This is the seventh in a series of blogs, shared with permission, about weeds in the garden. Each blog will discuss a common and specific weed found in Maine, its history, uses, what story it tells about the soil it grows in, and how to get rid of it. The original blogs, along with other gardening related blogs, can be found here.
Dock (Rumex genus) comes in many names and forms. Docks are related to sorrels (there are about 200 species) and members of the buckwheat family. Dock, has long been considered as a remedy for the sting of nettles. Ethnomedica lists 143 uses of dock, and all but 6 relate to nettle stings. Of the other six, 4 are other types of stings. Should you get stung by nettles, dock is usually growing right near it as a neutralizing agent.
One important thing to know about it, says Pfeiffer, is that that where dock grows a flood happens every year. Curly dock and broad-leaf are the two types most often found in the northeastern US. Broad-leaf dock was brought to the US by settlers, and curly dock is now considered naturalized. Both are edible, as is a dock called Patience. Patience was once gown in gardens in the same manner as some sorrels are today. Broad-leaf dock was used, because of its large leaf size, to wrap butter (K. Blair, 2014, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds).
Fun fact: broadleaf dock seeds will have 83% germination after 21 years.
What does it mean?
Broadleaf dock thrives in acidic soil or compacted soil (T. Jenkins, Soil Testing Without Labs). Curly dock is less tolerant of acid. Typically it prefers soil with poor drainage, as do many weeds, and likes the edges of wetlands – natural or manmade. It can indicate high quantities of calcium, iodine, phosphorus, potassium and even nitrogen.
To get rid of it, improve soil compaction. It cannot survive being tilled if the tap root is substantially damaged. However, if you just pull the top from the plant, odds are it will come back. They are somewhat tolerant of herbicides, by the way, so tilling or plant removal may be the easiest way to deal with unwanted plants.
Want to learn more?
If you would like to learn more about weeds, why they grow, and what that means about your garden, consider the following texts:
Weeds and Why they Grow, by Jay L. McCaman
Weeds and What They Tell Us, by Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer