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Gardening Confession: I Have Hairy Bittercress

By David Yost, Plant Specialist

One of my colleagues likes to recite an old saying that one year of weeds leads to seven years of weeding. If he’s right - and I think he is – we’re all in for trouble!

This spring everyone has been plagued with hairy bittercress. If you heard this from your doctor, you might be scared. But since you’re hearing it from me, there’s no cause for alarm.

Hairy bittercress is a weed with tiny white flowers that develop into exploding seedpods when they mature. Each plant produces 600-plus seeds. And these seeds persist for five or more years. Guess what we’ll be doing the next seven years!

While hairy bittercress is impressive, it pales in comparison to common chickweed. I suggest we change the name to “extraordinary” chickweed. Common (extraordinary) chickweed has taken over lawns and gardens everywhere. Typically producing about 2,500 seeds, one plant was recorded with 25,000 seeds! And these seeds go on for 25-40 years. Imagine that!

Call me crazy, but I really do love weeds. Their biology, survival strategies and the history of how they arrived is fascinating. But it’s a love/hate relationship. I work diligently to try to keep them out of my garden.

Last year, in September, when it started raining like crazy and the cool temperatures set in, I saw these weeds beginning to germinate. By October, little seedlings of bittercress, chickweed, henbit, speedwell and others were everywhere. Being a weed aficionado, I noticed an emerging problem and sprayed the seedlings with an organic product, Espoma Earth-tone 4 n 1 Weed Control.

I alerted others to the impending problem. Few listened, though.

The winter annual weeds thrived during our mild winter. They continued to grow, and popped up everywhere this spring. Now they’ve matured and left their seeds behind, solidifying their return in the years to come.

Now, as spring arrives and the soil gradually warms, the summer annual weeds will begin to emerge. Crabgrass, Japanese stiltgrass, lespedeza, spurge and the others will begin their yearly cycle of life. You don’t see them now, but believe me they are there, waiting to sprout up in your yard. Did you know that some seeds have sat dormant for 10,000 years waiting for their chance to sprout and begin a new life? You have to be impressed!

These are the kind of things I think about. When I left my house this morning to go work, I saw some weeds in my garden and had to yank them out. Who can blame me for being 20 minutes late to work? A few minutes today can save me years of trouble.

For skeptics who aren’t feeling the love, I’ll leave you with a final thought: apply pre-emergent herbicides now or get ready for seven more years of weeding.

Posted: 4/26/2012 11:04:27 AM


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