Himalayan Balsam Control: Tips On Managing Himalayan Balsam Plants

Himalayan Balsam Control: Tips On Managing Himalayan Balsam Plants

By: Liz Baessler

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) is a very attractive but problematic plant, especially in the British Isles. Keep reading to learn more about how to control Himalayan balsam plants.

Is Himalayan Balsam Invasive?

Himalayan balsam plants are native to Asia. In the early 19th century, they were brought to the British Isles to be planted in gardens, and before long they escaped into the wild, where they continue to cause a number of serious problems.

The plant is attracted to damp areas like river banks, where it grows in clusters that can reach 10 feet (3 m.) in height. Because it is so tall, it will often shade out shorter native plants. Himalayan balsam is an annual, however, and it dies back in the winter, leaving bare spaces that would normally be inhabited by native grasses. This leaves the river banks vulnerable to serious erosion.

It is also a vigorous producer of nectar, which draws pollinators away from native plants, putting their pollination and reproduction in jeopardy. It should not be planted, and Himalayan balsam control should be implemented if you find it on your property.

How to Control Himalayan Balsam

Controlling Himalayan balsam is a two part endeavor – removing existing plants and preventing the spread of seed.

Like other balsam flowers, the plant reproduces by seed, and it will put out up to 800 of them every year. These seeds can travel a short distance through the air or miles and miles if they get caught up in a river or stream. It’s important to time your Himalayan balsam control so you don’t inadvertently spread more seeds. The best time is early to mid-summer, before the seeds have matured.

The most effective method of controlling Himalayan balsam is cutting and hand pulling. If you’re getting rid of Himalayan balsam plants by hand, let the cut plants lie on the ground in the sun for a few days to dry out and die before composting them.

Herbicides also work but only as a last resort.

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What does Himalayan balsam look like?

Himalayan balsam grows rapidly and spreads quickly, smothering other vegetation as it goes. The sap from Giant Hogweed can cause severe blistering and scarring of the skin but it and other plants are also having a toxic effect on our native biodiversity.

One may also ask, how does Himalayan balsam spread? Himalayan balsam spreads quickly as it can project its seeds up to four metres. Many seeds drop into the water and contaminate land and riverbanks downstream, but the explosive nature of its seed release means it can spread upstream too.

In respect to this, is Himalayan balsam notifiable?

In short, it is an offence to cause Himalayan Balsam to spread into the wild and, if transported offsite, there is a duty of care for any part of the plant that can facilitate growth (propagules) and any soils etc. containing propagules, i.e. such material must be treated as controlled waste.

Is Japanese knotweed the same as Himalayan balsam?

Himalayan Balsam is a non-native, invasive plant which can be found along riverbanks and streams, as well as near ponds and lakes, and on derelict land. Despite its attractive appearance, Himalayan Balsam is, just like Japanese Knotweed, considered a problem weed.

It is mainly found along rivers, however can also appear in gardens, whether planted or not. Due to the location along the water, often chemical control process requires professional contractors to undertake and it may take a few seasons to eradicate using this method.

In 2017, the Telegraph reported on the issue of the spreading of this weed, moving away from water to verges and hedgerow where the speed on spreading will only increase, helped by walkers – as the seed can travel on humans to new locations. It is a widespread problem throughout Great Britain which urgently needs to be tackled to avoid reducing the pollination of native plants further.

A recommended method of getting rid of this plant is to rip it out, including the shallow roots, and burn all of the waste, including the seeds – which can germinate even once the plant has been killed. This can still take a couple of years to completely wipe out the weed, but by getting rid of the seeds along with the plant waste in an incinerator you are reducing the spreading and containing the problem.

Further reading

View our range of general incinerators that can be used for the destruction of invasive plants.


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Himalayan Balsam – it’s an alien plant invasion

Pulling Himalayan Balsam in the Lake District Roland Wicksteed

Himalayan Balsam is an invasive non-native plant so robust and vigorous that’s it’s become a real problem in the Lake District, smothering and pushing out other indigenous plants in vast swathes along riverbanks and lakeshores.

Himalayan Balsam was introduced to the UK in 1839 as a greenhouse and warm garden plant and, within a few years had escaped into the wild. Once growing, Himalayan Balsam can spread at a fearsome rate and the problem here is now so huge that in the central Lake District alone, our Rangers and volunteers spend at least 50 days between them tackling the plant every year.

What’s the problem?

It’s a cunning invader each plant produces hundreds of seeds each year which it can project by up to 4 metres through an explosive release from the seed pod. This highly effective method of self-propagation creates dense thickets of Himalayan Balsam up to 2.5m high, leaving little or no space for other native species to compete.

It’s not all bad, it’s actually quite pretty with its pink orchid-like flowers, but aside from the obvious threat it poses to our biodiversity in the Lakes, it also poses a real threat to the stability of our riverbanks. Himalayan Balsam is an annual plant which means that it dies back in winter, leaving riverbanks bear with no roots holding the soil together, leading to erosion and siltation of our rivers.

Tackling it

June is usually the month that we ramp up our annual assault on the Himalayan Balsam around Langdale, Windermere and Ullswater. Our approach is not particularly technical it’s simply takes lots of people getting stuck in to pull the plants out from the roots before they set seed. We are grateful for the support our Rangers receive from local volunteers and were also proud to assist the South Cumbria Rivers Trust with their annual Balsam Bashes.

What can you do?

Well actually, by being a member of the National Trust, visiting our places, cafes and carparks you are already supporting our work to tackle invasive plant species, every penny you spend with us helps us to look after the Lake District. So, thank you very much.

If you do feel compelled to do more we have many countryside conservation volunteering opportunities here in the Lakes, you can find out more here on our volunteering page.

Alternatively, you could keep an eye on the South Cumbria Rivers Trust webpage for upcoming Balsam bashing events, we will see you there!

Himalayan Balsam

Traditional control methods are currently inadequate in controlling Himalayan balsam in the UK. This is often because the plant grows in inaccessible areas or sites of high conservation status where chemical and/or manual control is not an option. Land managers often give up when faced with controlling Himalayan balsam over a large area due to the inaccessible places where the plant grows.

Himalayan balsam monoculture on the river Camel, Cornwall, UK

Chemical control
Users must be aware of the risks involved when using chemicals to control any plant especially as it tends to grows near water. Consent to use specific herbicides near UK waterways must be sought from the Environment Agency.

Chemicals that are persistent in the soil may delay the planting of replacement species. Herbicides are usually sprayed but can also be applied directly to target plants using a weed-wiper or herbicide glove. Commonly used glyphosate-based herbicides are most effective in late summer however specialist advice for the most appropriate treatment should be sought (link to Useful Resources). Some herbicides can also be injected into the hollow stems of the plant immediately after cutting, however this is time consuming and costly.

Repeated herbicide treatments over several years are normally recommended for complete control of Himalayan balsam. Continued monitoring of the treated areas should also be carried out to ensure that no new shoots appear.

Physical removal
For short term control, Himalayan balsam can be pulled but this is not a long-term solution. Seeds are often carried down the river, so control needs to be undertaken on a catchment scale. Also access is often impeded making physical removal unworkable.

Watch the video: Removing Himalayan Balsam