How to Get Rid of Nettles this Season: Naturally or With Chemicals

Urtica dioica.

The stinging nettle.

Bane of children playing outdoors the world over, this nasty pernicious weed is unsightly, and can aggressively take over gardens in a short space of time.

Nettles will invade pretty much anywhere in your yard given half a chance, greedily competing with desired plants, flowers, and grasses for vital nutrients and water.

And they’re not called stinging nettles for nothing – as anyone who has fallen in a patch will tell you.

They’re also notoriously difficult to control.

Thankfully, we do have a few weapons at our disposal in what seems to be a constant battle with these perennial pests.

So, if you’d like to discover how to get rid of nettles, keep reading for some top tips and advice.

You just might have a chance at winning this seemingly relentless weed war.

Nettles up close

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How to Kill Nettles – The Short Answer

If you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick summary for removing or destroying nettles. Bear in mind that a combination of methods might be required – and more detailed and important information is still to come.

For isolated weeds, you can remove them by hand by loosening the soil with a spade or trowel and then pulling them uproot and stem.

For larger patches of nettles, you should spray the plants with a glyphosate-based herbicide for best results.

Mowing or weed whacking nettles will give you a temporary solution – which can lead to a permanent one in certain situations – see more below.

Let’s Talk: Nettles – What are They?

Common the world over, Urtica dioica/stinging nettle/burning nettle/nettle/stinger is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant.

Five of the six species of nettle features tiny hairs that can give you a nasty sting if touched to exposed skin. These trichomes operate like tiny needles, injecting neurotransmitters into the skin that cause bumpy, blistering rashes and uncomfortable (often very painful) burning sensations.

They’re particularly rife in the coastal regions of Europe and North America but can thrive anywhere – most notably in damp, uncultivated soil where they’re likely to form dense clumps of evil.

Nettles enjoy partial shade and phosphate-rich conditions from spring through until the fall, and they are stubborn to eradicate thanks largely to the way they reproduce – which can be from seeds or from rhizomes.

Rhizomes are networks of underground stems. A subterranean plant system that grows laterally, and then will develop new shoots upwards wherever possible.

In the growing season, rhizomes can sprout as much as five to six feet and then develop new plants at each node (joint section). Left unchecked, nettles can grow up to seven feet in height.

In short, they’re not nice.

However, they do have some merits and it’s up to you to decide if you should remove them at all.

Advantages of Nettles

Nettle tea

While they’re usually regarded as a nuisance in the garden, nettles have a number of advantageous properties worth considering if you’d prefer to keep them around.

Nettles do have friends in the animal kingdom. They’re essential to some butterfly species, who feed on the leaf as caterpillars while being protected from predators with the built-in nettle-defense-system.

Some gardeners actively keep nettles around to encourage butterflies – or even plant a patch themselves to promote an eclectic, backyard ecosystem.

The plant can also be used as a medicinal herb crafted to provide natural energy boosts, or used in the treatment of arthritis and other afflictions.

Nettles have long been used in culinary creations. Young leaves are protein-rich, and there’s a number of good recipes out there that cite them as a key ingredient – including nettle soup and tea – all with significant health benefits.

They also make fantastic compost and compost tea – but we’ll explore more on that subject later.

And for some reason, thousands of people flock to the World Nettle Eating Championships every year in Dorset, England, to see who can eat the most raw nettles in one sitting. We humans are strange creatures.

But we’re here to learn how to destroy the things without having to eat them, so let’s get down to business.

What You Need to Get rid of Nettles

Because of their stubborn, aggressive nature, you will likely need to use a combination of techniques when attempting to remove nettles.

Here’s a checklist of what you’re going to need depending on which strategy you’re going to implement.

A garden spade, fork, or other such weed removing tool. A drain/sharp-shooter spade is preferable.

Glyphosate-based herbicide and suitable dispenser (although other weed killers will be suitable and are recommended).

A weed wacker or lawnmower.

And always make sure to wear protective clothing and gloves, and fully cover the skin on your arms, legs, feet, and hands. Nettles can be vicious and nasty allergic reactions after contact are not unheard of.

Choosing a pair of these excellent landscaping gloves is the first step to keeping yourself safe.

Sting Treatment

Even if you’re wearing protective gloves but a nettle manages to sting your just over the glove, here are some top tips for soothing the nettle sting – and not making it any worse.

First, don’t scratch or rub. You might be tempted to do both – but this is only going to aggravate the rash and make it angry by forcing the chemicals further into your skin and lengthening the healing process.

Pour cool, fresh water on the nettle sting, and use a mild soap to help wash off those neurotransmitters.

Alternatively, a cold compress can help alleviate the pain. Either way, you should be avoiding high temperatures.

Using other plants can help. Apply a dock leaf to the area, or the juice from an aloe vera stem.

If you have some to hand, apply a topical bite or sting cream that contains hydrocortisone. This should give you significant relief from any continued discomfort.

How to Get Rid of Nettles

Nettle plant up close

By Hand

If you’re removing the nettles by hand (with the help of a spade or other tool) you should start by carefully digging around the base of the nettle stem to expose the root.

When you feel enough of the root system can see the light of day, grasp the plant at its base and gently start to tease it upwards. Your grip should be firm and movement steady. You need to coax it out otherwise you risk snapping the stem and failing to extract the root.

You’re aiming to remove as much of the rhizome as possible – so the weed won’t take hold again and come back.

Just be sure to always wear protective clothing and gloves.

I’ll not sugar coat this – it will most likely take several weeding sessions before you completely remove the nettles – and it’s possible they will still return at some point in the future – especially if they’ve already gone to seed.

By Weed Killer

For larger areas of nettles, or if you don’t fancy doing any manual labor, your option is to use a systemic herbicide – a weed killer that is absorbed by the leaves then transfers to the roots.

A glyphosate-based weed killer is your best bet for eradicating nettles. Unfortunately, it will eradicate everything else and has been banned in many countries around the world – and in some states.

Try one of these pet-safe weed killers as an alternative. Or a weed killer for driveways if the pesky things are sprouting up through your concrete and brickwork.

A systemic weed killer should be applied when the weed is fully exposed above the surface. Thoroughly douse the leaves with whatever product you’ve chosen using a tank sprayer, trigger gun, or other dispensing method.

Just be mindful of run-off. Don’t over-saturate, and don’t spray if rainfall is likely in the next couple of hours. If it’s a windy day, wait for a calmer one.

If you are using a glyphosate-based product, remember that it’s a potent, non-selective herbicide, and will damage any plant life it comes into contact with. Take precautions and keep pets and children indoors.

By Mowing

The purists will tell you that using a good weed whacker is no way to get rid of weeds as you’ll never remove the root with this method. Still, it’s the fastest solution with the minimum amount of effort for instant results.

One stinging nettle can release as much as 20,000 seeds onto your lawn, but it is possible to control this by regular mowing.

Feel free to cut them down with a lawnmower. Again, it won’t bring up the root, but it’s the best way to remove the eyesore on your lawn without harsh chemicals or hard labor. Regular mowing before they produce seed will slow their reproduction and weaken any matter below the surface.

Mow once a week through the growing season – or whenever you feel the weeds might go to seed. Remember to use a bagger with your mower to prevent any seeds from spreading.

With frequent mowing, the grass will eventually choke the nettles out, and they will die. That’s how to get rid of stinging nettles on a lawn – let nature take its course – with a little bit of help from your lawnmower.

Just make sure you keep the lawnmower blades sharpened for optimum performance.

Check out these solutions if you’re looking for more ways to remove lawn weeds without chemicals.

FAQs

Stinging nettle leaf

How do you permanently get rid of stinging nettles?

Nettles are stubborn SOBs that will keep coming back if not properly dealt with. In order to remove them permanently you might have to try a number of different techniques I’ve outlined in this article.

By hand, by herbicide, or by mowing.

Each technique might take a number of applications before showing signs of success.

Your main concern is to remove or kill the nettle before it goes to seed. If that happens, you will have a significantly tougher battle on your hands.

Does salt kill nettles?

Although it’s extremely cheap and available in large quantities, and in theory you can use it with a vinegar combination to exterminate unwanted foliage, I feel that deploying salt as a weed killer is simply not worth the hassle.

When you take into consideration the time it takes (up to ten days) and whether it’s going to be effective in the first place, there are better options available to you.

By all means, feel free to try – you’ll find plenty of how-to videos out there to get the recipe right – but the jury is out on how successful this method actually is.

Additionally, you will likely end up damaging the soil for any potential future use.

Will bleach kill nettles?

Like the salt it’s hit-and-miss.

While it can be used as a potent weed killer in certain situations, it’s not always successful – particularly, against the more stubborn plants.

You will also raise the PH level of the soil to uninhabitable levels – in case you were planning on growing any desirable vegetation at a later date.

If you really want to try using this chemical as a weed killer, I would suggest dispensing it on patios and driveways only.

Again, make sure children and pets aren’t in the area.

Does Roundup kill nettles?

Yes, it most certainly does.

It also kills everything else.

Roundup is a household name, famous for containing the potent herbicide glyphosate – which is so powerful it has been banned in many countries and states and is the subject of several lawsuits – largely due to its potential carcinogenic properties.

I would err on the side of caution if you choose to use this destructive herbicide (if/while you still can). It’s non-selective and will destroy any plant life it comes into contact with.

Can I put nettles in the compost?

Providing a nettle hasn’t been covered with herbicide and/or hasn’t already gone to seed, it’s perfectly fine to use it in your compost bin.

In fact, it’s an ideal organic material for use in such a manner, and nettle tea makes an excellent liquid fertilizer.

Allow the nettles to thoroughly dry out before adding them to your compost bin. And check out these compost tumblers for a great way to effortlessly make the black gold in your back garden.

Again, just make sure there are no seed pods appearing – otherwise, you’ll be turning your compost bin into a nettle patch.

How do you kill nettles without killing grass?

You have a number of options.

First, you can remove the weeds by hand.

Second, regularly mowing your lawn before nettles go to seed will eventually destroy the nettle and the grass will take over.

Finally, use a selective herbicide that’s safe for use on grass.

Whatever you do, don’t use a glyphosate-based weed killer anywhere near your lawn – or any other desirable foliage for that matter.

When it comes to your lawn, it’s better to learn how to get rid of nettles organically, rather than use harsh chemicals.

Summary

Nettles are one of the worst nuisance weeds that will aggressively take over our gardens every growing season.

Yet there are solutions, and even in spite of its stubbornness, they can and will be controlled.

I hope this article has taught you how to get rid of nettles on and around your property.

Let me know your favorite method – or anything else that has managed to work in your yard.

Happy nettle killing!