Have you ever seen horsetail reed growing in a garden? If you’ve seen one, you’ve probably seen a yard full. Horsetail is one of those overpoweringly invasive plants that is almost impossible to kill. The garden above began with just a single plant in a single pot. The plant wasn’t ever let out of the pot, it just set itself free.
(Note to gardeners with “brown thumbs”: This one will work for you!)
Horsetail is built for reproduction. The younger plants have asparagus-like tips black with spores that they spread abroad in the breeze, dropping new plants into other parts of the garden bed and even the lawn. The underground rhizomes, which plunge up to six feet deep, can run 10 feet across the garden looking for the next spot where they will pop a reed to the surface. If you cultivate the area, trying to break up or dig up the rhizomes, every little broken bit you leave in the ground will start a new plant.
Horsetail is so determined to live that it is as inedible as your tableware. The plant is not poisonous: it’s silicaceous. Eating horsetail is like eating sand or glass. If wandering deer or goats are foolish enough to take a bite or two, they will die.
What to Do When Horsetail is Out of Control
My friend’s garden has become overgrown with horsetail. She wants to get rid of it — actually, to confine it to a single, above-ground pot, which is the wisest way to grow this plant. (It is also — word to the wise — the way that these hundreds of square feet of horsetail got their start.)
How can you control such a determined plant?
The only way is with equal determination. Horsetail must be carefully cut from the ground over and over and over. Each time a rhizome shoots up a new reed, the reed must be cut out and disposed. You can’t rip them out: every scar on a rhizome sends a new reed skyward. You can’t even compost as you might other yard waste. If you want to compost horsetail, you must cut off the spore head and the root section before composting the reedy stem alone. Otherwise, your compost will re-infest your garden.
What you are doing by constantly removing the green stalks is depleting the rhizomes. Eventually, deprived of any nutrition from green reeds above, they will die. But the process will take months — more typically, four years! — of diligent and determined effort. You have to be more determined to get rid of horsetail than horsetail is to keep living.
Controlling Horsetail is Like Controlling Sin
The difficult process of controlling horsetail is all too unfortunately reminiscent of how difficult it can be to rip sin from my life. It doesn’t really matter which particular sin is most likely to shoot up in any particular person’s day; the odds are good that it has shot up on many days and that he or she has been trying to rip it out for a long time. Every time I try to dig at the roots of my own habitual sins, it seems like I only irritate them into sprouting more of the same problems. When I try, in angry frustration, to tear them away, they just laugh at having provoked me into a new sin and then regrow themselves with new vigor.
How do you get control of sins that seem to have control of you?
Those who tell us that we are only relieved of our sin by an infusion of God’s power are, of course, correct. And it is equally true that part of the process of eradicating horsetail is changing its environment. Improving the soil’s drainage and adding lime to reduce acidity create soil that is less hospitable to the horsetail reed. God’s power in our lives can likewise create an environment in our soul that is considerably less hospitable to our own bad habits and fallen ways.
But we remain of this earth. The horsetail still grows within us. And so we must pull out our clippers and check each day for that little reed pushing its head up, wanting to spread its spores abroad. Each day we patiently clip it off: with diligence but without anger; with determination but without distress.
After some many years, its root will grow weary. That particular sin will begin to die. Then we can start to focus on cutting away another intrusive habit that is untrue to God and doesn’t belong in the garden God is trying to grow within us.