Iowa Gardener: How to control purslane in your garden

Veronica Lorson Fowler

This year is a banner year for purslane, one of the most difficult weeds to control in the garden.
Veronica Lorson Fowler This year is a banner year for purslane, one of the most difficult weeds to control in the garden.

By Veronica Lorson Fowler, guest columnist

This year seems to be a banner year for one of the most difficult garden weeds to control: Purslane. This heat-loving weed is tricky to control. Chop it with a hoe and any scattered bits will each propagate into an entire new plant. So instead, use the following tricks.

Purslane is a pretty plant, a succulent that resembles a miniature version of the popular houseplant, the jade plant. And you also can eat purslane like a salad green — it has a bitter flavor that makes me think of arugula.

But for all its assets, purslane is a nasty weed. Purslane shows up in my Iowa garden in summer when the temperatures start hitting the 90s, wherever it can get full sun. It will grow in a variety of soils, but seems to love rich, loose soil the most.

Don’t Hoe

The most important thing to remember about purslane is to avoid hoeing or tilling it or in any way breaking it up. This simply disperses bits of the plant through the soil. Then each tiny bit of leaf or root will grow into an entirely new plant.

So do not hoe purslane out. Instead, pull it. Even then, pull carefully and when the soil is moist to get as much of the roots as possible since bits of root left in the soil will sprout.

Mulch It

Purslane needs lots of light, so after pulling, it’s wise to apply a thick layer of mulch to suffocate and shade out any remaining plant. Spread up to 3 inches of just about any type of loose, organic mulching material, such as grass clippings, newspaper, or bark mulch.

Another effective way to control it is to spray it with Roundup non-selective herbicide, following package directions exactly and repeating as needed. If you prefer an organic alternative, straight vinegar (less effective, but a useful option). Spraying doesn’t seem to work well on plants more than a half-inch or so tall, so consider first pulling and then spraying the small bits that remain behind. Be sure to spray on a warm, dry day or the spray will not be effective.

Eat it

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Purslane is a prized green for some aficionados. They prefer young leaves and tender stem tips. The taste is similar to watercress or spinach. Use purslane in salads or on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles. Purslane also can be steamed, stir-fried or pureed, though it tends to get slimy if overcooked.

Don’t harvest any purslane that has been treated with pesticides or herbicides. Before grazing in your yard, be sure to wash the purslane thoroughly. And as with any new food, don’t over indulge.

l Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at www.theiowagardener.com.

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