What is Himalayan Balsam?: how to identify and remove Himalayan Balsam from your garden

 Himalayan Balsam is an attractive, non-native invasive plant that commonly grows near waterways in the UK. Growing up to 2.5m high, it was first introduced to the UK in 1839, and has since become the largest annual plant in Britain. Himalayan Balsam is also known for spreading rapidly, with the 800 or so seeds each plant produces being shot up into the air and travelling up to 7m away.

Also referred to as Touch-me-not Balsam, and Policeman’s Helmet because of the shape of its flowers, Himalayan Balsam was originally introduced as an ornamental plant by Victorian gardeners. However, due to the rate in which it has spread, Himalayan Balsam is now a naturalised plant in the UK that can be found growing alongside riverbanks and streams, as well as near ponds and lakes.

Himalayan Balsam removal from PHS GreenleafAs the seeds of Himalayan Balsam are carried by waterways, it has also spread into woodland habitats. Additionally, Himalayan Balsam can be found growing in gardens because of how far the seedpods can be shot into the air.

Although it’s attractive in appearance, Himalayan Balsam is classed as a problem weed because of the damage it causes to native plants. As it tolerates low light levels and grows so large, Himalayan Balsam shadows other plants and outcompetes them. It also erodes riverbanks and can cause flooding due to its seeds blocking waterways.

According to Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offense in England and Wales to allow Himalayan Balsam to spread into the wild. Therefore, we highly recommend that you remove Himalayan Balsam from your grounds or garden.

Here’s how to properly identify, remove and dispose of Himalayan Balsam…

How to identify Himalayan Balsam Himalayan Balsam removal from PHS Greenleaf

To identify Himalayan Balsam, there are a few defining features that you should look out for, such as its great size. As Britain’s tallest annual plant, each plant tends to be around 1-2m high, although they can reach a height of 2.5m in some cases!

Himalayan Balsam also has serrated leaves that are green in colour, and these are typically around 5-8cm in length. They also grow from the stem joins either in pairs or groups of 3-5, which helps to make the plant more distinguishable. It also has visible seedpods which explode when touched.

It’s easier to identify Himalayan between the months of June and October because it produces clusters of pink and purple toned flowers, which can also be white in colour (though this is rare). These flowers are supported by fleshy stems that are green in the autumn months, but become red the closer it gets to the end of the year.

Himalayan Balsam removal from PHS GreenleafHow to remove Himalayan Balsam

To remove Himalayan Balsam from your grounds or garden, you can use cultural or chemical methods of control. As the plant has shallow roots, you can remove it without chemicals by pulling or digging it out of the ground, though you can cut it or suppress its growth with mulch.

Pitch Care recommends that cutting, strimming, or pulling Himalayan Balsam should be done regularly for around three years, as this is sometimes able to completely eradicate the plant from isolated sites. However, when cutting Himalayan Balsam, you should remember to cut it below the lowest node; this prevents it from reflowering.

If this is unsuccessful, you should instead use chemical controls to remove the Himalayan Balsam. This will involve treating the plant with either a contact weedkiller that contains acetic acid, or a systematic weedkiller that contains glyphosate. If using a contact weedkiller, you should catch it before it flowers. If opting for a systematic weedkiller instead, you’ll need to treat the plant in the early flowering stages.

One very important thing to remember is that due to the often close proximity to waterways, the risks of overflow and leakage into the water can be disastrous for plant and water life. Understanding these risks is key to the safe and effective disposal of Himalayan Balsam.

It’s also important to remember to cover any surrounding plants with plastic when using a weedkiller that contains glyphosate. This is because glyphosate kills any plant it comes into contact with.

The RHS advises that it may take a couple of seasons to control the Himalayan Balsam on your grounds.

How to dispose of Himalayan Balsam

If you remove Himalayan Balsam by cutting it or pulling it out of the ground, you’re able to leave it on your premises and wait for it to dry out. However, this presents the risk of the plants re-growing, which is why it’s advised that the pulled or cut Himalayan Balsam is scattered and not left in piles.

To remove Himalayan Balsam from your premises completely, you’ll need to dispose of it as controlled waste. This means that it should be disposed of at a licensed landfill site.

It’s vital to check that your chosen waste disposal site has a permit to accept and dispose of invasive species; as GOV.UK explains, you can get fined up to £5,000 or be sent to prison for 2 years if you don’t properly dispose of Himalayan Balsam and other non-native invasive plants.

If you’re concerned about Himalayan Balsam in your grounds or garden, contact PHS Greenleaf; our team will assess the area, provide a bespoke report, and safely remove the Himalayan Balsam with chemical or non-chemical controls.