Spring has sprung and it is time to pull the weeds! By this time, there are many weeds that are flourishing in the garden but hopefully, not yet flowering. Now is the time to pull them before they flower and set seed. Fortunately, now is a good time to eradicate these weeds because the moist soil makes it easier to pull the small plants.
In my garden I have an infestation of hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). A member of the mustard family, these young’uns appear as small mounds of subdivided leaves, creating a lacy or scalloped appearance. As the plant matures and grows, slender stems arise from the base producing small, white flowers. By late spring, slender seed pods burst open when touched (called “explosive dehiscence”), shooting seeds as far as 3 feet! Also called shotweed, this weed prefers damp conditions and should be removed as soon as possible.
I also have colonies of purple deadnettle, a member of the mint family. Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) is called “dead” nettle because the plant resembles the true nettles (Urtica spp.) but does not sting like a nettle, hence, “dead” nettle. Right now, I can only see young leaves at ground level which makes it hard to identify but in a few months, the striking flower structures will grow tall above the basal leaves and the youngest, smallest leaves at the top will be purple. Tubular-like, purple flowers, typical of the mint family, peep out from under the uppermost leaves.
A cousin of purple deadnettle, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), looks similar but does not have the pronounced purple color on the leaves. Purple deadnettle has stalked leaves on the flower stems while henbit does not. The word “amplexicaule” means leaves grasping the stem. The pretty scalloped leaves wrapped around the stem remind me of Queen Elizabeth I with her ruffled collar. Also a member of the mint family, henbit has small pink/purple, tubular like flowers.
Looking like a cross between a dandelion and a thistle, groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) is a member of the sunflower family. Like a dandelion, groundsel has a taproot and the same feathery type of seed head. It is good to pull while young before the tap root gets established. Already the groundsel is beginning to sport yellow flowers, similar to dandelion flowers but smaller. If these are not removed, the groundsel will flower, set seed, and the wind will disperse hundreds of seeds to the rest of my property.
Two weeds that I do not have in my garden but I have seen in other people’s gardens are common chickweed (Stellaria media) and mouse ear chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum). There are several different types of chickweed, all members of the carnation family. The common chickweed has smooth, small, egg-shaped leaves and is so named because the plant is used as a starter food for baby chicks. The mouse ear chickweed has hairy leaves, slightly larger than the common chickweed, resembling fuzzy mouse ears. Both have tiny, five-petal flowers but the common chickweed is an annual while the mouse ear chickweed is a perennial. These plants have shallow fibrous roots. Their stems spread and crawl and are capable of rooting where the node touches the soil.
The garden is not asleep. Get out there now and start pulling before these vast armies of weeds flower and disperse hundreds of seeds!