Prevention and Control of Plantains

Plantain weeds with thin stems and small flower spikes in grass

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Plantain is an aggressive weed that appears mostly in lawns and ornamental beds and gardens. It can be found in almost any neglected landscape or in natural environments, especially in wet areas with little sun. Plantains can take over almost as readily as dandelions. Control them with quick identification and removal.

Identifying Plantain Weeds

Plantains are perennial weeds. They have a shallow, thick taproot that keeps them alive over the winter. They sprout in mid-spring, then send up a flower stalk in early to mid-summer. The flower blooms and its seeds are dispersed by the wind, thus spreading the plant quickly in your yard and garden.

Plantains have medium-green, oval or lance shaped leaves that form flat rosettes. There are two types, broadleaf and narrow leaf plantain. Flower spikes emerge in late spring with dozens of tiny flower buds along their lengths. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell when the plantain is actually in bloom since the flowers are almost indistinguishable from the buds.

  • Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is known as common plantain and has smooth, oval leaves that are 2 to 6 inches in length. Leaves are easily identified by the five white vertical veins that run from the leaf node to the tip. Its flower stalk is topped with a circular-shaped flower that could be as large as 2 to 3 inches around. Its taproot can be as long as 18 inches.
  • Narrow Leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is also considered a broadleaf weed, in spite of its name. It has leaves that range from 3 to 10 inches long with a lance-like shape. The flower stalk can grow quite tall—up to 2 1/2 feet. Its taproot is not as hearty and long as the broadleaf variety, and might even branch.

Eradicating Plantains

Plantains are a stubborn weed that can be a major problem for gardeners. They form a dense clump of individual plants. If they appear in your lawn or garden and you don't take steps to remove them, they will crowd out desirable plants. Also, lawnmowers and other equipment can harbor seeds or broken taproots, which can spread the plant further.

For maximum control, remove plantains before they set seed. The most effective way to get rid of plantains is to dig them up, ensuring that you get the entire root. Pieces of root that are left in the ground can regenerate, and the plantains can return.

To pull up plantains, water the area well one day in advance of when you plan to weed. Using a flat screwdriver or dandelion digger, loosen the soil around the taproot. Once the root seems free, pull out the entire plant and root. If you can't get around to weeding, pick off any flower stalks as soon as they appear. This will prevent the plantain from spreading its seed all over your garden.

Preventing Plantains

Plantains thrive in compacted soil, sparse or too-closely mowed lawns, moist shade, and areas that get inconsistent irrigation. To prevent them from setting up shop in your garden and lawn, aerate your lawn in the fall (especially if your soil is compacted), and top-dress everything with compost. Mow your lawn high, and seed any sparse areas. In general, a healthy, full lawn will make it almost impossible for plantains to get established.

Uses for Plantains

Plantains, despite their reputation, have long been a staple in the herbalists medicine chest. The plants contain antiseptic alkaloids and can reduce the pain and sting of bug bites and minor scrapes and skin irritations. If you are bug bitten while gardening look for a plantain and rub the crushed leaf over the bite for relief.

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  1. Broadleaf Plantain. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources

  2. Buckhorn Plantain. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources