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Another horsetail reed question

February 28, 2008

SO - I know all about horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) in theory. I have a bed on the north side of my house that gets just dappled sunlight. It also has poor drainage. I planted several horsetail there thinking that this was the perfect plant for the area. It performed really poorly. It almost seemed to be rotting -if that's possible for this plant. It had an initial decent growth then they all seemed to just stop...turned white and crispy in some spots...grew really crazy - not all upright and glorious like I thought. Th more I watered the worse they got! I started just watering them once a week and they seemed to do better, but not great.

I thought it might be a sun issue (although I chose it because of its ability to grown in shade), but I found that the part of the bed that got the least light was growing as well if not better than the part that got some.

I know this is just random guessing, but Im wondering if anyone has planted this in a non-bog bed and under similar conditions and had any luck. I'd also be interested in any thoughts or tips in general.

I must be the only person in the world who can't grow horsetail. lol.

Thanks, y'all!


Comments (15)

  • Josh

    Michele, I too can't understand how to make this plant thrive. I actually ordered by mailorder several times over the years because I love the plant and thru the years I've yet to see a patch in the wild here, not even along the proverbial favored location, the railroad tracks. (AL zone 8a now, formerly in GA z8a). I do have several pots of it now but, darn it, it sure doesn't "grow like a weed" for me!

    One is in porous clay pot with another "weed", Houttoynia cordata as groundcover, sitting in 2" saucer of water, full afternoon sun, which dries out often between watering. By the end ofthe summer it looks pretty good but has never filled the 10" pot. It dies back some in winter (after Xmas here).

    Another is in ordinary moist soil in long clay planter with a small evergreen Carex, in filtered shade ...it too just barely makes a few stems each year.

    Another is in a clay pot of bright green moss...the moss is gorgeous yearround and is in full sun ...just "appeared" in the pot and I love it. The Equisetum however is spindly...LOL

    There's a bit in a pot of Canna Pretoria...I think from reusing potting soil when the horsetail wasn't doing well...it's still not doing well! This pot sits in 6" of water in summer, afternoon sun. In winter I bring it in and Canna continues to put up new shoots, although shorter. The Equisetum just sits there...LOL

    Didn't mean to write a book...but just wanted to say "you are not alone".

    I only garden in containers, but I can testify to the fact that Equisetum definitely doesn't always deserve its bad reputation of wanting to take over the world. I know it will grow in containers because I first fell in love with it from a Sunset magazine photo...probably 40 years ago...and have been trying to duplicate that photo ever since! josh
    PS I just looked up my records and my latest mailorders were Equisetum hyemale ordered from Niche Gardens in 2005 and E. robustum from Earthly Pursuits in 2006. Can't tell the difference in growth or overall appearance. I had ordered from Niche several years earlier...that one was still alive but like the others received more recently, just never thrived. josh

  • terrestrial_man

    Equisetum should be easy in containers.
    You may want to check out your water.
    Also does well in moist to dryish soils. It hs become a
    weed and naturalized in my backyard. I also have it in pots.
    Love the plant and I have had it since 1963, it had been discarded and I found a small plant of it surviving.

    All my plants get plenty of sun but also some shading in the day from trees.

    The best soil is one that is sandy, probably sandy loam.

  • mamamermaid

    Well, thanks you guys.

    Josh, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one! I dug them all out and I'm reworking the bed with some gravel (supposed to be good for helping with my clay soil here in Austin). I'll keep you posted. I'm gonna try it one more growing year (that's a loooong time here) and then move on. I just love the stuff. It's exactly the look I need. grrrrr.

    How bout this? Any thoughts on plants that might have a similar look that I could try?

    Oh, I do have some horsetail in pots and they're doing pretty well. I have them in full sun with watering twice a week. Still not the glorious look I see in magazines.

    All-right...happy spring, y'all.


  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

    They like really, really nutrient rich soil - like the black stuff along an alder-lined stream. Gravel mixed in is a great idea, as this plant thrives in new road developments where crushed stone has been dumped around a culvert, ditch, et cetera.

    I think nitrogen is the key. Give it a try.


  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

    deer WILL eat equisetum, regardless of what you might read or here. Last fall, the deer took a five-foot tall stand of equisetum down to a foot and a half. They didn't get my stand in a container on the deck, but the cold did later. I've just re-potted my deck plant, mulched with a bit of alfalfa pellets, and I'm waiting for the first sign of new spears. Hopefully, they'll be thick this year.

  • wood_fern

    Here's something "outside the box" for horsetail. Was looking for ideas for my shady entry war and found HORSETAIL used in CONTAINERS in an article in current Garden Ideas magazine (spring 08). Containers arranged to create a short fence/border to define landing of front door. Next to horsetail were containers of various variegated grasses. Contrasts between horsetail and grasses in colors, textures, sizes and shapes make very nice effect. By using containers, you would have more control over moisture. Good luck.

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

    Just a note: the equisetum I grow in containers is *just now* beginning to push up new spears (zone 7, nor Cal). So have faith, if you don't have spears yet.

    The equisetum I grow in the ground, however, has been pushing up spears for at least three weeks. Several spears are eight inches tall at this point, and there are many of them!

    A good layer of warming mulch in the container seems to help cue the equisetum to grow. I should have some pics soon.


  • IrisLin00_aol_com

    My horsetail is spreading nicely, which is what I wanted, but after the winter, their splayed all over the place. Should I cut them down? There are new shoots sprouting up, but my plan was to have the area in front of my deck filled in nicely. This is their 3rd season in my garden. They get afternoon sun and enough moisture and good drainage.

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

    Hi, Linda.
    It's fairly normal for the older spears to splay all over the place, especially at the edges
    of the stand. Don't cut the old spears until the new spears are up and running. Then,
    you can selectively remove the weaklings.


  • batgirlea_hotmail_com

    I have a boggy area in a corner of my yard. We've created a "stream" that ends in a shallow rock-lined pool in that corner. I want to plant horsetail reed in the pool, in a container to keep it controlled. Should the container have drain holes and could the plant "overflow" the pot and naturalize?

  • greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

    Yes to both questions, Barbara.
    The container should have drain holes, and the plant will certainly grow out of the container.
    In some areas, Horsetail is terribly invasive...in other areas, it stays where it's planted.
    My yard is dry, so the Horsetail can't really get a foothold during the Summer months.


  • hijole

    Hello Horse tail lovers, well thanks to google I spotted this post, i usually hang out in the cacti and succulent page but today I was thinking about trying to grow this plant again. I have experienced some of the same problems others have mentioned here although that was back in 2008 it seems and the only one that I recognize here is greenman 28 , Mr Josh So with that id like to say hello to the others on here.

    So any new tips that can be added to the lady posts on here or more ideas?

    Will be picking up my Horse tail this weekend.

    Thanks, yawl, Greg

  • sadoyan_karina
    I can't get my plant to thrive. It's In a partial sun spot. I water 3 times a week. The soil is clay and dry. Any tips?

  • garyz8bpnw

    Missing from this discussion is pH. A lot of soils can be neutral to alkaline. Many commercial potting soils are adjusted into this neutral range, because many bedding plants prefer it.

    Horsetail prefers quite acidic soil, I have read in pH 4.5 to 6 range. It might grow in some alkaline situations, but if you have great conditions otherwise, try adjusting pH with sulfer addition.

    If you'd like a leafed Horsetail of prehistoric proportions, a 10' variety is available from Plant Delights called Equisetum 'El Tabacal'.

  • kymhough77

    I have tried horsetail for years off and on and I always have issues with a white fungus that takes over and kills it. I have tried it in and out of my ponds. It looks great and thrives then one day white fungus starts creeping in and it dies. I am trying it again in my back pond which gets some sun, but shade too. Help! If there is a spray to fight this white beast that I can use before my new batch dies!

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