Take Care of These Weeds Now!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Spring is starting to show signs of arriving!

It’s still February, but it’s been an unusually warm winter.  The early crocuses that are supposed to show up in March are already flowering in many spots, and I’ve seen a daffodil in bloom here and there, even though they’re not supposed to start blooming until well into April. 

Usually the daffodils poke their leaves up a couple of inches in December and then sit there, making people worry about whether the bitter cold of January and February will kill them, until they finally get the word and start exploding into yellow glory in April.  This is what’s typical, and it doesn’t hurt the daffs at all.  This year’s early flowering won’t hurt them either.  Daffodils are tough!  And deer don’t eat them.

With warm-ish days and bright sun there comes the urge to get outside and do things in the garden and yard.  There isn’t a lot to do, but there are some tasks that are best performed now.  One is going after the winter annuals – the low-growing plants that showed up from nowhere last fall, and are now spreading around.  These flower now, make their seeds (millions of them) and die.  This is the time for a search-and-destroy mission, to reduce the number that germinate next fall.  These plants will take over any available space if allowed.   Here are four of the most pestiferous of these plants.

Common chickweed is the most common of these invaders.  It will spread into large mats and climb over other low-growing plants and anything else that’s in its way.  If it didn’t take over and then die off in early summer, it might make a nice ground cover for bare spots, but its habits make it a real pest wherever it gets a foothold.


Hairy bittercress  plants don’t spread, but there will be lots of them.  They make a neat rosette of glossy green leaves lying flat on the ground.  The flowering stem is only a few inches high, topped by tiny white flowers.  It’s actually quite pretty about now, but every plant that goes to seed this year means dozens more next year.  The good news is that if Hairy bittercress comes up in bare spots in your lawn it doesn’t hurt anything, because it doesn’t overrun other plants and dies back so early.  Look for the long, narrow seed pods, characteristic of many plants of the mustard family.


Henbit is another plant that’s pretty when it’s in flower.  Its opposite leaves and irregular flowers show that it’s a member of the Mint family.  It’s not as rampant as Chickweed, but it does tend to run all over the place.

purple lamium

Finally, Purple lamium (aka Purple deadnettle) is also a member of the Mint family (not a nettle), with habits similar to those of Henbit.  Its leaves may be purplish, adding to its attractiveness.  I don’t think you’d want to use either of these as a substitute for mint, however. 

Purple lamium photo]  The two plants are often confused because they grow at the same time and have similar growth habits.  This doesn’t particularly matter because whichever you find, you should remove it unless you want to have even more next year.

Coming up in this spot:  In a few weeks we’ll have a post from a Master Gardener who grows wonderful edibles (which I don’t).  She will write about starting vegetable seeds indoors.  


Jessica Milstead is a native of Charles County, and has been gardening indoors or outdoors for over 30 years.  After her college years in Massachusetts, she lived in New England and New York, finally returning “home” in 1999.  Her professional career was in information science, with time in academe, as an executive of a publishing company, and finally with her own consulting firm.

In retirement, Jessica returned both to her home place, and took up her avocational interests, becoming a Master Gardener in 2002.  She leads plant walks and site visits for the Master Gardeners, and studies geology in the time left over from those activities and from being Treasurer of the Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Camp Springs.