new plants.) Make sure you overlap the newspaper so there are no seams or openings where the lesser celandine can get through.

Add two to three inches of mulch on top.

Set your pots on top of the mulch. It will still look like a garden. (See how a Buffalo gardener used this technique to kill grass.) When the lesser celandine is dead, replant your perennials back into the bed.

You can use this technique on your lawn, but you will have a swath of mulch on your lawn. Still, that may be better than lesser celandine.

37 Comments on “Act now to get rid of lesser celandine

  1. I just learned about this plant and spent hours in one of my gardens digging it up and attempting to get all of the tiny root balls. I then built a campfire and threw them in to destroy them.

  2. I have been battling this weed for 20 years, I have successfully kept the front line of advancement at bay with heavy mulching . But the back garden where i used to have chicken is awful. Now i have no chickens I have been spraying with Burn out in the bed areas , avoiding valued plants ,and Fiesta in the grass. I know this is not good but the absolute best results i have had this year that seemed to have knocked it back was mixing a full rate of Fiesta with a full rate of Burn out. I never have had any luck with Roundup and LC. This weed is heartless , I am surrounded now on all four sides of adjoining properties. I truly consider moving.

  3. We are battling it here in Oregon too. I am a coordinator at the largest community garden in Salem. We have known of it’s existence for 3 years now. We have had 3 gardens fully out of service for 2 years. We are learning. Take it seriously. Spray with Round Up. I know yuck. You can hand dig a plant here a there but heavy infestations–Round Up. We sprayed unitl it went into dormancy–late May. Then we watered heavy–16 inches of saturated soil- covered it in thick exterior grade clear plastic held down tight for our attempt at Solarization to cook it out.
    Left it all summer. Unfortunately, the crows poked holes in our plastic and the heat escaped. Then deer trampled it some more. Plastic was removed. Layers of large heavy cardboard were laid overlapping at seems. The plots were covered with a lot clean dry straw. It wintered like that. One garden–the worst one had good celandine result. I attribute that to the timing of spraying–we hand picked all blooms and disposed of them then sprayed the plants. We kept spraying new plants. One of the gardens that did not do well was covered with wood chips-not straw and the plants that were sprayed were younger and less developed. I think that was a mistake; spray when the plant is close to blooming–but take the flowers off. One garden is back in service but only using troughs and boxes-no earth disturbance. The second garden is going above ground as well. They were less effected….but their entire storage of compost was deemed necessary to be completely removed from the garden-carefully. The third–is out of service again. Spraying continues. Solarization is not going to be repeated. A fourth plot was on watch last year. They were unsuccessful in keeping it at bay. They are out of service this year. Spraying underway. Cardboard layers and straw/leaf layers for a year. Recheck Dec 2022-May 2023.
    Solid Lessor Celandine Policy in place in our 82- 36′ x 24′ plots.

  4. For lesser celandine try the product “Fiesta” both in concentrate and premixed spray.
    26% iron, not the horrible toxic herbicide. Must apply late winter/early spring as leaves appear BEFORE flowers, and then a 2nd application 3-4 weeks later.

  5. Vicki,

    I don’t know of any herbicide that doesn’t contain harmful chemicals. When the celandine shows up in the spring try smothering or digging. If you do use an herbicide it must be applied before the celandine blooms.

  6. Hi Lisa, if the lesser celandine plant is in plastic bags, it shouldn’t spread. That’s why Lyn Chimera suggested putting the plant and dirt in plastic bags.

    How we win this battle? Spreading the word and asking neighbors to dig up lesser celandine from their lawns will help.

    And for parks and wild spaces, contact the people who maintain those areas. Ask others in your city or town to contact them, too. These large areas probably have to be handled differently. If it isn’t done correctly, you could inadvertently spread lesser celandine instead of getting rid of it.

  7. To keep your lawn healthy and help avoid weed growth mow high, at least 3-3 1/2 inches. Leave the clippings on the lawn which serve as fertilizer as it decomposes. It’s not really necessary to fertilize but if you want to use compost or a natural fertilizer. The best time to fertilize is fall when it strengthens the roots which leads to healthier grass.

  8. How do I keep the rest of the lawn healthy once I finally remove this? Won’t feeding the lawn feed this too. And yes, everytime I rip up creeping Charlie, something worse moves in!

  9. My husband spent hour/days digging it up last year. He had to take three trips to take bags of dirt to the dump. (Which I felt bad about, because won’t it just spead there?
    This year, he tried RoundUp and we had to fence off area from the dog.
    Will try the smother method in the beds, I’m just afraid it will grow under the paper/plastic and mulch, mush like the crazy Bishops Weed!
    Also, how we win this battle as neighboring yards are full of it, as well as the park system. It is all over Delaware Park. 🙁

  10. Wish the deer did like it, woodchucks too! Remember, if you spray next season do it before they bloom. Good luck!

  11. Finally, I have found out the true name of this invasive plant. I have an acre of mostly woods. One section, between the house and the lake, I have successful dug it up. I have been digging for years every spring! I would spend three days ever spring w a weeding tool bought at Lowe’s which grabs most of those tubers that are important to get out of soil. I would use last year’s cocoa shell bags to place the plant, roots, tubers and even the soil. Has any one notice that worms love the roots?
    I have the other area from the street up to our stone parking area in front of our house with this invasive plant. I guess I am going to have it sprayed over the next two years. I don’t like to use chemicals, but it would be too much to dig !
    Why don’t the deer like this? LOL

  12. Yes, once the celandine flowers herbicides are not effective.

    As for how long to leave the newspaper on, the full season and probably next spring as well.

    I also successfully buried a patch behind the garage with a wheelbarrow full of topsoil, probably 8 inches thick. No sign of it this spring. However that is not appropriate for a lawn!

    I have also been digging it for years. The last few years were at least 2 garbage cans full. Finally this year I feel I’ve made a dent. So take heart and keep at it.

  13. Hi Cherylann, I know, it is a beautiful plant! I almost planted it in my garden, too. Hang in there and keep digging!

  14. I inadvertantly brought some home from a friend’s house near the zoo. We were sharing plants and she gifted me with hostas and lilies…AND lesser celandine!!
    I have been trying to purge it for 20 years and have destroyed much of my lawn because of it!!
    It still came back in a thick carpet this year!!
    I spend time EVERY day digging and pulling!!!

  15. It is a battle worth doing!! My parents lawn was taken over by it. It is worth the work!!

  16. For the removal of spotted spurge digging it out before it matures, flowers and makes seed is the best method. It has a tap root so you have to dig down to get it. The plant will probably show up again and just repeat the removal. Eventually the tap root will weaken and you will win.

  17. This was wonderful, Now can you tell me how to get rid of spotted spurge in a garden?

  18. Most of the information on herbicide use mentions harmful side effects for birds, mammals and insects along with microorganisms in the soil. This is one of the reasons lawn treatment companies have to post signage to “keep off the grass” for a specific amount of time. Smothering and digging doesn’t harm anything except maybe your back. In my opinion the more you educate yourself about the overall effect of herbicides the less you will be inclined to use them.

  19. Wow, I had no idea that horticultural vinegar was toxic to the soil but it makes sense. I consider myself an organic gardener so I guess it’s time to rethink my use of this seemingly innocuous product🤦🏼‍♀️. As always, thanks to Connie

  20. Last year, I dug big clumps of lesser celandine out of my lawn and this year there are clumps in different spots. I’d like to try a herbicide but I have a dog, and lots of birds & bunnies. Is there one in particular that is recommended, that will be the least dangerous for animals?

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