buttercups growing in a field of grass

Eliminating Buttercups from Your Grassland: how to identify and remove for better forage crops

Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.) are bright yellow flowering plants that can quickly invade grasslands, reducing the quality and quantity of forage available for livestock. Removing buttercups is essential for promoting healthy grass growth and maintaining productive pastures. In this article, we’ll explore the best farming practices to control and eliminate buttercups from grassland.

Identifying Buttercups in Grassland

Buttercups are easily identifiable by their glossy yellow flowers with five petals and their dark green, divided leaves. There are several species of buttercups, but the most common ones affecting grasslands are creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) and bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus). Familiarizing yourself with their specific characteristics will help you determine the best control methods.

a close up of the leaves of a buttercup
A close-up of the leaves on a buttercup.

Preventive Measures against Buttercup Infestation

  1. Proper drainage and soil management: Buttercups thrive in wet and poorly drained soils. Implementing proper drainage systems and avoiding soil compaction can discourage their growth.
  2. Balanced fertilizer application: Applying appropriate amounts of fertiliser can improve grass health, making it more competitive against buttercups.
  3. Regular mowing and maintenance: Mowing regularly can weaken buttercup plants and prevent them from producing seeds, reducing their spread.

Manual Buttercup Removal Techniques

  1. Hand pulling for small infestations: In smaller areas or for isolated plants, hand-pulling can be an effective method to remove buttercups. Be sure to remove the entire root system to prevent regrowth.
  2. Using specialized tools for efficient removal: Weeding tools can make manual removal more efficient, especially for larger infestations.
A view of what buttercup leaves look like in grassland from head height
A view of what buttercup leaves look like in grassland from head height.

Chemical Control of Buttercups

Selective herbicides, such as MCPA or 2,4-D, are effective against buttercups and have minimal impact on grasses. Be sure to follow the label instructions and consult local regulations before use.

  1. Choosing the right herbicide: Selective herbicides, like MCPA and 2,4-D, efficiently target buttercups while causing minimal harm to grasses. Always adhere to the label directions and check with local guidelines prior to application.
  2. Proper timing and application methods: Apply herbicides when buttercups are actively growing, typically in late spring or early summer. Use the appropriate application method, such as spot spraying or boom spraying, depending on the size of the infestation.
  3. Environmental considerations and safety precautions: Always wear protective clothing when handling chemicals and follow safety guidelines. Be mindful of potential harm to non-target species and nearby water sources.

Biological Control Methods

  1. Introduction of natural predators: Some insects, such as the tansy beetle (Chrysolina graminis), feed on buttercups and can help control their populations. However, this method is still experimental and should be used with caution.
  2. Planting competitive species to limit buttercup growth: Sowing grass species that are more competitive, such as ryegrass or fescue, can help suppress buttercup populations by outcompeting them for resources.

Integrated Pest Management Strategies

  1. Combining multiple control methods: Use a combination of manual, chemical, and biological methods to achieve the most effective control of buttercup infestations [11].
  2. Monitoring and adjusting methods based on effectiveness: Regularly monitor the success of your control methods and adjust as needed to ensure continued success in managing buttercup populations.


Effectively removing buttercups from grassland requires a combination of preventive measures, manual techniques, chemical control, and biological methods. By identifying buttercup species, improving soil drainage, applying balanced fertilizer, and performing regular mowing, you can create an environment that discourages buttercup growth. For established infestations, manual removal, selective herbicides, and competitive grass species can help control and eliminate these invasive plants.

Remember, the key to successful buttercup management is a consistent and integrated approach. Monitor your grassland regularly and adjust your control methods as needed to maintain healthy, productive pastures. By following these best farming practices, you can keep your grasslands free of buttercups and support optimal growth for your forage crops.

further reading:

Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) – Weed control in grass and forage crops: https://ahdb.org.uk/knowledge-library/weed-control-in-grass-and-forage-crops

PennState Extension – Buttercup Control in Pasture: https://extension.psu.edu/buttercup-control-in-pasture