The Control of Docks

The following notes derive from our own field scale studies, demonstrations & contracts. While we offer advice, we are also aware of the almost infinite variability of sites, weather, and management conditions.

Some examples of tasks, which can be suitable for handwork gangs

Docks (or Scotch thistle) in new seeds that are due to be conserved.
Docks (or any thistle) in cereal /vegetable crops (and around the edge)
Docks or any thistles (esp. Creeping & Scotch) in permanent pastures, banksides, fence-lines.
Ragwort anywhere, but especially on pasture (either protected by status or not).
Bracken in pasture, or spreading into heather (the latter very tricky),
Nettle clumps invading pastures.

DOCKS (Rumex sp) Some preventative measures

What encourages them to grow and spread?
Any section of a dock root is capable of producing buds and roots, especially when exposed to a good measure of light and moisture. The upper 6″ of roots may grow more vigorously, but all sections are potential plants. Dock seeds require particularly strong light to spark, in contrast to budding root sections, which search it out (especially in cultivated soil).

Preventative measures

Uproot them from pastures, leys, fence-lines. If a lower section of root is left in the ground, heal in the hole and keep going. In old pasture these remaining root tips often give up. Do this work before ploughing. Otherwise, plough early, and drag any root clusters to the surface with mounted chisel harrows, and take them off the field. [We sometimes use a reciprocating power harrow with sideways rather than rotary action, which helps to shake roots onto the surface ].Go for crop cover and the quick establishment of autumn sown grass & cereal crops. Don’t drill cereal seed too deeply. [Incidentally, we always use a break crop (forage) when coming out of grass, which gives us another chance to remove dock roots. It also avoids getting leather jackets in the cereal crop]. After potatoes, make sure any dock roots are picked out of the aulms left behind by the harvester.Always be vigilant about removing docks whenever they appear close to fields.

The feeding of contaminated silage or hay to ruminants is bad news. Many dock seeds survive their passage through animals, and get a head-start, by being coated in manure and then randomly deposited on open land.

Preventative measure

1) If you have a batch of contaminated feed, make sure it is only fed in yards or buildings. After mucking out, organize a hot compost for the bedding, which must cook the seeds for a minimum of 3 days at 55 C. Whole piles of dock roots can be treated in this way, and will have an ash-coated appearance if they have been cooked sufficiently.

3) Ruminants let into the aftermath of a hay/silage field, where docks have been left to mature in the fenceline, will nibble the seed heads from choice (and probably do get something useful from them). This can cause the spread of docks to the centre of a field. Even if the seed heads are immature when the animals first go in, they will mature later on, and get eaten. Over wintering, tight grazing and paddled land, will add to the problem.

Preventative measure

Flame-gun the trash under fence-lines, to help locate plants & kill off the surface seeds. Then pull the docks, or if time is short, top or cut off the maturing seed-heads early enough. Autumn/Winter strip-grazing is an ideal time to remove dock roots when they appear in strips, as the fence is moved forward. Grub out the small quantity of easily located roots, daily.

After using ring feeders / hay racks etc, the soil is exposed, allowing the surface seed bank access to light. Seedling docks will be among them. (Incidentally, we think that dock seeds are viable earlier than is generally supposed, and that plastic wrapping may even encourage their maturity ).

Preventative measure

Either feed on a special concreted area, or repair exposed & paddled soil by sowing quick-growing clovers & grass, after harrowing. Try and do this soon after the fodder racks are removed, and the earth has been exposed. If seedling docks do appear later, hook them out using the ships foot nose on the L-Dog.

Strong winds and birds can move dock seeds, and they can appear (unexpected), in lawns, new seeds and pasture.:

Preventative measure

Grub them out a.s.a.p., using the ‘sheeps foot nose. Regular mowing of lawns can persuade seedlings to give up, but in patures and leys, at least three low cuts (before the seed heads mature), would be necessary. Following this with close grazing of sheep during the growing season (only), might contain the problem.

Current L-D research includes: a) looking at the viability of dock seeds at different stages of growth / in wrapped & chopped silage / haylage. b) the long-term effect of chiselling creeping thistle and c) grubbing out ragwort at the rosette stage.
Removing docks with a Lazy Dog ‘A stitch in time saves nine

Docks are rarely easy, for a variety of reasons. As 1st year plants, (or plants kept small by regular sheep nibbling), they can be awkward to locate, and fiddly to lift. Docks in old grasses vary in size, so that old and massive root systems (very satisfactory to lift) grow alongside modest 1st or 2nd year plants. In old grassland, there always seem to be more plants than one predicts, and the different characteristics of clay soils, sandy soils, stony conditions, can make it difficult to choose which grubbing nose to use on the tools. Experience provides the best guide to when to change to a fork, and this is helped by another general skill that develops: the accuracy with which an operator can locate the crown of a plant in long grass. Yet another skill, is judging the best distance back from each crown, for inserting the grubbing nose. We often have two tools at hand. One with NO1b (sheeps’ foot), and the other with NO8 (large fork).
Some pulling tips 

1) Pull docks in moist conditions, especially on heavy land which can turn into concrete by the end of May. Young docks growing in sandy soils can get easier to lift, when a small amount of surface compaction or dryness holds the soil together. Always place the grubbing nose (of your choice), well back from the plant. When removing large docks there is no guarantee that the tool will engage the actual root, so support each lift with a wedge of soil (especially in cultivated or sandy conditions).

2) Pull docks in the Autumn/Winter, while strip grazing lambs, and remove the plants in each band of freshly that is freshly eaten. On bigger grassland tasks, we often mark out the field with vehicle wheel markings. This gives each member of the gang a limited area to concentrate on, and ensures coverage of the field. Throw the up-rooted plants into piles for collection later. Always wear thick soled boots & gloves.

3) Develop regular use of the 2nd (lower)handle, when lifting the uprooted plant to waist height for removing it from the fork. Remember to employ the same hand on the 2nd handle, after it has been used to pull back & extract the root (using the top handle), and get out of the garden fork habit of bending to the ground, (which doesn’t come immediately to regular users of a garden fork !). Some bending is inevitable but keep it minimal… and sometimes it’s easiest to swing the tool completely upside down, in order to pull the root cluster from the fork.